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. The war has seen human rights violations against civilians, including extra-judicial executions, kidnappings, forced displacement and land theft carried out by all sides.


  • 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 taking a stand to help themselves and their country. Both are active members of UNDP-supported victims’ organizations helping those affected by Colombia’s armed conflict.

With funding from Canada, Sweden, and Spain, UNDP has assisted 980 such advocacy groups by 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.

Maria and 30 other survivors of sexual violence attended a workshop on legal rights provided by UNDP. “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 to offer help to other people and institutions trying to overcome this difficult phase,” she says. This was one of 219 UNDP-supported legal and psychosocial workshops that have helped over 13,500 victims across the country.

Because the crimes and human rights abuses were so widespread during the conflict, no precise record had existed of the number of victims. Thus, in addition to assisting advocacy groups, 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 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 of some civil society organizations that receive UNDP human rights training and legal counsel, 75,000 people have received a form of compensation for the suffering they endured as a result of different crimes, such as landmine contamination of their land and the loss of family members.

A national missing persons’ registry has also been established with UNDP help, providing faster access to the system and better management of information. Over 5,500 victims have been able to receive responses, protection, guidance, and legal representation due to the registry.

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