We leave Bucaramanga, the luggage rack full of equipment, posters and banners for the “North Santander Forum on Territory and Hope for Peace” in Ocaña, a city in North Santander department and one of the gateways to Catatumbo, an area very affected by the armed conflict which Colombia has experienced for decades.
The platforms MOVICE (National Movement of Victims of State Crimes) and Constituyente por la Paz called the gathering of victims to inform, advise and organise the community. The Constituyente’s purpose is to generate active participation in formulating proposals for a people’s mandate, and collectively build a new model for the country that is democratic, dignified and with social justice.
We accompanied Julia Figueroa, a lawyer and president of the Luis Carlos Perez Lawyers’ Collective Corporation (CCALCP), which is based in Bucaramanga. CCALCP defines itself as a “group of professional women at the service of the people, which makes the law more accessible to vulnerable communities whose rights have been violated”.
During two days, hundreds of victims from the region, many of them displaced from Catatumbo (and currently living in Ocaña), listened to Julia and her colleagues talk about the work that will be done in facilitating different spaces, providing individual advice, and presentations on different subjects relating to the situation for victims including the agreements negotiated between the State and the FARC guerrillas.
The most relevant issues from the peace agreements are the points on victims, and democratic participation. Julia talks about the effects of the Victims Law and Law 975 on Justice and Peace. On the one hand she shows the purpose of the Victims Law to: “establish a set of measures that benefit the victims of the armed conflict, in a context of transitional justice and which enable access to truth, justice and reparation with guarantees of non-repetition”. 
On the other hand, she spoke of the achievements and the problems of the Law in its first five years of existence. She observes that one of the biggest problems is the Victims’ Unit, where every request takes years, a reason why CCALCP has applied to the court to enforce the protection measures in many of the cases it represents. Although the law gives priority to children, the elderly and single mother households, prioritisation often fails, and so does the special differential focus.
There are a lot of claim for land restitution, but only 2% of the cases have reached sentencing. The lawyers are seriously concerned because often land restitution means that other victims, who are presently occupying those lands, will have to leave. Only 23% of victims have the right to stay on their land, which will result in new evictions.
In terms of Law 975 on Justice and Peace, Julia highlights achievements like the confessions of accused paramilitaries, which made it possible to verify that many of the victims’ claims are true, that there were thousands of people displaced, that the paramilitaries set up crematoriums in Catatumbo, that there were links between paramilitaries, public authorities and the Armed Forces, or that rape and sexual abuse of women was a paramilitary practice.
One of the law’s purposes was the demobilisation of paramilitary groups, which has not been completed and should have ended long ago. Julia speaks of how the same methods of human rights violations are happening now as before the Law and the reorganisation of the groups under new names like the ‘Urabeños’, ‘Rastrojos’ or ‘Black Eagles’.
Julia tells the audience that the victims need to report what happened, and that there is a lack of information available to the displaced population on the possibilities open to them as displaced people or as victims of forced disappearance, for example. Nevertheless, it is clear that the victims have great needs, a worrying situation, a desire to speak about individual cases.