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Who’s responsible for displacement?
Susan Abad
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Organizations propose trying the Colombian government for its role in forced displacement.

More than 8 percent of the 46 million Colombians are currently displaced within their own country’s borders, and those responsible for this humanitarian conflict continue to enjoy impunity. Several nongovernmental organizations are now proposing the creation of an International Court of Opinion to try the Colombian government for its role in causing the problem.
Iván Cepeda, of the National Movement of Victims of the State, notes Colombia has the world’s second-largest number of internally displaced refugees after Sudan.

“The reality facing the displaced is of a population that has been reduced to poverty, that has lost all of its belongings, its land, that has had to move to cities where [it] lives in a highly precarious situation ... one that the government has not been able to solve,” he said.

Differing figures
Nongovernmental organizations’ count of those who have been displaced in the country as a result of the country’s ongoing political, economic, social and armed conflict differs greatly from what the Colombian government says.

According to the government’s Social Action program there are 1.9 million internally displaced persons in Colombia, equal to 441,000 households.
But the Consultancy for Human Rights and Displacement (CODHES) and the Colombian Episcopal Conference found in a 2007 report that the number is much higher: 3.8 million.

Fabián Oyaga of the Latin American Institute of Alternative Legal Services, or ILSA, said that “illegal armed groups have caused the forced displacement as well as massacres, disappearances, selective assassinations as a strategy and conduct of war.”

“In the case of forced displacement, in addition to achieving the objective of domination and territorial control,” he said in a statement, “the armed groups have usurped the land of the population that has fallen victim to “conduct recognized by international criminal law as a crime against humanity.”

“The consequence of this internal exodus was in effect a counter-land reform, reflected in the increased concentration of land,” he said. “An example of this is the fact that 74.5 percent of the displaced people, according to Social Action, at the time of their displacement were land owners.”

Cepeda said that “in Colombia, even though there is a high level of impunity, in the past two decades there have been cases that have led to very specific victories.” He cites a 2006 Constitutional Court ruling that protected the rights of the displaced population, but adds that “it’s not enough.”

The National Displaced Persons’ Coordinating Group, with the ILSA, the National Movement of Victims of State Crimes and the European Center on Housing Rights and Evictions, is promoting the creation of these new opinion courts.

The idea for the special courts came out of the Russell or War Crimes Tribunal that heard cases for crimes committed by the United States during the Vietnam War. In 1979 the Permanent People’s Tribunal was created, which is currently hearing a case about the role of international companies in human rights violations in Colombia.

A legal tool
According to Oyaga, the International Court of Opinion seeks to “make the truth public, both in the voice of the victims and through its rulings that could motivate legal courts to bring about justice.” These courts “would allow for the detection of errors in the judicial system, present evidence ... and contribute to the first step in the verification of evidence,” Oyaga added.

He said that in order to know the historical truth it is necessary to know who was benefiting from the plunder: the large landowners, palm oil producers, livestock herders turned into regional politicians and bosses, who today hold the largest and best tillable land in the country.

While there is no exact date for the creation of the court, Cepeda calls it a “gigantic process ... that this tribunal is not going to solve, but it will obligate the government to publicly debate its policies on this issue and to make some concessions, for example, to give more funding to the displaced population.”

For his part, Jorge Rojas, CODHES’ director, says that “any action made at the judicial or political level should take all players in the war into account, and this tribunal limits itself to cases against the state, which seems to us, positive, but incomplete.”

“It could be a good exercise of historical memory, it could be a good exercise to identify the responsibilities of one of the parts facing the conflict, which is the state, but I think the displacement issue must be considered in formal bodies such as the International Criminal Court, given that it is a war crime, that the displacement is continuing and has affected so many people living in a high-risk situation,” he said.


Organizations are seeking that
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