Colombian House of Representatives Passes “Victims Act”

By Dialogo
June 18, 2009

Bogotá, June 16 (EFE). - Today the Colombian House of Representatives passed the “Victims Act” (Ley de Víctimas), which seeks to economically compensate the thousands of people affected by violence in that country. The Minister of Internal Affairs and Justice, Fabio Valencia Cossio, said that by approving this act “the balance between the respect for international standards and the Colombian Constitution and laws will be achieved regarding fiscal feasibility and political responsibility.” According to the Press Service from Casa de Nariño, the headquarters of the Executive power, Valencia Cossio emphasized that “the Act takes responsibility for the thousands of families that have been affected by more that 50 years of violence in Colombia." According to Valencia, Colombian President Álvaro Uribe has made the country a pioneer in the enforcement of transitional justice “despite how, throughout the world, it is normally enforced at the end of a confrontation or a peace process.” He also said, regarding this project of parliamentary origin, that “fundamental elements have been added to allow not only the current decree in force for the compensation by administrative proceedings in Colombia, but also an act to compensate the people both economically and integrally.” Now the project will pass to the Conciliatory Commission, since there are discrepancies with the Senate’s approval. Uribe praised the project’s approval, and said that “in the past (the victims) did not make claims because they were afraid or they thought it would be useless. Today we have more that 220 thousand victims registered in the waiting list for compensation.” He explained that these economic compensations presuppose “a high-cost measure for the Treasury in years to come, but it is necessary to eliminate the seeds of revenge.” Meanwhile, the deponent of the Act, Congressman Guillermo Rivera, told the press that by passing this law “the government and the Uribist coalition committed an atrocity toward the victims of this country.” He explained that the way this Act had been laid out, only after a judiciary sentence is passed would the victims of state agents be compensated and receive benefits. He added that the government did not consider the multiple observations that the opposing party made. He remarked that “what is worse is that, according to the Act’s layout, victims such as the mothers of the Soacha youngsters missing and murdered by the military will not receive any benefits. This conveys a terrible image to the international community.” He announced that, jointly with Senator Juan Fernando Cristo of the Liberal Party, he will present a lawsuit against the approved Act based on several unconstitutionality errors. On the other hand, the National Bureau of Victims, which gathers human rights defenders, reported in a press release that the approval of the “Victims Act does not meet the minimum international and constitutional standards regarding the rights of victims of human rights violations and infractions of international human rights." Furthermore, they state that “the observations made by Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to the Colombian government and Congress were disregarded.” They also state that the initiative considered neither the suggestions expressed by more than 4,000 victims in 9 regional hearings nor the requests expressed in more than 12,000 letters sent to the House of Representatives.