Last week, an episode of heavy conflict in southwestern Colombia displaced several hundred people
. This was followed by a short-lived revolt
in an indigenous village, with farmers briefly forcing FARC militants and soldiers to vacate land they had occupied. Though these incidents have grabbed the attention of Colombia-watchers, there are many cases of forced displacement in Colombia that don't make the headlines. Indeed, though few people know it, the country actually has the largest population of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the world.
The government estimates the number of IDPs at 3.9 million, while Colombian NGO CODHES puts the figure at more than 5 million. In the last year alone, the Colombian government recorded an additional 143,116 people forced from their homes by violence or threats of violence - a 7 percent uptick from last year. Incidents of mass displacement, when 10 or more families or 50 or more individuals are displaced, increased by 40 percent over the same period.
Yet in the face of continued problems, the Colombian government is pursuing an ambitious agenda to provide reparations to victims of conflict and displacement. According to President Juan Manuel Santos, such efforts will heal the wounds of the past and transform Colombian society.
Last June, with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon looking on, Santos signed the so-called Victims Law, which seeks to streamline the process of assisting and compensating an estimated 4 million people across Colombia. It does so by creating a single unique registry for victims, bringing the many state institutions that address their needs under one roof. The goal of this overhaul is to improve coordination among the myriad agencies, making it easier for victims to receive humanitarian assistance, financial reparations, and (for some) opportunities for land restitution.
The new institution charged with executing this program is the Victims Unit (or Unidad para la Atención y Reparación Integral a las Víctimas). So far, the Unit and its director Paula Gaviria have been designing programs and providing guidance to local authorities, which are the first points of contact with IDPs.
In recent weeks, however, the Colombian press have run several stories lamenting that these local authorities are overwhelmed
, and warning that
IDPs who pursue land restitution are facing serious threats - likely from major landholders and their supporters. Many IDPs have already been killed, and there are reports that an 'anti-land restitution army' is emerging. All of this calls into question the government's ability to safely implement the Victims Law.
Over the next two weeks, I will be traveling in Colombia to see first-hand how the Victims Law is being implemented, and to find out what the international community can do to help. I will be visiting three cities – Cali, Cartagena, and Villavicencio - and speaking to local governments, aid organizations, and victims themselves. I hope you'll follow my progress on the blog, and on Twitter at @marcbhanson.
July 23, 2012
| Tagged as: Colombia, Americas, Humanitarian Response, Protection & Security