Helping the victims of Colombia's conflict

Community members from the El Copey municipality in Colombia. Photo: UNDP Colombia
UNDP’s Transitional Justice Programme is helping Colombia come to terms with its violent past, as well as to seek justice for the victims of South America’s longest running civil war. Photo: UNDP Colombia

Luz Dary Santiesteban stands by the Pacific Ocean in a small Colombian town. “If that sea could talk, it would tell us all about the victims,” she says, pointing to the water. “They all were made to disappear.”

Santiesteban is one of thousands of people in the country whose relatives were murdered during the country’s conflict, which started in 1964 and continues to this day. Although a two month cease fire is currently in force, the war has seen human rights violations against civilians, including extra-judicial executions, kidnappings, forced displacement and land theft carried out by all sides.

Highlights

  • Over 173,000 murders and more than 77,000 cases of forced displacement occurred during the civil war
  • 219 UNDP supported legal and psychosocial workshops have helped over 13,500 victims across the country
  • Over 57,000 investigations have now taken place and legal aid has been provided to nearly 10,000 victims

In Meta, central Colombia, Maria* is one of the thousands of women estimated to have suffered sexual violence during the conflict. "The crimes that I have experienced generate serious physical and psychological problems that are difficult to deal with every day,” she says.

Santiesteban and Maria are just two of the millions of victims of this conflict. However, they are also taking a stand to help themselves and their country. Both are active members of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) supported victims’ organizations working to help those affected by Colombia’s armed conflict.

To date UNDP has assisted 980 such advocacy groups, many of which were only recently created, providing legal counsel; management and leadership training; and advice on how to build and consolidate an organization. Colombians have been using these groups to better understand and advocate for their own rights.

An example of the help UNDP provides is the workshop on legal rights that Maria, along with 30 other survivors of sexual violence, recently attended. “This training helped me a lot to come to terms with what I have faced. Thanks to the spaces provided we can use this experience to provide care, and offer help to other people and institutions trying to overcome this difficult phase,” she says. In all, 219 UNDP supported legal and psychosocial workshops have helped over 13,500 victims across the country.

Because the crimes and human rights abuses were so widespread during the conflict, until recently, no precise record existed of the number of victims. UNDP gave technical and legal help to the government to document the 1,614 massacres, over 173,000 murders and more than 77,000 cases of forced displacement that occurred during the war. Over 57,000 investigations have now taken place and legal aid has been provided to nearly 10,000 victims.

UNDP is helping the government, police and judicial system to examine the horrors of the past, with technical help in the investigation and prosecution of accused criminals and by helping to draft new laws that protect witnesses and victims.

In some parts of the country, UNDP experts have assisted the government in exhuming remains, providing evidence in the investigation of more than 9,400 missing person cases. 27,400 living victims of the war have received justice from the UNDP supported Ombudsman’s Office and thanks to advocacy from some of the civil society organizations that received UNDP human rights training and legal counsel, 75,000 people have now received some sort of compensation for the suffering they endured as a result of different crimes, landmine contamination of their land, or for the loss of family members.

A national missing persons’ register has also been established with UNDP help, and other law changes, such as the 2011 Victims and Land Restitution Law will provide reparations to over 400,000 people who had land stolen by 2014.