Sunday, October 19, 2014

The Impossibility of Justice

In June, 2011, Pres. Santos signed the Law of Victims, probably the world's most ambitious attempt to compensate victims of a nation's armed conflict. And, unfortunately, probably an impossible one. 

According to today's El Espectador, after other conflicts, such as those in Guatemala, South Africa and Morocco, governments have tried to compensate victims numbering about 1% of their nations' populations. In Colombia, the victims total 14% of the nation's population of 47 million people. The great difference is due to the inclusion of victims of forced displacement, who number close to 6 million people, according to some calculations - altho even without counting the displaced, the victims would total 2% of the population.
A protest march by displaced people.
(Photo: Vanguardia)

According to a 2006 study by Mark Richards of Harvard University, compensation to victims under the 2005 Peace and Justice Law could have cost between 19% and 33% of Colombia's gross domestic product - an impossible number, unless Colombia's willing to give up infrastructure, law enforcement or education (or, truly tax the rich). The current Victims Law is probably even more ambitious.

A memorial to victims of violence.
(Photo: Caracol)
Colombia's law has gone on for so long, been so devastating and hurt so many people, that compensating all of its victims - or even a large proportion of them - will be impossible. By the same token, the conflict has also produced so many victimizers of so many kinds, that punishing them all will be impossible. As difficult as it will be, any peace agreement will involve a huge amount of injustice and impunity. But those are the prices Colombia will have to pay to find peace and stop producing more victims.

Colombia's conflict victims by the numbers: From the Center for Historical Memory, which counted 218,000 people killed by the conflict between 1958 and 2012. Its numbers generally strike me as underestimates.
25,000 victims of forced disappearances.
Five or six million victims of forced displacement.
27,000 kidnapping victims. (And certainly an underestimate.)
Almost 12,000 massacre victims.
23,000 victims of 'selective assassinations.'
1,750 victims of sexual violence.
95 cases and 1,566 victims of terrorist attacks.
By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

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