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Protesters in Bogota hope for 'justice without rebates.' (James Stapleton — Jesuit Refugee Service)

(Bogota) October 14, 2014 — In response to ongoing dialogue between the Colombian government and the guerrilla group FARC, Jesuit Refugee Service has urged the negotiating parties to take in account the needs of those affected by the conflict. 

The statement — presented at the National Victims Forum in Cali — called for assistance for victims, reparations, solutions to the displacement and preventative measures. JRS also urged receiving states to welcome refugees and offer them international protection, not forcibly return them to Colombia.

Initiated in 2012, the peace negotiations in Havana are entering their decisive stages. In order to provide the victims with an opportunity to influence the process, the United Nations and the Universidad Nacional de Colombia organized a number of roundtables throughout the country. The last roundtable, the National Victim's Forum, took place in Cali in early August, where victims of both parties came to express their views of the decades-long conflict, which were sent to the negotiators in Havana.

Although JRS welcomed the opportunity to give voice to the victims of the conflict, the JRS Colombia office sought clarification from the authorities on how the peace agreement could affect communities. Law 1448 of 2011, the Victims and Land Restitution Law, provides victims with reparations, but it does not guarantee their protection. Consequently, it should not be a justification for revoking refugee status. This law looks only at the past and ignores the future.

The JRS statement to the forum addressed not only the need for reparations and humanitarian assistance, but it encouraged the actors involved in the peace process to look at the root causes of the conflict and take preventative measures.

Humanitarian focus and assistance. The Colombian government needs to ensure victims of recently created criminal gangs composed of members of 'officially demobilized' paramilitary groups should be recognized as such and receive humanitarian assistance. Moreover, regional authorities often have a long tradition of providing assistance to the victims of the conflict. Therefore, more responsibility for assistance should be decentralized, in addition to the financial and technical support.

Truth, justice and reparation. Law 1448 guarantees the rights of victims to receive reparations. As such, JRS underlined the need for the state to ensure this law is respected in full. In addition, in the name of justice, victims should be guaranteed their right to know the identities of those who perpetrated crimes against them. Furthermore, JRS called for seats in the Colombian congress be set aside for representatives of victims to ensure the promotion and protection of their rights.

Durable solutions. Finding solutions for the victims of forced displacement will require the long-term provision of support mechanisms to help thousands of families to rebuild their lives. While national re-integration policies are needed, implementation of strategies should be driven locally. Marginalized communities affected by violence will need support from local and regional authorities financed by the central government. While the legal and public policies have already been developed, JRS urged the state to identify and fill the gaps between policy and actual implementation.

Prevention, protection, and preventative measures. According to the JRS submission, government, civil society groups, the media and private sector groups need to develop strategies and activities promoting peace and reconciliation. The peace process, the submission continued, should focus on areas which have been historically excluded and often prone to violence. JRS called the authorities to promote the rule of law, support communities affected by violence by providing alternatives to illicit activities such as drug cultivation and goods smuggling, and combat unlawful actions of armed groups, as well as local and regional corruption inside and outside of the state.

Read and/or download a PDF of the JRS statement by clicking here.

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