Internally displaced community in Colombia begins march today

Located in the Montes de Maria region of Colombia’s Bolivar department on the Caribbean coast, the community of Mampuján has experienced the full force of Colombia’s past and ongoing armed conflicts. Their most decisive event, however, occurred on March 11, 2000, during the height of violence in this zone, when the members of the community of Mampuján were displaced from their original location by a group of right-wing paramilitaries, known as the Heroes of Montes de Maria. The community members were rounded up, accused of supporting guerrilla forces, and commanded to leave Mampuján immediately. Three hundred families fled, and 11 campesinos from the surrounding area of Las Brisas were massacred.

Since this time, the majority of the community has resettled in temporary housing, located about seven kilometres away in New Mampuján, where they live a reality very similar to that of the other 5 million internally displaced persons living in Colombia.

However, Mampuján and several surrounding neighbor communities are significantly different from the rest of the victims as they are the first communities to receive a verdict under the Law of Justice and Peace (Law 975 of 2005), where the paramilitary leaders responsible for the displacement have been sentenced to jail time and ordered to repay their victims for damages suffered. This has been the only sentence of its kind in Colombia, despite the existence of this law for over six years.

Under this sentence and an additional sentence by the Supreme Court of Justice in April 2011, the community is entitled to receive both individual and community reparations for damages suffered during displacement. The Supreme Court sentence defines the parameters that the courts, the State and various institutions will work within to make sure that reparations take place. However, despite this groundbreaking legal action, nothing has in reality taken place. The community of Mampuján and its surrounding neighbours have not received their promised reparations and there are increasing fears that nothing will happen as the Justice and Peace Law and government offices dedicated to enforcing this law are phased out and replaced with the new Victim’s Law.

If the only sentence of and reparations from paramilitary violence in Colombia’s history cannot be carried out for a community of 250 families, what are the chances of justice for the rest of the over 5 million victims, even with new laws?  This is a significant testing of the government’s stated intention to support and provide justice for the victims, especially as President Santos has staked his presidency on providing justice.

Therefore, the community of Mampuján is getting ready to march, not only for their own benefit, as they demand their reparations, but for the benefit of all the victims of armed conflict in Colombia. This morning community members—the majority children and senior citizens—are planning on leaving their homes behind and non-violently walking 32 kilometres to Cartagena, the capital of Bolivar province and the home of numerous different institutions and state governments. They are demanding to meet with the different agencies responsible for their reparations and are hoping to be joined by other victims of armed conflict along the way.

This is the first action of this type for the community, so a lot of learning is taking place as they go along, but they are steadily moving forward, accompanied by a number of different organizations and experienced nonviolent activists. Mampuján is already gaining national attention for its women’s quilting group and its sentence; this march will serve to focus this attention and pressure the Colombian government to comply with its promised changes.

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