2 recent views of security and paramilitarism ‘Plan Colombia needs to end’, says Vice President Francisco Santos
Mar 132009

Here is a helpful English overview of Colombia’s Victims’ Law, which will go into its final debate in the country’s House of Representatives next month. It was prepared by the bill’s principal sponsor, Liberal Party Senator Juan Fernando Cristo.

Sen. Cristo is alarmed that – as the document explains – the Colombian government has moved to weaken key sections of the legislation. If the Uribe administration gets its way, victims of the state security forces – including relatives of people “extrajudicially executed” by the Colombian Army in recent years – would have no access to a special procedure to speed reparations for victims.

Sen. Cristo and the bill’s other proponents want the international community to register their support for the legislation in its original form, as Colombia’s Senate approved it last June. The summary follows. Please share it.

Colombia’s Victims’ Rights Act

Since the 1960s, the South American nation of Colombia has been embroiled in a complex armed conflict involving leftist guerrilla groups, right-wing paramilitaries, and narcotrafficking organizations. In a country of 45 million people, the violence has killed many tens of thousands, forced more than 4 million into internal displacement, and led to the theft of as many as 17 million acres of land. In many parts of the country, the conflict is little more than a cycle of victimization, grievance and revenge that feeds on itself, making a final resolution of the violence ever more difficult.

Breaking this cycle requires a Colombian government policy to provide truth, reparations and restitution to the conflict’s victims. A group of members of Colombia’s Congress is sponsoring a Victims’ Rights Act that would provide a legal framework for such a policy.

It would be the first “victims’ law” that Colombia has ever had, after decades of amnesty laws and sentence reductions that have sought to induce victimizers to demobilize, without any consideration of victims’ rights.

What is the “Victims’ Law”?

  • A bill presented in Colombia’s Congress in October 2007 by an important group of senators.
  • It would benefit all Colombians who, during the past 40 years of armed conflict, have suffered damage or injury that caused, whether temporarily or permanently, collectively or individually:
    • Death or disappearance;
    • Physical disability;
    • Psychological harm;
    • Emotional suffering;
    • Financial loss;
    • Denial of fundamental rights; or
    • Violations of international human rights norms or serious international humanitarian law violations.
  • Benefits would be made available without regard to the identity of the victimizer (guerrillas, paramilitaries, or Colombia’s state).
  • Benefits would also apply to victims’ relatives, spouses, permanent companions or same-sex partners.

Who supports it?

  • The bill was supported in Colombia’s Senate by all parties and political movements.
  • It has received public backing from:
    • National and international human rights organizations;
    • Victims’ organizations;
    • Agencies in the Colombian state charged with protecting and promoting human rights, like the Inspector-General (Procuraduría) and Ombudsman (Defensoría del Pueblo);
    • The Catholic church in Colombia; and
    • International organizations like the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the OAS Inter-American Human Rights Commission.
  • USAID’s MIDAS program (”More Investment for Sustainable Alternative Development”) had worked arduously to elaborate a proposal to return stolen land to victims through administrative procedures. The Victims’ Rights Act incorporates much of this proposal, which would provide a quick and effective solution to the main challenge to providing reparations: the return of stolen assets.
  • The UN system supported the bill’s development, including funding a series of consultations in nine regions of Colombia with more than 4,000 victims, who gave testimony about their tragedies and made concrete proposals about how the bill would benefit them.

Why does it deserve support?

  • It is a universal law. All victims, without discrimination, would benefit, whether they be victims of the paramilitaries, the guerrillas, or state agents. With no additional burdens, and without regard to the victimizer’s identity. Victims would need only to accredit themselves through an easy process that presumes their good faith. They would face no deadlines for making their request, because the conflict is still ongoing.
  • The bill views reparation as holistic and complete, not just an economic payment of damages. It also includes other measures like restitution, rehabilitation, and guarantees of non-repetition.
  • The bill views reparation as separate from the economic, social and cultural rights applicable to all citizens. While Colombia’s state is expected to help all citizens, particularly the poor, to improve their lives, victims’ right to reparations goes beyond standard government assistance.
  • The bill creates mechanisms for the rapid return of stolen assets to affected populations. One of these is a reversal of the burden of proof: victims would not have to prove that their lands were usurped. Instead, holders of disputed land titles would have to demonstrate that they acquired them legally. Another proposal is the creation of zones of priority attention, geographical regions where victims of forced displacement would receive urgent assistance to recover their assets through an administrative mechanism.
  • To speed restitution, the bill would strengthen the Reparations Fund, which was created by the 2005 Justice and Peace Law, by making it the recipient of all proceeds from the sale of assets seized from narcotraffickers.
  • The bill would create a Land Truth Commission, which would investigate the most serious episodes of forced displacement and land theft, document their patterns and dynamics, issue technical recommendations to government agencies, and create and protect archives and databases about what its investigations uncover.
  • The bill would create a Historical Memory Center with a museum, a general archive of the conflict, medals and recognitions for victims and their relatives, and the promulgation of a National Day of Solidarity with Victims.
  • The bill would reorganize state agencies charged with providing attention and reparations to victims, by designing a National System of Integrated Aid, Assistance and Attention, and another for Reparations. This would avoid duplication of functions, while improving the quality of attention to victims, the clarity of information provided to them, and oversight of state agencies. It would ensure that victims know the route they must take, both geographically and within the government, to achieve resolution. It would include training of government officials with responsibility for providing victims with social, psychological and legal assistance. These two systems would have an operational plan including the restitution of family life, employment, freedom and dignity, as well as voluntary, safe and dignified return to places of origin.
  • The bill contemplates sanctions for officials who place obstacles in the way of, or otherwise delay, the procedures by which victims seek reparations.
  • The bill contemplates providing a differentiated focus for victims who are women, children, elderly, homosexual, afro-Colombian or indigenous.
  • The bill would create a monitoring commission to provide oversight of the law’s execution. This commission would be made up of representatives of the executive branch, state oversight agencies, and non-governmental organizations.

Legislative background

The Colombian Senate approved the Victims’ Rights Act described here, with the support of both pro-government and opposition parties, in June 2008. It then passed to the House of Representatives where, during its third debate in November 2008, it suddenly encountered government opposition to some of its central provisions.

The Álvaro Uribe administration, and the pro-government legislative majority, objected to the inclusion of victims who had suffered at the hands of the state security forces. They argued that doing so would place the government on equal moral footing with Colombia’s illegal armed groups, which would harm the armed forces’ morale. Colombia’s executive branch also rejected provisions in the law recognizing the government’s responsibility to guarantee victims’ permanent right to reparations, establishing the presumption of the victim’s good faith, and interpreting state jurisdictional questions in the victim’s favor. The three latter principles had been promoted by the United Nations.

Discriminating among victims according to their victimizer, however, would contravene international standards for reparation and restitution of victims. In Colombia, it would mean that victims of the security forces would have to seek redress through the regular justice system, which moves so slowly that cases are routinely not resolved for ten years, if at all. While direct victims of the state are a small minority of the conflict’s total number of victims, many have very urgent claims. They include the relatives of hundreds of civilians whose bodies have appeared throughout Colombia over the past few years. These victims, according to widespread allegations and dozens of criminal cases and firings of officers, were killed by members of Colombia’s Army seeking to present them as illegal armed-group members killed in combat.

The Victims’ Rights Act will be debated a fourth and final time in April 2009, and will then go to a vote and reconciliation between Colombia’s House and Senate. Before then, it is important that the international community accompany the Colombian conflict’s victims by supporting a legal framework that provides restitution and reparations to all of the conflict’s victims, without regard to the identity of the victimizer, in accordance with international standards defined by the United Nations.

9 Responses to “Colombia’s Victims’ Rights Act”

  1. Kyle Says:

    Good post on the victims’ law. I had read about the debates and legislative struggle but still didn’t know a whole lot about the law itself, beyond the basics. Just like the law for reparations by legislative means, Uribe looks to keep victims of the state out of the picture. In reality, the states has the highest burden for both not creating victims through direct violations of human rights but also with the responsibility to protect its citizens when and as often as possible. Yet, their inclusion as victimizers (the public forces) is another issue. If they were not included, and the law were to go to the Constitutional Court, I would simply be shocked if the standards of international law were not applied and state victims included. Of course, it’s a chance that shouldn’t be taken – additionally, if violations of human rights (or the reminder of such) by the public forces would hurt morale, why don’t they stop violating people’s human rights? As is often in life, it looks like for some blaming the victim is much easier.

  2. lfm Says:

    I know it´s bad manners to post things that belong to another thread, but sometimes you just have to. (Plus, I wouldn´t be the only one, ahem, ahem). I won´t start here all over again the whole FTA economic argument but just will make a quick remark. A running theme of the comments in this blog always portrays the AFL-CIO (always called here Big Labor, as in Big Bad Wolf) as some conspirator that has Pelosi in its pocket for obscure, unpublishable reasons. I just wanted to bring out that labor, both in Colombia and in the US is a legitimate interest and that it uses political leverage, just like anybody else does. The AFL-CIO isn´t doing anything that American Chambers of Commerce wouldn´t do. If anything, it´s running an operation cleaner than Jack Abramoff´s. It´s using its political muscle with Nancy Pelosi (San Francisco´s gift to world socialism) who happens to be a legally elected Member of Congress, elevated to the Speakership by the decision of other legally elected Members of Congress. You don´t like it? Fine. But don´t put it like there´s something inherently venal in all this. Just like some members of Colombian labor (not all), some members of American labor (not all) have reasons to oppose the FTA and they´re doing what they can to stop it. Maybe they´ll fail, maybe they´ll succeed, or most likely win some, lose some. If you think that´s a horrible thing to be doing, then maybe you don´t like American democracy as much as we´ve been led to believe. China might the place you want to consider moving to.

  3. lfm Says:

    Oh, and another thing, just to pile misbehavior upon misbehavior. I finally succeeded at my goal of ticking people off with my calls for “proletarian internationalism.” That was the whole purpose of it. But I wonder why in an era of globalization, when capital moves freely across borders, effectively giving corporations the power to go on “investment strikes” all over the world, pitting labor of one country against labor in another country, unions are supposed to be just sitting ducks. If capital is globalized, labor should also be globalized. It’s good that the AFL-CIO is finally smarting out about this. American labor has at times succumbed to racism and anti-immigrant sentiment and has gotten badly burned because of this. Seems that finally they are realizing that as long as the dark-skinned workers in the South (be it South of Virginia, or South of the Rio Grande) get screwed up, they are also gonna get screwed up. Slow learners they are. But better late than never.

  4. Marcos Says:

    No comment (I won’t say anything from now on, just link).


  5. chris Says:


  6. Camilla Says:

    Hey look, Adam! Pacho Santos has come around to your way of thinking!


  7. maremoto Says:

    I don’t have a dog in this fight: failed 38 year war on drugs
    March 10, 9:20 AM · 1 comment
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    BY Frosty Wooldridge

    After the first 10 interviews with my brother Police Officer and Detective Howard Wooldridge of Lansing, Michigan (retired) concerning the “War on Drugs”, more and more Americans understand the underpinnings of how the U.S. government protracts a national taxpayer fraud. How big a fraud? Taxpayers forked over $1 trillion in 36 years paying for the impotent “War on Drugs.” Results? More drugs available, major drug networks, cheaper drugs and more potent drugs.

    Yet, Americans remain oblivious while they empty their pockets of $70 billion annually to continue the Drug War fraud. Officer Howard Wooldridge talked with a man in Washington, DC.

    “I have no dog in the fight.” Greg told Howard Wooldridge. “My kids are grown up and drug free. Ending modern prohibition – War on Drugs would have no impact on my life.”

    Oh, really? This popular myth could not be further from reality. Prohibition constitutes the single greatest domestic policy affecting and reducing public safety, quality of life, national security just to name a few.

    “According to an FBI agent I spoke with in 2004, the Agency had 2,400 full time agents looking for Willie Nelson, Whitney Houston and their suppliers on 9/11,” Howard Wooldridge said. “The Agency had 1,100 looking for terrorists. I heard Director Mueller testify this summer before the House Judiciary Committee that post 9/11; he shifted 900 of those drug agents to counter-terrorism. Better late and 3,000 dead than never.

    “Of course we read in an Army War College report: http://www.strategicstudiesinstitute.army.mil/pdffiles/pub804.pdf
    that 70 percent of the Taliban/al Qaeda’s operating budget for 2008 is provided by money earned in the drug trade. Greg, as a Viet Nam combat veteran, how do you feel about 7 out of 10 KIAs in Afghanistan are killed with bullets bought by drug money? Prohibition provides the number one source of money to fund terrorism.

    “At that same hearing Director Mueller informed Congresswoman Wasserman-Schultz (D-FL) that he flatly rejected moving more agents to combat child cyber porn. This despite the fact that he only has 33 full time equivalent agents working to protect our children. This despite the fact that just over 600,000 personal computers in this country contain child porn and child rape videos. From Senate testimony law enforcement will only execute search warrants for the worst two per cent. Are you listening Greg? Greg a former police detective knows about child sexual abuse cases. He and I have worked them.

    “As Paul Harvey would say in the Rest-of-the Story, 40 percent of the time the police execute a search warrant to seize the computer and its owner, in the same home they find the victim of the child porn. That means on December 31, 2008 about 250,000 children will still be in the home of a sexually abusive parent or guardian. What kind of a nation does not protect its most vulnerable? What kind of a nation arrests 1.4 million citizens for drug possession but only 12,000 for possessing child porn?

    “DUIs slaughtered 13,000 last year Greg. We have handled those bloody messes. How many of those wonderful, innocent people would be alive, if we had 55,000 full time officers seeking out the DUI? That number is the membership in the National Narcotics Officers Association who fruitlessly spend 110 million hours per year busting dealers who are instantly replaced. How about employing half of them busting the child porn crowd and the other half going after the DUI?

    “The FBI reports nearly 10,000,000 property crimes in the US in 2006. Police detectives’ common experience shows that 80 percent are committed by people needing big bucks for illegal drugs. How many of us spend hundreds per month for an alarm system? How many of us are hesitant to go to an ATM, especially at night? Worse, how many citizens have died while a drug addict robs them. Recall the nun robbed of her cell phone near Buffalo, New York a few years ago. The robber eventually killed her for the 10 bucks the phone would bring at a pawnshop.

    “Luckily Greg, neither of us live in a barrio or ghetto. Those who do live behind barred windows and doors, as gangs own the streets and kill each over selling turf. Millions of our fellow citizens worry about their loved being hit by the stray bullets fired in the name of prohibition. Parents gaze into the eyes of their six years olds and pray that in six more years they don’t join a gang.

    “Living in the suburbs is no guarantee of safety. Radley Balko of Reason has documented 42 innocent citizens killed during drug raids. Officers have the wrong address or act hastily and citizens and their kids are terrorized with a gun to their heads. The middle class, white mayor of a DC suburb was recently such a victim. The cops killed his two black Labs (one of whom was running away), then interrogated him for an hour while his dogs bled out six feet away. Later, it turned out to be all a big mistake. Ooops!

    “The mayor was lucky. In Lima, Ohio this year during a drug raid, an officer fired his assault rifle at a mother holding her baby at a distance of about six feet away. The bullet severed the finger of the baby, then killed the woman. She had no weapon, nor did he testify he saw a weapon. He was just scared. The jury found him innocent of any wrongdoing. Ooops!

    “On April 15th you and I will pay a chunk in taxes. The law enforcement costs alone for enforcing prohibition laws will run over 70 billion. Moreover, all that money just goes down a drain, along with the trillion spent already. Does it make you want to cry or get angry and work for change?

    “By not taxing illegal drugs, your local school system is not receiving part of the roughly 12 billion dollars missed to buy the newest textbooks and hire the best teachers.

    “As a drug control strategy, prohibition has been a dismal and costly failure. This nanny-state liberal approach which employs the threat of government punishment backed by government police and prisons is an affront to the Founding Fathers. Tell your politicians it is past time to put this modern prohibition in the history books. Tell them to adopt a policy of ‘Leave Us Alone’ the title of a book by Grover Norquist.”

    Fellow citizens, as you can see in this interview with my police officer brother, YOU do have a dog in this fight.

    Today, my brother Howard Wooldridge heads up a task force in Washington, DC to educate and enlighten congressmen at the highest levels. He works for a better future for all Americans. He can be reached at: Education Specialist, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, http://www.leap.cc , Washington, DC. He speaks at colleges, political clubs, Rotary, Kiwanis and Lions Clubs across America. LEAP speakers in 36 states address this issue to citizens around the country to bring an end to the Drug War. Check out the web site and join. Book a speaker in your state! Wooldridge also presents at political conferences in Washington. wooldridge@leap.cc

    The mission of LEAP is to reduce the multitude of unintended harmful consequences resulting from fighting the war on drugs and to lessen the incidence of death, disease, crime, and addiction by ultimately ending drug prohibition.

    “Envision a world where crime is cut in half, terrorists don’t make money selling drugs and kids are not employed in the drug trade,” Wooldridge said. “Envision a world where the police focus on DUI, child predators and terrorists. Imagine a world where if you have a drug problem, you see a doctor not a judge. All are possible, when we find the courage to end our Prohibition.”

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    [...] the so-called opposition. Liberal Senator Juan Fernando Cristo, for example, just returned from a journey to Washington DC, where he explained and sought support for the victims’ law. Piedad Córdoba [...]

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    [...] more than a year of consideration in Colombia’s Congress, Colombia’s Victims’ Law effectively died this week. The law, which sought to institute a special system of reparations, in [...]

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