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Civil-Society Organizations Announce New Proposal After Rejection of Victims’ Act

By Dialogo
June 22, 2009

Bogotá, 19 June (EFE). - The opposition and civil-society organizations expressed regret today that President Álvaro Uribe resorted to “fiscal terrorism” in order to defeat a bill to compensate to thousands of victims of violence in Colombia, and announced that they will present a new initiative to Congress. The controversial Victims’ Act was rejected by Congress on Thursday evening due to differences between the Senate and the House of Representatives, regarding the text of the act, despite a “reconciliation” that had already been achieved, and as the result of a direct request by the government to its caucus to reject it. Uribe had asked his parliamentary caucus, hours before the law’s rejection, not to support the initiative, as in his opinion it would cause “irreparable trauma to the finances of the state” and a “serious threat” to his policy of democratic security. The director of the Movement of Victims of Crimes of State (MOVICE), Iván Cepeda, assured EFE that he is greatly saddened that after more than two years of trying to reach consensus with the government in order to pass the initiative, it was instead shelved. Nevertheless, he believes that the “consequences could have been worse, because the government intended to pass a bill containing a frank refusal to acknowledge victims’ rights and engaging in clear discrimination.” Cepeda, the son of a leftist senator assassinated by state agents in 1994, was referring to discrimination against the victims of state terrorism in the bill the government wanted to pass, which would only recognize them as affected when there is a court judgment. "We are at a point from which we have to start the process over again, which is what we are going to do, because we will never give up on creating a law for the victims,” the activist said upon announcing the presentation in Congress of a new legal standard for victims. Likewise, he recalled that when civil-society organizations presented a bill to define forced disappearance, they had to do so seven times, and after following that long path, the victims “achieved a law in accord with the international characterization of forced disappearance.” MOVICE’s director added that the government engaged in “an act of intimidation using fiscal calculation” and did not explain why, according to its estimates, more than 36.2 billion dollars would be required to carry out the act as reconciled between the two congressional chambers. "Furthermore, this is quite immoral, because it reduces the discussion of victims’ rights to an appraisal of resources; it is part of a strategy to avoid taking the responsibility that state agents have for crimes against humanity in Colombia,” he specified. Along similar lines, a senator belonging to the opposition Liberal Party, Juan Fernando Cristo, stated that he was “disappointed” because the senators yesterday rejected a draft that they themselves had approved a year ago, simply because of an order from the Casa de Nariño (the seat of government). "The Senate document objected to yesterday by the President, who invented for himself the figure of 80 trillion pesos (36.2 billion dollars), had been under consideration by the government for the last year, and the question I am asking myself is why in the course of a year they never said that this act was crazy and that it was going to bankrupt the country,” he said. The People’s Ombudsman, Volmar Pérez, reiterated for his part that on July 20, when a new legislative session begins, “new bills on this subject are going to be presented.” Nevertheless, he said that before dealing with the main issue, an exercise of coordination should be carried out in order to make it possible to build a consensus around a single document that seeks to guarantee victims’ rights.