Background: Demobilization of paramilitary groups, Justice and Peace Law, Victims’ Law, and peace talks with the FARC
Colombia continues to endure the longest internal armed conflict in the Western hemisphere. The conflict involves many actors and interests, and is a product of political ambitions, social and economic tensions, and competition for resources.
In their efforts to reduce the military capacity of their adversaries and impose control over the civilian population, the mass violence of the armed groups—including paramilitary, military and rebel forces— has produced more than 5.5 million victims over the past 50 years, roughly 13% of the country’s population.
The conflict has generated the forced displacement of millions of people, more than 200,000 killed, thousands of cases of forced disappearances, sexual crimes and gender-based violence, and the forced recruitment of minors.
Efforts seeking to demobilize fighters and seek truth, justice, and reparations for victims have been going on for over 10 years.
Between 2003 and 2006, a political pact initiated by former President Alvaro Uribe led to the demobilization of more than 35,000 members of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) (according to Government figures), but many of the same structures have re-emerged as new criminal gangs.
In 2005, Law 975 was enacted to facilitate the reincorporation of these demobilized former combatants into civilian life, giving rise to the Justice and Peace process. This law contemplates a special prosecution model that includes alternative sentencing for those demobilized former AUC that contribute to clarification of the truth and reparations to victims. By June 2013, approximately 2,000 former paramilitaries had passed through the Justice and Peace tribunals, but only 14 had been sentenced.
In 2010, Congress enacted Law 1424, which established a non-judicial truth-seeking mechanism that provides legal benefits to members of illegal organized armed groups in exchange for agreeing to contribute to clarification of the truth about the conflict. The offer is not extended to those accused of crimes against humanity.
In response to the growing demands of the victims, the administration of President Juan Manuel Santos promoted the passing of Law 1448, or Victims’ Law, which established a comprehensive reparations program and land restitution procedure. The government created new institutions to implement these programs, namely the Victims’ Unit, the Land Restitution Unit, and the Historical Memory Center.
After taking office in August 2010, President Santos began discrete exploratory contacts with the FARC aimed at finding a negotiated solution to the armed conflict. This was a significant shift from the previous government’s position, which had focused on confrontation and efforts to gain a military victory over the guerrilla forces. In the course of this rapprochement, Congress approved a constitutional amendment known as the Legal Framework for Peace, which sets forth a series of integrated transitional justice mechanisms to facilitate the negotiation and achievement of a stable and lasting peace. This has motivated a debate in Colombia on the development of truth-seeking mechanisms and on the need to create comprehensive and complementary judicial accountability models.
The current peace process between the FARC and the government of Colombia has generated high expectations among Colombian society, as it raises the hopes of a significant reduction of the violence and the deepening and consolidation of democracy.
This report examines Colombia’s Victims and Land Restitution Law (2011), which provides comprehensive reparations to conflict victims and restitution to victims of forced displacement who rely on land for their livelihoods – and assesses the challenges of implementing the law under current conditions, which include widespread poverty and ongoing violence. The government has allocated an estimated USD $29 billion to pay for the program, but some question whether it is enough. Complexities in the law also make it difficult to translate principles into action. The report suggests that a more modest approach to providing reparations on a massive scale may be preferable to overselling an effort that continues to leave many victims waiting.