Colombia will stage events around the country Monday to mark a new national Victims’ Day, remembering the millions who have suffered in the long-running armed conflict.
The day has been instituted as part of President Juan Manuel Santos‘ stated agenda to recognize and compensate Colombian victims of human rights abuses, most notably through the historic Victims and Land Restitution Law, which came into effect at the beginning of the year.
The law, signed by Santos on June 10, 2011, defines a victim as “those people who individually or collectively have suffered a violation of their fundamental rights because of the internal armed conflict through acts that have occurred since January 1, 1985.” It pledges to restore land to Colombia’s millions of internally displaced people and financially compensate those who have suffered violence at the hands of guerrillas, paramilitaries and state officials.
The chosen date of April 9 deliberately coincides with the anniversary of the assassination of the popular Liberal Party leader and presidential candidate Jorge Eliecer Gaitan in 1948. His death sparked the deadly “Bogotazo” riot in the capital which led to a period of unprecedented violence in the country.
Ana Teresa Bernal, part of the National Commission of Reparation and Reconciliation told newspaper El Espectador that “thinking about the issue of symbolic and collective reparation [was] essential for Colombia to progress and repair.”
“Violence should never happen, we must work hard to keep it from recurring. The first memorial to the memory and solidarity of the victims is a major advance in the recognition of their dignity […] We must support the process of reparation and restitution, but also of reconciliation,” she added.
According to Paula Gaviria, head of the Unit for the Comprehensive Care and Repair of Victims, Colombia needs to alter its views on victimization in order for real progress to be made.
“We have often categorized [victims] as good or bad. We cannot allow ourselves to think and to say that someone is a victim because he deserved it or asked for it. We cannot maintain that idea,” she told newspaper El Espectador.
Events around the country included a joint session between the Senate and House of Representatives who heard the testimony of several victims of violence.
In Bogota, a “Route of Memory” tour was planned to visit four historical sites including the Jorge Gaitan theater.
In Medellin, citizens were invited to commemorate Victims Day at Our Lady of Candelaria, the starting point for a historical tour taking in ten sites around the city which have been marked by violence in the past.
Over 370,000 Colombians have registered with the government as victims of violence. The UN’s last estimate of Colombia’s internally displaced people (IDP) figure as 3.67 million, the highest rate in the world — and the organization condemned Colombian authorities in January for allowing land theft to continue at an alarming rate with “near total impunity.”
The Ministry of Agriculture esimates that 350,000 families will be entitled to claimed back around five million acres of land under the new law.