Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos [official website, in Spanish] on Friday signed legislation to compensate victims of the country's armed conflict. The Victims' and Land Restitution Law [Senate backgrounder, in Spanish], approved by the Senate [JURIST report] last month, seeks to compensate [BBC report] millions of individuals by providing damages to relatives of those killed during the armed conflict, which has spanned over 40 years. The law will also help to return land stolen throughout the conflict to its rightful owners. Implementing the law will be challenging due to the estimated cost involved, but the UN has pledged to lend its support to Colombia. In a speech [text, in Spanish], Santos emphasized the importance of the Victims' Law:
In short: it is a broad and comprehensive law which is a monumental effort, no doubt, the State and society to compensate our victims and heal the wounds we have suffered as a nation. ... May God give us strength, and the Colombians and the world give us their support, to make this law now sanctioned an instrument of peace and justice.Victims of war crimes and their families often go uncompensated. However, the passage of this law, in conjunction with recent court decisions, marks a possible reversal to this trend.
The US federal court system has heard several lawsuits seeking compensation for victims of Colombian violence. In February, the US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit [official website] revived a wrongful death lawsuit [JURIST report] brought against Drummond Company [corporate website]. The plaintiffs alleged that, after Drummond employees in Colombia successfully unionized, the company hired the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) [CFR backgrounder], a group of paramilitaries, to break up the union and murder its leaders, plaintiff's fathers. In April 2010, victims of paramilitary violence in Colombia filed suit against Chiquita Brand International [JURIST report] in the US District Court for the Southern District of Florida. The plaintiffs were 242 Colombians who alleged that they had been seriously injured or had family members killed by the AUC, which received funding from Chiquita. In 2007, Chiquita was fined $25 million [JURIST report] after it admitted to making payments of around $1.7 million from 1997 to 2004 to the AUC.