Decades of armed conflict in Colombia left more than eight million victims, according to the country’s National Victims Register. The vast majority were victims of forced displacement, in which violence drove over seven million people from their homes, but more than 267,000 people were killed and at least 47,000 forcibly disappeared. Most people have seen nobody held to account over the abuses they suffered.
In recognition of the huge number of people impacted by the conflict, in 2011 Colombia’s congress enacted ‘Law 1448: Victims and Land Restitution’ to run for ten years. With the original expiry date nearing, the Senate this week voted to extend the law for another ten years, until 2031, having initially proposed a fifteen-year extention. The congressional ratification will now pass to the presidential office for final approval.
Law 1448 addresses issues around the rights of victims, including compensation and the return of land from which they were forcibly displaced. Much of the land appropriated through violence subsequently came into the hands of private enterprise to make lucrative profits through resource extraction, agro-industry or ranching. Unfortunately, a large number of victims have struggled to access the law due to a lack of formal documentation as to their land rights, while others have had difficulty proving their victim status under the stipulated criteria.