Supporting the Organization of American States in victim protection in Colombia
Title: MAPP/OEA: supporting the Organization of American
States in victim protection in Colombia
Commissioned by: German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ)
Lead executing agency: Misión de Apoyo al Proceso de Paz (MAPP) de la Organización de los Estados Americanos (OEA)
Overall term: 2008 to 2018
Colombia has experienced persistent violent internal conflict between various non-state groups and state security forces for several decades. The Justice and Peace Law came into force in 2005 with the aim of encouraging paramilitary groups to disarm and voluntarily submit to the legal authorities on the understanding that they would receive a reduction in sentence in return for making a full confession. The ensuing court cases met with fierce criticism from the outset. In particular, doubt was cast on the truthfulness and completeness of statements given by many of the former members of paramilitary groups. By involving the victims in the proceedings, however, the courts were able to verify some of the confessions.
Under the leadership of President Juan Manuel Santos, the Colombian Government has taken a number of important steps towards building peace. The Victims and Land Restitution Law of 2011 is a particularly significant milestone as it recognises the armed internal conflict for what it is and governs arrangements for compensating the victims of the conflict.
In 2004 Colombia asked the Organization of American States (OAS) to provide assistance for the country’s peace process. This request led to the establishment of the OAS Mission to Support the Peace Process in Colombia (Spanish acronym MAPP/OEA). The aim of this international peacekeeping mission is to support Colombia’s justice and peace process. Its mandate was extended in 2010 to include support for the land restitution process and implementation of the Victims and Land Restitution Law.
MAPP/OEA’s mandate was further amended in 2014 to cover the new challenges arising out of the negotiations with the Colombian revolutionary armed forces (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – FARC) that have been in progress since 2012. The revised mandate brought with it new tasks, including systematically observing and monitoring the conflicts and the circumstances in which they occur. The Mission also helps to identify new armed parties and advises Colombia on alternative methods of resolving conflicts and strengthening democracy.
MAPP/OEA has more financial support for its victim protection work. Victims derive greater benefit from the Justice and Peace Law and the Victims and Land Restitution Law.
The international community pays into a fund to facilitate the work of MAPP/OEA. In 2015 funds were received from the Netherlands, the UK, Spain, the USA, the EU and Turkey as well as from Germany. This money is used to support MAPP/OEA’s general mandate and all the associated activities. BMZ has a financing agreement in place with MAPP/OEA.
Since 2015 financial contributions have been paid directly into this basket fund. Germany’s contribution in 2015 amounted to two million euros, thus taking the country’s total contribution since the project started in 2008 to 4.5 million euros. By paying into the fund in this way, German support now encompasses all the thematic and geographical areas in which MAPP/OEA operates, rather than being limited to specific topics and regions as was previously the case.
Results achieved so far
Seven victims’ associations have been founded in the departments of Norte de Santander and Cesar. They represent a total of 1,868 victims, 72 per cent of whom are women. Together with the relevant civil society and governmental institutions, the associations are actively involved in implementing the Justice and Peace Law and the Victims and Land Restitution Law. Given the negligible role accorded to the victims in the justice process for such a long time, it is a notable achievement that constructive dialogue on their interests and needs is now taking place between their representatives and governmental institutions. The support provided by MAPP/OEA has not only increased the visibility of victims’ representatives but also made their involvement more effective. For the first time governmental institutions now recognise victims’ representatives as legitimate partners and take the lead in inviting them to meetings. Representatives’ proposals are taken into account when planning and implementing initiatives under the Victims and Land Restitution Law.
In mid-2012, after a lengthy appeals process, a trial in Norte de Santander against a paramilitary leader finally returned a verdict in favour of the victims. In an unprecedented decision, the victims of the paramilitary leader, who was sentenced for a number of crimes including 25 massacres, were legally awarded compensation and reparations. The support that MAPP/OEA provided to the victims during the trial was and remains a crucial element in the proceedings. The German contribution enables 100 victims to take part in each trial, offering general guidance, legal advice and psychological support throughout.
On-the-ground application of Law 1424/2010 has also improved. This law obliges those demobilised paramilitaries who are not subject to the transitional justice mechanisms of the Justice and Peace Law to participate in an out-of-court truth-finding trial. MAPP/OEA is helping to coordinate the institutions involved in implementing the law, including the government’s reintegration authority and the public prosecution office. Courts, public prosecutors and victims’ associations use shared databases to exchange information with one another on the demobilised paramilitaries and update these databases continuously. This means that trials can be conducted faster and more effectively. MAPP/OEA has also published studies on improving the application of the Justice and Peace Law. These are being taken into consideration by the relevant authorities.