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Media Contact: Emily Sollie, 410-230-2802, 443-220-3269 cell, esollie@lwr.org

Lutheran World Relief and The Latin America Working Group Release Report on Land Restitution Amid Conflict in Colombia, South America

Baltimore, October 12, 2012 —Lutheran World Relief (LWR) and the Latin America Working Group (LAWG) this week released the report “Still a Dream: Land Restitution on Colombia´s Caribbean Coast.”

The publication documents challenges to Colombia´s land restitution process under the 2011 Victims´ and Land Restitution Law (Victim´s Law), and explores human rights conditions in the region. Co-authored by LWR and LAWG staff, the report includes recommendations for the U.S. and Colombian governments to help advance land restitution for displaced Colombians and protect human rights, emphasizing protection for rural citizens championing land returns.

Zoraida Castillo, LWR´s country director for Colombia explains, “The Victims’ Law is in place and should be advancing land returns to victims of Colombia’s conflict, but on the Caribbean coast we have seen no returns take place under the framework of this law.” She adds, “What we have observed is that fear, lack of government support, and continued activity by armed groups prevent communities and families from returning to their land.”

To protect small-scale farmers from threats of violence and death, LWR and LAWG recommend that the Colombian government significantly increase the provision of legal advice to victims, and support protection measures for rural communities attempting to return to their lands or secure land titles. The report also calls on the U.S. government to condition support for Colombia’s Victims’ Law on improved action by Colombia to protect returning communities.

Lisa Haugaard, executive director of the Latin America Working Group, notes, “There is still a strong presence of armed gangs and paramilitary-like groups, which sprang up after the 2004-2006 paramilitary demobilization, which continue to threaten small farmers, including people displaced by the war who have returned to their lands. But another source of pressure comes from mining, lumber and hotel industries which use money, lawyers and threats to gain land.” Haugaard adds, “Campesinos [small-scale farmers] are paid minimal amounts for their land or are threatened or pressured so much they give it up for nothing.”

To help prevent continued and future displacement, the two organizations recommend that the Colombian government begin immediately securing formal land titles for farming and Afro-Colombian communities that in many cases have been living on the same lands for decades without title.

Annalise Romoser, LWR’s communications officer for Latin America and one of the report authors, explains, “Despite the violence they face and without any government support, some communities are returning to their land. It´s a dangerous endeavor, but the only option left for displaced communities who need land to farm. Non-governmental organizations, like LWR, play a critical role in assisting these communities to return safely and begin the investments necessary for successful farming enterprises.”

“Still a Dream” comes out just days before the Colombian government begins official talks with the country’s oldest guerrilla group, the FARC (Armed Revolutionary Forces of Colombia). While the report makes no formal recommendations related to peace negotiations, it does offer a complex picture of the challenges to peace and human rights in the country, and highlights specific policy actions to help advance both on the nation´s Caribbean Coast.

Underscoring the importance of fully implementing the Victim’s Law, Haugaard adds, “If there is to be a just and lasting peace in Colombia, it is crucial that the Colombian government deliver on its promises to the victims of the conflict. This includes the promise that land.”

Download the full report here.

WHO IS LWR? Lutheran World Relief works to improve the lives of smallholder farmers and people experiencing poverty in Africa, Asia and Latin America, both in times of emergencies and for the long term. With the financial support of US Lutherans and other donors, LWR strengthens communities through programs in agriculture, climate, and emergency support. LWR works with partners, supporters and technical assistance providers to achieve lasting results. For more information, visit lwr.org.

Lutheran World Relief is a ministry of U.S. Lutherans, serving communities living in poverty overseas.

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