One of the characteristics of the Colombian peace process is recognizing the rights of the victims as well as seeking to end the armed conflict and open pathways for reconciliation. The complex weighting of these two needs has translated into creating a set of institutions for a historic and legal clarification both of the causes and the damages produced during the armed conflict within the context of the armed conflict as well as the accountabilities involved.
They arrived at this path by first, accepting the political nature of the armed conflict and second by the social struggle which has led the government and public opinion to recognize the rights of the victims. However, while recognizing the political crime and the corresponding amnesties as a long-standing tradition, to the rights of truth, justice, repair are all part of a recent practice to the point where it’s the first time that in Colombia a peace process suggests recognizing damages and responsibilities with universal criteria.
The universality principle is fundamental for reconciliation because it implies setting aside cynical perspectives that only recognize victims caused by actors considered as antagonistic while they make an effort to deny damages caused by actors which they consider close or sympathetic. This criterion also leads to questioning patterns and types of individual and collective damages inflicted upon several social sectors in differentiated territories, and through this manner, for the sake of equality, the dignity of all victims.
Currently, the country has an official count of 8 million victims, of which 7 million have suffered forced displacement, which is the most eloquent indicator of the territorial, social and cultural magnitude and impact of the conflict. But also this issue has achieved greater visibility through a ruling of the Colombian Constitutional Court in its T-025 of 2004 verdict.
On the contrary, the refugee crisis does not have the same visibility and recognition. In fact, there is unawareness both of the extent as well as the needs and living conditions of thousands of Colombian refugees, which translates into protection issues and hindrances to build repatriation or migration regularization policies.
According to the UN Refugee Agency, 311,000 Colombians requested or were granted “refugee” status in 2016. However, in 2007 this figure climbed to 557,000 and the amount is not explained by repatriation processes but due to the immense obstacles of the protection systems.
The majority of people that have left the country in search of international protection do not access the refugee status because governments lack speedy registration and protection systems or because they opt for different figures such as “humanitarian, occupational or transit visas” or access to regional citizenship systems.
Recognizing refugee status is fairly exotic, despite that the majority of countries in the world signed the Geneva Convention on Refugee Status of 1951 and its addendum of 1967. The Ecuadorian case is an indication of what happens when they open a registry system and recognized 54,000 Colombians of 200,000 requests.
Colombia Law 1448 of 2011 vaguely recognized the category of “foreign victims”. Despite its slow implementation, currently there are more than 23,000 victims in 43 countries. Needless to say that under-registry surpasses 90% and that the majority of victims do not register for fear of losing the living conditions they have achieved in other countries.
The prior data indicates that there is a great deal of Colombians which were compelled to leave the country due to the armed conflict, forming an even larger and complex diaspora motivated by diverse reasons, but are still very much related to the absence of safeguards in Colombia.
This issue poses great challenges for the government, society and the international community, although there are favorable conditions in this national and international juncture which need to be embraced to open solution pathways which focus on rights.
Firstly, the Final Peace Agreement compels the government to implement repatriation programs based on international voluntary, dignity and safety principles. But also needs to honor the decision of those who opt to remain in their countries of residence and deploy a robust diplomatic strategy to avoid forced “de facto” repatriations, especially for people which have precarious international protection situations. For these events, international law has regularization instruments, but the Colombian government needs to look for the collaboration of other governments to ensure definitive settlement or re-settlement programs in third countries.
Likewise, they need to establish a special warranting system that will allow refugee access to new institutions created to guarantee the right to truth, justice, and repair, without obligating repatriation or relinquishing protection status in other countries.
On the other hand, victims living abroad are establishing organizational processes and have tendered several strategic proposals such as summoning an international conference in support of the peace process leading to adopting an action plan on the crisis of Colombian refugees.
Among the most important organizations are Foro Internacional de Víctimas(International Victims Forum), the Colectiva de Mujeres Refugiadas, Exiliadas y Migradas (Refugee, Exiled and Migrated Women Collective), the Red de Víctimas Colombianas por la Paz (The Colombian for Peace Victims Network) and the Comisión de Verdad, Memoria y Reconciliación de las Mujeres Colombianas Refugiadas (Commission for Truth, Memory, Reconciliation of Refugee Colombian Women.)
And lastly, in 2018 there will be two global pacts, supported by the United Nations, one on migration and the other on comprehensive refugee care. Colombia has been recognized around the world for its peace efforts and peace is a way to offset the cause of displacement and refuge.
The Colombian government still has a great debt with its refugees and it also has a precarious capability to engage a migratory crisis and refuge of Colombian citizens in other countries. It is time to turn Colombia into a country which supports the rights of its citizens and a country which apart from claiming solidarity, turns into a territory for international protection.