Lutheran World Relief to Urge Implementation of Colombian "Victims' Law" at April 3 Conference

Baltimore, April 2, 2013 — Zoraida Castillo, Lutheran World Relief's country director for Colombia, will speak at the April 3, 2013 conference “Land and the Colombian Peace Agenda,” to be held at the United States Institute for Peace in Washington, D.C. The conference aims to provide fresh analysis of the debates surrounding agrarian development in Colombia and educate U.S. policymakers and the public about Colombia’s current peace process and the nation’s Victims’ and Land Restitution Law.

The conference is sponsored by The United States Institute for Peace, The Inter-American Foundation and the U.S. Office on Colombia, and is supported by The U.S. Agency for International Developmen, The United Nations Development Program. Lutheran World Relief, Mercy Corps and The Latin America Working Group.

As the only international non-governmental organization representative presenting at the conference, Castillo will share lessons learned from LWR's 18 years of work in Colombia with displaced communities. She will be joined by speakers from the U.S. Agency for International Development, Colombia's Ministry of Agriculture and Colombian civil society.

“I will make recommendations for steps the international community can take to help ensure the law is implemented and to advance rural development and peace on Colombia’s Caribbean coast,” Castillo notes. “Farmers are eager to usher in peace and want to see the Victims’ Law help them return to their lands to farm.”

Disagreement about land tenure and land use was a key factor in the initiation of armed conflict in Colombia nearly 50 years ago, and has continued to play a role in perpetuating the conflict. In 2011, Colombia enacted the Victims’ and Land Restitution Law, which aims to compensate nearly 4 million victims of Colombia’s armed conflict. The law has drawn praise and support from the international community, yet implementation has been slow. In its June 2012 report “Still a Dream: Land Restitution on Colombia's Caribbean Coast,” LWR notes that as of June, 2012, “No land [had] been restituted under the Victims’ Law.”

In 2012, the Colombian Government and the nation's largest guerilla group, the Fuerzas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC), entered into negotiations. When negotiations began, land was at the top of the agenda and civil society has been involved in forums to discuss and make contributions to issues of land reform and restitution. The April 3 conference “Land and the Colombian Peace Agenda” will bring together policymakers, civil society leaders and members of the U.S. and Colombian governments to help advance understanding of the importance of land and agrarian development in achieving peace in Colombia.