“Anna, do you think the reparations will arrive by Friday? I really need some money by Friday.”
“Normally, I’d be planting corn at this time of year, but they told us the reparations were coming soon, so I decided to wait until I had the money to buy the seed. Now, I don’t know what to do or what my family is going to live on this year.”
“When we were displaced, it was really scary. But we all thought that we would be back in our homes in a couple of days. We didn’t ever imagine that 12 years later we would still be waiting. Sometimes, I feel like this process is harder on us as a community that the actual event of displacement.”
-Voices of my Neighbours in Mampuján
Once again, Mampuján is in Colombia’s media spotlight. This time, however, it is not for hosting large events nor for marching long distances. Rather, on June 1, news media across the county published reports stated that the community of Mampuján had now received their reparations. However, nothing could be further from the truth.
In fact, things are more complicated and delayed then every before, as the members of the community are caught in the crosshairs between two different processes as the State of Colombia attempts to continue a process of transitional justice.
The controversial Justice and Peace Law, under which the paramilitary commanders who ordered the displacement of Mampuján and the massacre in neighbouring Las Brisas, are sentenced, was put in place by former president Alvo Uribe in 2005. It plays an important part in attempting to establish transitional justice here in Colombia; the law’s main role is to aid the demobilization of illegal armed group, through a process of justice and truth. In exchange for confessing to crimes, giving information, and providing access to their resources gained through illegal activities, those responsible for the crimes are promised significant reduction in penalties. In the case of Mampuján, the paramilitary leaders known as Juancho Dique and Diego Vecino received sentences reduced from 462 and 468 months respectively to eight years of incarceration.
In theory, the law aims to strike a balance between victims’ right and the need for nationwide demobilization. The victims will receive justice through the state seizure of estates and goods of the accused, which will be used to reparate the victims for damages suffered during their displacement, etc. In the case of Mampuján, the Supreme Court of Colombia has ordered a payment totaling more than $32 billion Colombian pesos (around $15 million Canadian dollars) for the 1,444 victims included in the sentence, which the National Fund of Reparation and Reconciliation is in charge of gathering.
In reality, the National Fund is claiming they have only been able to collect 1.5% of the total amount, or $500 million pesos from the para-commanders, mainly because they have not been able to sell seized land. They also state that there is no possibility of remaining funds for the rest of the victims that are following behind Mampuján in the legal process of Justice and Peace if Mampuján receives full reparations. This lack of funds has created a confusing tangle where the state has declared that it is the victimizers and not the state that are responsible to pay the difference. Therefore, they claim, the state cannot be held responsible for fulfilling individual reparations, even though a legally binding sentence has been ordained, holding state entities responsible for Mampuján reparations.
A new administrative process, the Victim’s Law of 2011, put in place by current President Juan Manual Santos, in another avenue whereby victims in Colombia have access to reparations. The state is currently offering to pay the victims of Mampuján using this system, as a subsidy towards the amount in the sentence. However, the limit of reparations available using the Victim’s Law is under half of what is ordained in the sentence and, contrary to the sentence, does not include any coverage for goods lost at the time, such as land or cattle, but only the act of displacement itself. The Victim’s Law also clearly states that victims cannot be compensated twice, raising doubts about the community’s chances of receiving further compensation. It is also worrying that in Resolution 1545 of the State Council, published on May 31, the Council declares that by compensating Mampuján in this manner, with the significantly reduced amount, they will have fulfilled all of their responsibilities towards individual reparations in the case of the community.
This dilemma of responsibility has overarching implications throughout Colombia, not only in Mampuján. It poses challenging questions about the authority of the justice system and its sentences as well as the transitional justice process as a whole. Is the Justice and Peace Law only helpful for the victimizers, as so far they appear to be the only beneficiaries? How can justice and peace be achieved for the victims, not only in Mampuján, but those that follow behind in the same process? Is there sufficient political will to find a holistic solution?
My neighbours are faced with very difficult decisions. Do they accept a much reduced amount of money and hope for justice sometime in the distant future? What guarantee do they even have that this smaller amount will arrive, as promised payment dates have repeatedly been broken? Do they wait and continue to try different legal approaches to receive the full amount promised to them? After all, they have been waiting and fighting for their rights for over twelve years. What is a little longer?
However, no matter what viewpoint is taken, one thing is clear. In the continuing drama of transitional justice in Colombia, the community of Mampuján continues to play the role of victim, this time of its very own legal and justice system.