Colombia’s internal armed conflict has forced more than four million Colombians to abandon more than 6.6 million hectares of land since 1980. The Victims and Land Restitution Law (Law 1448) was signed on June 10, 2011 in order to address this situation. The ambitious Law 1448 recognizes the existence of the internal armed conflict in Colombia and intends to provide assistance, reparations, and land restitution to the victims of the conflict. The international community, including Secretary General of the United Nations Ban-Ki Moon, was present at the ceremonious signing of the law. The United States has also supported Law 1448 with significant technical and financial support. The law intends to return lands to the victims of the humanitarian crisis of displacement in Colombia—the country with the highest level of internal displacement in the world—and provide reparations for the victims of violence perpetrated by guerrillas, paramilitaries, and the state.
More than 17 land rights leaders have been murdered since Law 1448 was signed. The constant violence has been accompanied by strong criticisms from human rights organizations and civil society for several reasons, beginning with their exclusion in the development of the law. There are also serious worries about the government’s strategy to initiate land restitution processes in regions of the country that remain in conflict because there are minimal guarantees for the safety of campesinos who are returning to their lands. The prior consultation processes for the law with Afro-Colombian and indigenous peoples did not include their effective participation, and many communities and organizations feel that Law 1448 will not result effective reparation and restitution because they were not adequately included in its development.
There is also opposition from political and economic elites that have benefited from the reverse land reform in Colombia. These individuals and companies will continue to undermine the scope of Law 1448 because they do not want the power relations to change in the countryside. Opposition from the extreme right wing is manifested through violence, intimidation, and other forms of pressure.
The law presents a historic opportunity for Colombian victims. However, there is a significant gap in independent analysis on the implementation of Law 1448. There is a lack of independent and comparative analysis that can confirm the existing information and provide original recommendations. By accompanying four communities undergoing land restitution processes and providing systematic reporting on these processes, this project will be in an important resource for policymakers, the international community, and civil society.