Washington, D.C.—Colombian President Santos’ special faculties to correct the errors in the development of the Victims’ and Land Restitution Law will expire on December 10. The Victims’ and Land Restitution Law is a historic opportunity to recognize the rights of countless victims of Colombia’s internal armed conflict, which has disproportionately affected Afro-Colombian and indigenous peoples. However, the law did not respect Afro-Colombian peoples’ right to free, prior, and informed consultation and consent, and the Santos administration is missing the opportunity to correct this error, according to the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA).
“The law’s deeply flawed process sets the stage for further abuses,” said Gimena Sanchez, Colombia expert at WOLA. “It sets a dangerous precedent for future consultation processes regarding legislative proposals and economic development projects related to the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement.”
The right to consultation is crucial to guaranteeing the fundamental rights of Afro-Colombians in all legislation and economic projects that will affect them. WOLA fears that the flawed process that took place with this law is indicative of how the Colombian government plans to engage with these communities on large-scale economic projects linked to foreign investment. The Constitutional Court has struck down important legislation in the past for not respecting the rights of Afro-Colombian and indigenous peoples. WOLA is disappointed that the Santos administration chose to follow the same exclusionary and discriminatory consultation processes.
The stakes are extremely high: the law intends to provide reparations for grave human rights violations and return lands currently controlled by illegal armed groups to their rightful owners. “Victims must be included in the law’s development and implementation; if they are not, we will see a further erosion of their rights and potential displacement,” said Sanchez. “Nearly twenty land rights activists have been murdered since President Santos took office, and threats against Afro-Colombian leaders have increased. This number could skyrocket if victims are returned to conflictive areas without effective protection from the government and if the root causes of the conflict are not addressed.”
For further information on the flawed consultation process for the Decree Law for Afro-Colombian Victims, see this statement by the Afro-Colombian Solidarity Network (ACSN). WOLA is a member of ACSN and has witnessed bad faith by the government throughout this process.
The United States has pledged significant financial and technical support for the implementation of the law, and for this effort to succeed, it should guarantee the participation and protection of Afro-Colombian victims, communities, and organizations. “U.S. support for victims is positive, yet it should be done right,” said Sanchez.
Gimena Sanchez (U.S.)
Senior Associate, WOLA
[email protected]; (202) 797-2171
Eliana Antonio Rosero (Colombia)
Legal Representative, Black Communities’ Process (PCN)
+57 (311) 370-8931