There is a tense and worrisome air in the Colombian human rights world these days. Just a few weeks ago, the Colombian government reopened an investigation into the case of Mapiripan, and called into question the veracity of one of Colombia’s most historically important massacres that clearly shows the collaboration between the paramilitary death squads and the Colombian military. This week, the same government office is claiming that the community of Las Pavas, another high profile case involving state restitution to victims, is another example of victim fraud. Both actions aim to delegitimize victims and their supporters, and both seem to point to a concerted effort to paint the Victims law, and the plan for land restitution, as unrealistic and unsustainable and therefore should be weakened or abolished.
No one denies the massacre of Mapiripan happened, and no one denies that the paramilitaries used a military plane to fly from a military base, arrive at Mapiripan and spend three days killing its citizens. However, the press generated by the re-opening of the investigation has inverted what is important and is focusing on whether the death toll stands at 49 or 13. Of course, it is always important to have the most accurate account of what happened, including the number who died. However, the government is not merely in pursuit of accuracy, but rather they are using it to defame both the Interamerican Court on Human Rights and one of the most respected lawyers collectives in the country, the José Alvear Restrepo Lawyers Collective. These entities, according to the government, are responsible for pushing victims to give false testimonies, obstructing justice and twisting the case so as to win more reparations money. In reality, the Colombian government was, from the beginning, fully aware of every bit of information that the NGOs had and even used the witnesses in other state legal cases. Despite this, the government still is doing what it can to cast a shadow of doubt not only on the victims of state violence, but also the Human Rights defenders that support them.
The case of Las Pavas is another example of de-legitimization. As you can read here, Las Pavas is a farm of over 1,000 hectares that has been worked by the community of farmers for the past 13 years. Since they inhabited the land, they have been displaced three times by the paramilitaries and the Colombian police working with the Palm Oil company of Daabon. The fact that they won their land back was a significant victory in the long process of returning displaced communities to their lands. Now, based on the fact that one man has retracted his testimony regarding the displacement of the Las Pavas community, the attorney’s general is citing this case as another example of victim fraud against the state. In doing so, that office is turning the victims of displacement into the victimizers of the state and is turning public opinion away from sympathizing with the community who has suffered so much while instead viewing them (and by extension all the victims claiming state reparations) as suspects of fraud looking only to milk the state of money they don’t deserve.
While it might be too early to tell for sure, with the way that the state is using Las Pavas and Mapiripan to delegitimize the victims, their supporters and the process of land restitution, there is concern that the State might eventually use these cases to argue that land restitution law is too ambitious or food difficult and thus push to weaken it or all together abolish it.