In 2011, the Colombian government enacted the Victims and Land Restitution Law (Law 1448) to guarantee armed conflict victims’ rights to truth, justice, reparation, and non-repetition. In 2022, Colombia reported 9.4 million victims of conflict-related violence, of which over four million were internally displaced. The law facilitates individual and collective measures of humanitarian assistance, restitution of abandoned or stolen land, and integral reparation for victims. It was originally intended to last ten years (2011-2021), but was extended by another decade in 2021.
Colombia’s armed conflict began in the early 1960s, one of the longest in Latin America. It involved several armed groups: the state, guerillas, and paramilitary groups. By 2018, more than 450,000 people had died due to conflict-related violence (of which 81 percent were civilians),1 about eight million hectares of land had been stolen or abandoned,2 more than six million people were internally displaced, and 191, 206 people have been reported as disappeared.3
In 2011, the Victims and Land Restitution Law or Law 1448 of 2011 (Ley de Víctimas y Restitución de Tierras) recognized armed conflict victims’ rights to truth, justice, reparation, and non-repetition.
The reparation measures established by the law were:
- Restitution of lands to rural owners who have been deprived of their land or forced to abandon their territories. It involves the return of internally displaced persons (IDPs) to their lands and the formalization of property rights.
- Monetary compensation for victims to help them rebuild their lives. The amount of compensation (calculated in minimum monthly wages) depends on the crime suffered by the victim.
- Satisfaction measures to restore victims’ dignity; through the reconstruction of truth and historical memory; the recognition of responsibilities and public forgiveness from victimizers; the delivery of corpses of forcibly disappeared victims to their families; and support for local initiatives of memory and commemoration acts.
- Rehabilitation measures, such as medical and psychological care.
- Guarantees of non-repetition of violence in the context of armed conflict, which include state actions geared towards society as a whole. One example is the implementation of institutional reforms for peacebuilding and restoring democracy.
All measures have a “differential approach”—guidelines and actions to guarantee protection to particularly vulnerable groups such as women, children, ethnic groups, the elderly, and the disabled.4< >Under the law, victims are those who individually or collectively, directly or indirectly, have suffered human rights violations and infractions of international humanitarian law as of January 1, 1985. Recognized victims from before this date are entitled to the satisfaction and guarantees of non-repetition measures described above.5
For more details about the reparations measures, click here.
The law is the result of decades of struggle and mobilization of victims’ associations, academia, social leaders, and human rights defenders. Moreover, the enactment of the law was facilitated by a favorable political situation in 2011, since former President Juan Manuel Santos publicly acknowledged the armed conflict and its victims.6 Additionally, there was a precedent in the 2005 Justice and Peace Law7, which allowed armed actors to participate in an alternative criminal justice process and established a Commission on Reparation and Reconciliation, which investigated the causes of violence and provided monetary reparations to qualified victims.8
For its implementation, the law established the National System of Attention and Reparation for Victims, NSARV (also in force until 2031), which coordinates programs and public entities. Within the system, three institutions were created: the Land Restitution Unit, the Victims Unit (UARIV),9 and the National Center for Historical Memory (NCHM).10
The 2011 law was set for a ten-year term. However, in 2021 it was extended until 2031, due to the shortcomings of implementation, the growing number of victims,11 and the intersections with the 2016 peace agreement between FARC, Colombia’s largest guerrilla, and the government;12 since it also includes measures regarding victims of conflict, such as a comprehensive rural reform and an Integral System for Truth, Justice, Reparation, and Non-Repetition system which articulates with the NSARV.13
While there is scant information on the total cost, about COP 135,5 billion (approximately USD 29.8 million) were invested by the Colombian government between 2012 and 2021 (Nation’s General Budget).
- A nationwide registry of victims. By 2022, 9,446,572 victims were registered. The registry is a key stage for the reparation program’s implementation,16 as it identifies the characteristics of victims, their circumstances, and the reparations they are entitled to.17
- The law recognized that political organizations and communities based on a shared culture, location, or purpose are entitled to collective reparations. In the first decade, 28 communities and groups were repaired by the total implementation of their concerted Comprehensive Collective Reparation Plans.18
- Regarding land restitution, the government set up offices and courts in almost all departments of the country,19 reaching 950 municipalities (80 percent of the country).20
- Progress was made in the reconstruction of the memory of the armed conflict, its causes, and its dimensions. By 2020, the NCHM published more than 13 reports of contribution to the clarification of the truth about the paramilitary phenomenon, compiled more than 13,000 testimonies, consolidated a historical memory archive; and progress was made in the creation of a National Museum of Memory, although it has not yet been inaugurated.21
- Provided humanitarian assistance to more than 142,000 victims; 1,163,650 individuals received economic compensation; and more than 250,000 people have received psychosocial care.22
The system still has numerous challenges. Only 9 percent of land restitution claims filed by victims have been resolved by judges. Additionally, according to the state’s calculations, it would take another 50 years to compensate all victims, if it continues at the same rate.23 Also, victims often do not have a full understanding of their rights.24 The main difficulties are the lack of funding and the ongoing conflict and violence in the country.25 The state has failed to protect land claimants; land restitution claimants’ leader killings and threats have tripled—only two years after the law was passed, in 2013, more than 500 land claimants reported threats. According to Indepaz, a total of 1,466 social leaders in Colombia have been murdered since 2016, with a percentage of these leaders being individuals who defend their territories and lands.26 Yet, there are still discrepancies and underreporting of attacks specifically targeting land claimants throughout the past decade.27 The presence of armed groups seeking to consolidate control over strategic territories and drug trafficking routes, as well as third parties interested in agribusiness and mining activities, impedes the return of victims to their land.28 However, the recent law extension and the implementation of the signed peace agreement in 2016 provide new opportunities to advance its implementation.
The two modalities of reparations are:
- Individual reparations refer to personalized attention to victims of the armed conflict (individuals and their families);
- Collective reparations refer to collective processes oriented towards communities and ethnic groups, organizations, and social movements who suffered collective damages caused by the armed conflict. These reparations are implemented through Collective Reparation Plans, which are concerted actions with groups or communities to restore social fabric, recover trust, and rebuild community projects.29
Both modalities include five types of integral reparation measures: compensation, guarantees of non-repetition, satisfaction, restitution, and rehabilitation. Measures are designed to consider the needs, special interests, and characteristics of individuals or groups, based on the damage caused by the armed conflict and the type of victimizing event.
- 1. Centro Nacional de Memoria Histórica, “Basta Ya: Memorias de guerra y dignidad,” 2013, https://www.centrodememoriahistorica.gov.co/descargas/informes2013/bastaYa/resumen-ejecutivo-basta-ya.pdf
- 2. Comisión de la Verdad, “Cifras de la Comisión de la Verdad presentadas junto con el Informe final,” 11 July 2022, https://web.comisiondelaverdad.co/actualidad/noticias/principales-cifras-comision-de-la-verdad-informe-finalhttps://www.elespectador.com/economia/cerca-de-6-6-millones-de-hectareas-de-tierras-agricolas-han-sido-despojadas-o-abandonadas-article-238798/
- 3. “Registro Unico de Victimas,” Unidad Victimas, February 2022, https://www.unidadvictimas.gov.co/es/registro-unico-de-victimas-ruv/37394
- 4. “CNRR Introducing a differential approach to reparations,” ICC-CPI, https://www.icc-cpi.int/sites/default/files/NR/rdonlyres/399BE317-FEE6-459B-9084-636131FC77BC/0/Presentaci%C3%B3nEnfoqueDiferencialDOC97_2003.pdf
- 5. LEY 1448 DE 2011, "Por la cual se dictan medidas de atención, asistencia y reparación integral a las víctimas del conflicto armado interno y se dictan otras disposiciones," Funcion Publica, https://www.funcionpublica.gov.co/eva/gestornormativo/norma.php?i=43043#:~:text=La%20presente%20ley%20regula%20lo,y%20asuman%20su%20plena%20ciudadan%C3%ADa
- 6. Semana, “Ley de Víctimas: un paso histórico,” 2011, https://www.semana.com/nacion/articulo/ley-de-reparacion-de-victimas-cumple-11-anos-en-colombia-este-es-su-balance/202258/
- 7. Basis of the demobilization process of the paramilitary groups in Colombia.
- 8. GARCÍA-GODOS, J., & LID, K., “Transitional Justice and Victims' Rights before the End of a Conflict: The Unusual Case of Colombia,” Journal of Latin American Studies, 42 no. 3 (2010): 487-516, https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/journal-of-latin-american-studies/article/abs/transitional-justice-and-victims-rights-before-the-end-of-a-conflict-the-unusual-case-of-colombia/29C196E8C4A1AB34FAFBA9A4975F7912
- 9. This unit aims to provide support and assistance to victims through two methods: group and individual psychological assistance; social and economic support for integration and return to areas of residence.
- 10. LEY 1448 DE 2011, "Por la cual se dictan medidas."
- 11. The number of victims has grown during the policy implementation due to the improvement in the information systems and the persistence of conflict-related violence. The Victims Registry (RUV) reported that there were more than 2,800,000 victims of the armed conflict between 2011 and 2020. The total number of victims registered under the law exceeded the state's response capacity. Additionally, according to the non-profit legal organization, DEjusticia, there was a miscalculation in the initial victims figures.
- 12. Justice for Colombia, “Colombia extends Victims’ Law until 2031,” 19 November 2020, https://justiceforcolombia.org/news/colombia-extends-victims-law-until-2031/
- 13. Comisión de la Verdad, “Punto 5 de los Acuerdos de Paz," https://www.comisiondelaverdad.co/punto-5-de-los-acuerdos-de-paz
- 14. Harvard Kennedy School, Carr Center for Human Rights Policy, “Transitional Justice in Colombia,” May 2021, https://carrcenter.hks.harvard.edu/files/cchr/files/202005_colombia_consultation_web_copy.pdf
- 15. Dejusticia, ABC del pasado, presente y futuro de la Ley de Víctimas, August 25, 2023. https://www.dejusticia.org/abc-del-pasado-presente-y-futuro-de-la-ley-de-victimas/
- 16. Harvard Kennedy School, “Evaluation of Integral Reparations Measures in Colombia,” USAID, October 2015. https://pdf.usaid.gov/pdf_docs/PA00KSXQ.pdf
- 17. Infobae, “¿Qué es el RUV y qué beneficios tiene estar inscrito?” August 22, 2022, https://www.infobae.com/america/colombia/2022/08/22/que-es-el-ruv-y-que-beneficios-tiene-estar-inscrito/
- 18. The Collective Reparations Plans are a set of concerted actions with groups or communities to rebuild the social fabric, recover trust and projects of the communities, organizations and group, “Modelo de Reparación Colectiva,” Unidad de Victimas, June 10, 2021, https://www.unidadvictimas.gov.co/especiales/leyvictimas10/colectiva.htm
- 19. Dejusticia, "ABC del pasado."
- 20. SNARIV, “La política de restitución de tierras llega por primera vez al departamento de Vaupés para atender las solicitudes individuales de los habitantes de esta zona del país,” Portal SNARIV, 2021, http://www.portalsnariv.gov.co/node/1715
- 21. Infobae, “Museo de Memoria en Bogotá: aunque debió ser entregado, las obras están inconclusas y presenta defectos en su estructura,” January 19, 2023, https://www.infobae.com/colombia/2023/01/19/museo-de-memoria-en-bogota-aunque-debio-ser-entregado-las-obras-estan-inconclusas-y-presenta-defectos-en-su-estructura
- 22. Unidad de Victimas, “La Ley de Víctimas cumple 10 años este jueves 10 de junio,” https://www.unidadvictimas.gov.co/especiales/leyvictimas10/index2.html
- 23. Dejusticia, "ABC del pasado."
- 24. Powell, Alvin, "A hard look at war’s reparations," The Harvard Gazette, 7 August 2015. https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2015/08/a-hard-look-at-wars-reparations/
- 25. El Espectador, “Ley de Víctimas tiene que ser reformada con las víctimas y no desde un escritorio: Orlando Burgos,” Spetember 14, 2020, https://www.elespectador.com/colombia-20/paz-y-memoria/ley-de-victimas-tiene-que-ser-reformada-con-las-victimas-y-no-desde-un-escritorio-orlando-burgos-article/
- 26. Indepaz, “CONSOLIDADO DESDE LA FIRMA DE LOS ACUERDOS DE PAZ HASTA EL 2023,” 2023, https://indepaz.org.co/
- 27. Procuraduria General de la Nación, “Violencia sistemática contra defensores de derechosterritoriales en Colombia,” 2018, https://www.procuraduria.gov.co/portal/media/docs/180710_Violencia%20sistematica-contra%20defensores-derechos-territoriales.pdf
- 28. Verdad Abierta, “Vivimos en el territorio, pero no es nuestro: mujeres del Bajo Atrato,” July 26, 2022, https://verdadabierta.com/vivimos-en-el-territorio-pero-no-es-nuestro-mujeres-del-bajo-atrato
- 29. Unidad de Victimas, “ Modelo de Reparación Colectiva,” June 10, 2021, https://www.unidadvictimas.gov.co/especiales/leyvictimas10/colectiva.htm