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Bulletin #16: Series about victims' rights and the application of Law 975

Three initiatives of law on earth make difficult the right to reparation

The government has presented two law proposals to the Congress that allow the legalization and misappropriation of lands by paramilitary groups, and the destination of the state's budget to finance 'productive' projects on the land.These measures endanger the right of restitution as a way of reparation for all the misappropriations to millions of victims that have been exposed to violation of human rights; they also go against the principal purpose for why Law 975 was supposedly funded on the first place. Some projects have promoted or taken advantage of the systematic misappropriation of lands developed by the paramilitary groups, just as the "Defensoria del Pueblo" stated it in its resolution # 39 on June 2nd, 2005. According to the "Defensoria", there have been vast cultivations of African palm on misappropriated territories at Bajo Atrato (Choco); whole communies have been forced abandon the area by paramilitary groups. In the same resolution, the "Defensoria" also reported that paramilitary groups, during their incursion in the lands, stated that "they were the owners of the territories and that they would establish more cultivations of the palms". The statement was supported by the Paramilitary Head Vicente Castaño who later added: "We have palm crops in Urabá. I was the one who contacted the investors to intervene in those projects that are long-lasting and productive". Many lands that were violently misappropriated by paramilitary groups are now in the hands of people that are economically exploiting them. Thanks to normative changes inherent in the new proposals, the expropriators could consolidate and strengthen economic benefits derived from blood and violence. One of these proposals is the "Rural Development Status", that among other aspects, aims to award benefits for the purchase of lands, as well as for the execution of agro-industrial projects that present high productivity. With this criteria, large-scale projects of agro-industrial exploitation will obtain new advantages and will be backed up by big corporations. Another project proposed was the "Project of Rural Development" (article 122), which argued that even if someone did not have a property "fair title", the ownership of properties could be demonstrated with any other proof; this could have led to the legalization of territories that had been previously misappropriated illegally. Luckily, thanks to the opposition of many control organisms and social organizations, this particular article was excluded from the law project. Even though article 122 was abolished, it has been replaced by another law project known as "Healing of the property titles". This project aimed to make the process for land titles more "flexible" for the people who lacked the "fair titles". This project not only encourages an incredibly easy process for property legitimation, but also denies the original land owners (who are currently in a state of displacement) the right of restitution of the lands they were forced to abandon. Another program which has already been approved called "Agro Ingreso Seguro" (Secure Agricultural Income), grants economic benefits to some sectors of agricultural production. It ignores the fact that in many cases the development of "Agro-Industries" has been made through crimes that violate human rights, such as murder and forced abandonment of lands.The program basically consists on a large-scale cultivation that limits the victims' rights to get their lands back because it does not establish mechanisms that lead to an analysis of which properties were misappropriated by paramilitary groups. In such conditions, the initiatives already mentioned could lead to the systematic plunder of rural lands by paramilitary groups. Under the state's financial support to strengthen the Agro-industrial exploitation, there is a good chance that there will be no restitution of lands to the victims who were subject to violent misappropriation. The United Nations Committee for Economic, Social, and Cultural rights has suggested the Colombian state create efficient solutions to fight against the problems that deal with poverty and inequality in the rural areas. In order to pursue this goal, it is necessary to protect the farmers' properties and to insure restitution of lands that have been taken away illegally. On the other hand, the existing projects fail to create integral reparations and denies the country any possibilities of peace and justice.

Bogotá, March 26, 2007
Comisión colombiana de juristas