Massive shortfall in compensation for conflict victims: commission

A high-level commission has found a major shortfall in state compensation for millions of victims of Colombia’s armed conflict. The inter-institutional commission said that current government strategies to address victims’ rights were inadequate and required massive funding.

According to the commission – formed of Colombia’s Comptroller General, national Ombudsman, legal attorney’s office and the National Commission for Victims’ Effective Participation – under the current system, a maximum of 20 per cent of victims could be compensated. The overall cost of compensating the almost 6.5 million eligible victims in the country would be around $33 billion US dollars. So far, only around 822,000 have been compensated, or 12.6 per cent of the total number. Forms of compensation include individual and collective reparations, housing and counselling.

The issue of compensation has been further complicated by ongoing conflict between different armed groups and state security forces in many parts of the country. At least 33,000 new victims of forced displacement were created in 2018, said the commission, while regional instability has made it impossible to return land to victims and to protect vulnerable communities.

Affected regions include Chocó on the Pacific coast, which is home to a majority African-Colombian population, and Arauca in eastern Colombia, where indigenous communities are at risk. As during the armed conflict, Black and indigenous communities are disproportionately impacted by ongoing violence and instability. The commission said that resources allocated to ethnic minority groups had declined significantly since 2018, falling by 34 per cent for indigenous communities and 25 per cent for African-Colombian communities.

Furthermore, almost two-thirds of petitions for land restitution have been rejected by government body the Unit of Land Restitution. Of 121,462 petitions for land restitution, 64 per cent were rejected. Colombia has more than seven million victims of forced displacement, the vast majority of whom now live in precarious conditions on the outskirts of cities and towns. Much of the land was subsequently appropriated for resource extraction and agro-industry.

The commission recommended that the government develop new budget strategies to address victims’ rights and ensure that a higher number of people receive the necessary support and compensation to begin reconstructing their lives.