EL ESPECTADOR, October 13, 2023
(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)
A forum organized by EL ESPECTADOR and the U.S. Agency for International Development (Usaid) conversed about what has gone on in land restitution in Colombia, more than a decade after the creation of the Victims’ Law, the legal concept that gave it life.
Five land restitution heavyweights were invited to a forum organized by EL ESPECTADOR and the U.S. Agency for International Development (Usaid). The meeting happened last Friday at the newspaper’s editorial office, and the experts brought up the challenges and what has been learned about land restitution in the nearly 12 years after land restitution was created.
Those invited were Gloria Stella López, Justice of the Superior Council of the Judiciary; Gloria del Socorro Victoria Giraldo, Justice of the Specialized Land Restitution Tribunal in Cali; Diana María Rodríguez, land restitution Judge in Carmen de Bolivar; Nury Martínez, coordinator of land litigation and territorial rights at the Colombian Commission of Jurists; and finally, José David Ortega, representing the Association of Campesinos in Southern Córdoba (Acsucor).
The forum was dedicated to conversation about progress and challenges that are seen with the land restitution agencies.
Justice López offered some statistics to illustrate the discussions on restitution, especially for the Afro-Colombian communities. For example, the territories with the most petitions from large collectives are the Afro-Colombian communities that are located in Chocó, Quibdó, Popayán, Mocoa, Villavicencio, and Antioquia. While for the indigenous communities, the territories with the greatest need for land are Chocó, Popayan, and Pasto, with 19 petitions.
During the last decade, said López, there have been more than 9,000 court decisions that recognized victims’ rights to ownership of land.
Here are some of the arguments, data, and reflections offered on land restitution by the panelists and that are now being considered as alternative ways to achieve justice for those whose land was stolen years, and even decades, ago.
“Land restitution is a policy of the government, not the administration.”
Gloria Giraldo, a Justice who is an expert in land restitution in Cali, opined that there are still many challenges to attaining this objective in Colombia. For her, the lack of articulation between the administrative and the judicial systems is one of the principal challenges.
“When we talk about restitution, we’re always looking for the choke somewhere upriver. You have to figure out whether the issue is legal or administrative. The decisions are delayed, not because the judge didn’t write a decision, but because the land hasn’t been identified, or because there are unidentified second or third parties occupying it.”
Some months ago, EL ESPECTADOR analyzed the ways that having second party occupants, individuals, or families in possession or occupying a property that’s in the restitution process could be considered by judges, justices, and government agencies to decongest the claims.
In addition, the Justice emphasized that restitution has to have continuity in the government. “This is a policy of the government, not of the administration,” she explained.
“It’s one thing to hand down the decision and something else to carry it out”
David Ortega, the representative of the Association of Campesinos in Southern Córdoba (Acsucor), mentioned that there are several tasks yet to be done by the government in connection with land restitution. The campesino leader explained that, “Colombia isn’t taking responsibility and isn’t carrying out what has been ordered (regarding land restitution). There has to be comprehensiveness in carrying out what the victims deserve, because we see, at the national level, and in Córdoba, that there are thousands of hectares that are in the Victims Reparation Fund and still haven’t been turned over.”
“I’m stressing the attempts to make more progress administratively. In the south of Córdoba, it’s possible to articulate better with the victims who know the territory, so they can stop imposing security concepts over the territory,” he said.
Justicia Inclusiva, October 13, 2023
The work of judges has been fundamental in land restitution for victims of the armed conflict. It’s important that while the Agricultural Jurisdiction goes forward, that there can be collective restoration.
Revictimization is one of the biggest challenges with the restitution judges. The agencies have to understand that it’s a government policy, and when there are second party occupiers on the properties and there’s no notification, that means that there’s no coordination among the agencies.
Restitution for women
Ownership of land by women in ethnic communities was touched upon at the forum. The panelists stated that for decades speaking of women property owners was unusual, as not only the property but the earnings and even their administration were managed by men in Colombia.
Not only the Constitutional Court, but also the Center for the Study of Law, Justice, and Society (Dejusticia) have identified that differentiated effect, separately, in court decisions and in research. That means that as the theft of land affected both men and women, gender discrimination affected the women the most.
Advances in restitution
All the panelists concluded that, after 12 years of its existence, restitution of land has made advances in several areas, which range from the judicial to the recognition of claims from campesinos and ethnic groups.
For Diana María Rodríguez, the advance has been that of paying off a historic debt owed victims of the armed conflict in Colombia who suffered terrible violations of their human rights. “In this country, we are leaders in the continent, and throughout this project we have tried to implement a judicial system that was flexible, humane, and sensitive, one that could understand the complexities of the conflict,”, says Rodríguez. In addition, that the restitution takes place not only in judicial chambers, but also in the countryside. That has been one of the successes that the concept has had in this country.
Gloria Giraldo, Justice of the Specialized Tribunal for Land Restitution, believes that puzzling about restitution has been a challenge. “When you suggest advances, you make reference to expectations that were created by the Declaration of the State of Unconstitutionality that highlighted the serious violation of fundamental rights, especially campesinos and ethnic groups that were forced to displace,” she indicated.
One of the most important advances in restitution, stated the Judge, has been passing out of the judicial chambers to take the law out to the countryside. From Carmen de Bolívar, for example, the procedures grew closer to the victims, so that they could recover their confidence in the legal system, their necessities could be understood, and there was empathy for the way they live.
Justicia Inclusiva, October 13, 2023
“The Victims Law, 1448, calls for complete reparation for those people who were evicted from their land. The law states that the center of restitution has to be respect for the victims and respect for their stories,” Gloria Giraldo.
Justicia Inclusiva, October 13, 2023
In the project for transitional justice, Colombia is the leader in the continent. In the court in Carmen de Bolívar, the restitution judges have been able to bring that to the territories that were most affected by the conflict and have done the work together with the women.
“A great challenge in criminal justice is to impose penalties on those responsible for the land theft in Colombia.”
Litigator Nury Martínez, of the Colombian Commission of Jurists, mentioned the importance of having the legal system be able to find those responsible for land theft and violence in the Colombian countryside, both the planners and the ones who carried it out.
This is a proposal that has already been dealt with by the government, especially in the JEP, which has been holding hearings since 2020 between victims and those convicted of land theft, in order to understand the real causes of the phenomenon. Last year, for example, there were hearings with the former directors of the Cattle Ranchers Fund of Córdoba who had been in the middle of carrying out the theft of campesinos’ lands in the Antioquia part of Urabá between 1997 and 2008.
“Always trying to compensate the victims for the damage they have suffered”
Gloria Stella López, Justice of the Superior Council of the Judiciary, explained that they have trained judges to be focused on facilitating and understanding the phenomenon of land restitution better. The Justice explained that this is an advance, as more officials of the judicial branch are being trained on these issues, supported by Usaid.
Among other advances, explained López, is the leadership that the Constitutional Court has taken by issuing “much clearer concepts relating to restitution, in order to make the procedures more flexible.”
In addition, she stated that collective land restitution in Colombia has been made possible for ethnic populations in Cauca, Mocoa, Quibdó, and in some areas of Antioquia.
Commencing the forum on what has been learned and on the challenges in land restitution
They will be talking for two hours about the challenges and accomplishments of officials in the judicial branch, campesinos, and civil society activists who have been monitoring this since the beginning of land restitution in 2011.
Fidel Cano, Director of EL ESPECTADOR, opened the conversation by commenting on the importance of land restitution for those people who suffered land theft and eviction during the armed conflict.