The Law for Victims and For The Restoration of Land


Por Maria Victoria Duque Lopez de

(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN volunteer translator)

Sunday, May 29, 2011

The law creates a comprehensive balance between the extent of the law for victims and its transcendental significance, not only in the real area of reparations, but also in the symbolic area of confession and of pardon.  Colombia begins at last to heal its wounds.


Colombia Wins


Even before the end of the first year of President Juan Manuel Santos’ government, he achieved passage of the Law for Victims and for the Restoration of Land.  There are many winners in this process:

            *  In the first place, some four million victims of the Colombian armed conflict will be eligible for integrated reparations, through restoration of land, money damages, and rehabilitation.

            *  The Liberal Party also won, and in particular, Senator Juan Fernando Cristo, who has been leading this difficult project for two years.

            *  The Minister of Interior and Justice, Germán Vargas Lleras.

            *  The Minister of Agriculture, Juan Camilo Restrepo, and

            *  President Santos himself, who at one time personally introduced the bill.

            *  Most of all, Colombia wins.

            The Minister of the Treasury, who at first doubted the fiscal feasibility of the law, finally informed the Senate that he supported the bill because it had been adapted to “the fiscal discipline in effect”.  This notification was key because it left the arguments of fiscal infeasibility being paraded by one pro-Uribe faction without any basis.

What is lacking and the implications of that


At this point there is not yet agreement between the bill approved by the House and the one passed by the Senate.  The differences are not just fine points.  They have political, ideological and financial implications.  The following chart shows the most important differences:

                        Senate                                                                        House


Victims since 1985 receive damages                        Victims of human rights violations since

and since 1991 receive restitution of                        1991

land.  Definition of victims of armed


                        Senate                                                                        House


Existence of armed conflict does not                        Makes no reference to existence of armed

mean recognition of a state of                                    conflict.


Sets forth the right to truth, symbolic                        Makes no reference to this subject.

reparations, and guarantees to historic

victims no repetition (before 1985)

The Social Action Department is                        Social Action Department is responsible changed to the Administrative                        for reparations.

Department for Inclusion and

Reparation. The National Commission for

Reparation and Reconciliation disappears

and the Special Unit is created.

A Transition Contract offers the victim            Any judicial reparation is deducted from the

1) receive symbolic administrative                        administrative damages received by the

damages, reserving the right to judicial            victim.

reparation, OR 2) receive larger damages

and waive judicial reparation.

In civil court, businesses and officials            Businesses and officials must repay victims

proved to have financed illegal groups            of the bloc that they financed, but they have

have to repay the victims of the groups            to do it under this law and not in civil court.

that they financed.

Includes a two-stage legal process and            The process is before the Superior Judicial

creates a special judicial branch to                         Council and other superior courts can

carry it out.                                                            intervene as necessary, and ultimately the

                                                                        Supreme Court.

An Executive Committee for Reparations            This process is not included in the law.

is created in order to certify the type of

victim in special cases when there is

doubt, especially in cases of victims

of government forces.

The word “impairment” is changed to            The word “impairment” is used.

“damage to the victims” because it has

fiscal implications.

There is preferential protection for                        There is no distinction or preferential

women, children and adolescents                        treatment.

The guarantee of the right to truth,

                        Senate                                                                        House

justice and reparation for the entire

population will be the responsibility of


The bill creates a program with SENA                        Neither the program or the Center is

to build skills and employment, with                                    created.

resources from FOSYGA, to be

administered by the Ministry of

Protection.  It also creates a Center for

Historical Memory, in order to preserve

the documentation collected in the

process of carrying out the law.

After the conference committee approves the final version,  the law will be ready for the President’s signature and will be in effect for ten years from that date.  Thus the history of Colombia will have a Before and an After, because this is the first time that Congress has legislated in favor of the millions of victims of the armed conflict.

When opposite poles meet


For different but profoundly mistaken reasons, not only a faction supporting ex-President Uribe, but also the Polo party representatives acted as monkey wrenches in the gears of this emblematic proposal.  And while history is unforgiving, it will always remember the greatest opponents of the approval of a legal framework that would contribute to the restoration and protection of victims’ rights, beginning with recognition of the situation.

In fact, they will be charged with responsibility for failing to contribute to taking this first step, so that the country could work toward an effective reconciliation that is indispensable so that the victims can feel that their suffering has been recognized and respected  in the social world, but especially in the political world.

The most relevant objection of the Polo, an objection that was defeated by a majority, relates to the provision that limits damages and restitution of land to those who can demonstrate that they were stripped of their land after January 1980.

The faction supporting ex-President Uribe continually tried to revive the metaphysical and semantic argument about the existence of an armed conflict and to avoid acknowledgement of victims of agents of the government.

Implications in the real and in the symbolic


The approval of the Law for Victims and for the Restoration of Land “Which provides measures for attention, assistance and complete reparations to the victims of the internal armed conflict and provides for other dispositions” has real implications, but also has implications of a symbolic character for the collective imagination and for the globalized world.

As this law goes into effect, the following, among other things, will be recognized:

1.  There is “an internal armed conflict in Colombia”.


2.  Ten per cent of all Colombians have been victims of the horrors of this long armed conflict.

3.  There are government officials who have been victimizers and who can be held individually responsible.

4.  There are business owners and officials who have financed illegal groups.

5.  We need to apply a different approach to the process of reparation.

6.  The condition of being a victim is independent of the progress of the criminal case against the presumed victimizers.

7.  We will be able to consider as victims the children or adolescents who are demobilized from the criminal armed groups, because they are minors.

8.  The victims will be able to prove the extent of the damage they have suffered by any legally acceptable means, in summary form before an administrative forum.

9.  “The government will presume the good faith of the victims”.

10.  The victims of events before 1985 will receive symbolic reparation ad the guarantee that the damage will not be repeated.

11.  The burden of proof should be reversed, so that summary evidence of the property, possession or occupation will be sufficient for recognition as a displaced person in the judicial process.

It’s a lot, but it’s not all.


Many are talking about the problems and the loopholes in the law, and even though there is something to be said for that, the approval of this law is, in my judgment, an invaluable step toward the commitment to building peace through building institutions.

And nevertheless, as the Minister of Agriculture rightly said, now “the task is gigantic” and it has to do with achieving all of the administrative arrangements needed to guarantee that victims can really take advantage of the law.  Because, finally, we are beginning to work on nothing less than the great factor eternally postponed in Colombia:  the land.










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