Correcting course: Victims and the justice and peace law in Colombia

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Bogotá/Brussels, 30 October 2008: Critically undermined by government disinterest in the victims of the armed conflict, transitional justice in Colombia seriously risks failing.

Correcting Course: Victims and the Justice and Peace Law in Colombia,* the latest report from the International Crisis Group, argues that the Uribe government has given much higher priority to military efforts to reestablish security than to defence and promotion of victims' rights. This discordance has stymied implementation of the 2005 Justice and Peace Law (JPL) and threatens efforts to end impunity, a key cause of the conflict.

"The 155,000 registered victims of Colombia's conflict, in particular of paramilitary violence, are onlookers to, not actors in, a lagging transitional justice process", says Juan Munévar, Crisis Group's Colombia Analyst. "There is great need to increase protection of victims from illegal armed groups and expand the rule of law across the country to ensure their active participation".

Problems are exacerbated by serious operational and financial bottlenecks in the judicial process and the persistence of armed conflict. Civil society and human rights organisations are trying to reach out to victims and give them legal and other help, but they represent only a small sector of the large and fragmented victim universe. The National Commission for Reparation and Reconciliation (NCRR), charged with defending and promoting victims' interests, has been hamstrung by its closeness to the government and internal divisions.

The conflict with the FARC insurgency and the emergence of new illegal armed groups are major obstacles. Victims have been able to increase their participation only in regions where such groups have not yet emerged, the security forces have expanded their territorial control, coordination between institutions is good and the NCRR has shown leadership.

To avoid failure, greater government commitment to rigorous JPL implementation is required, as is an integrated victims and reparations strategy. The current debate in Congress about a new victims law is an opportunity for government and political opposition to work together and engage victims, human rights and civil society organisations in design of a policy seen as an essential component of, not a competitor with, the effort to win the struggle with illegal armed groups.

"The Uribe administration must combine military efforts with rigorous JPL implementation if it is to prevent the transitional justice process from failing", warns Markus Schultze-Kraft, Latin America Program Director. "Consolidating security and the rule of law depend not only on permanent police and military presence, but also on the successful pursuit of justice, reparations, truth and reconciliation".


Andrew Stroehlein (Brussels) +32 (0) 2 541 1635

Kimberly Abbott (Washington) +1 202 785 1601