Land Tenure Security intersects with Public Security:
The Role of the Colombian National Police in the Rural Land Restitution Process
By: Gabriel Arrisueño Fajardo and Victor Endo
Colombia’s internal war is Latin America’s oldest armed conflict, causing more than 200,000 casualties. Moreover, it has resulted in one of the world’s largest internal displacement phenomena in recent history, affecting an estimated five million people. In this context, land restitution is one of the biggest challenges facing Colombia’s road to peace. Despite the recent rejection of a proposed peace agreement between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC in Spanish), the Colombian National Police (PNC in Spanish) will continued its active involvement in land restitution activities.
In 2011, the Colombian Government launched the National Citizen Security and Coexistence Policy (Política Nacional de Seguridad y Coexistencia Ciudadana – PNSCC). The PNC developed sixteen strategies for coexistence and citizen security.
Strategy 14 focuses specifically on land restitution, and its main objectives are:
(i) prevent and counter risk factors and threats;
(ii) strengthen the capabilities of the members of the PNC;
(iii) optimize inter-agency communication and coordination; and
(iv) define a model of integral police intervention.
Land restitution processes in Colombia are highly challenging and complex land tenure matters that are made more complex by their intersection with public security and environmental concerns such as illegal mining, illicit crop cultivation, and the existence of abandoned anti personal mines. To meet these challenges, PNC officers require skills that promote effectiveness in land restitution process while preventing or stopping illegal activities and developing sound relations with the community. The PNC created a Land Restitution and Anti-Terrorism unit to train police officers on land restitution issues. Training includes topics such as gender awareness and sensitivity, legal pluralism, land rights and tenure, and conflict mediation and resolution. Close coordination with other agencies and civil society organizations involved in land restitution activities is key to effective implementation of the National Citizen Security and Coexistence Policy. Aside from guaranteeing the safety of their staff, the PNC can provide these civil society organizations with information on the background and current situation of the different areas and populations, and serve as mediators in community related conflicts.
Recent international experiences on police reform, property restitution, and return of internally displaced persons (IDPs) can help the PNC shape its interventions. In the past two decades, the international community has formulated several instruments that seek to guide the actions of the State and other actors in internal displacement and land restitution processes.
In 1998, the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement were presented to the UN Commission on Human Rights and the International Law Association Declaration of Principles on IDPs (2000) promptly followed. In 2005, the UN Sub-Commission on the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights approved the Pinheiro Principles on Housing and Property Restitution for Refugees and Displaced Persons. While the first two documents limit their scope to internally displaced populations, the latter also addresses the housing and land restitution rights of refugees. Concerning the role that police play in property restitution processes, Principle 20.1 of the Pinheiro Principles establishes that “States should designate specific public agencies to be entrusted with enforcing housing, land and property restitution decisions and judgments”. Furthermore, Principle 20.3 established that “States should adopt specific measures to prevent the public obstruction of enforcement of housing, land and property restitution decisions and judgments. Threats or attacks against officials and agencies carrying out restitution programs should be fully investigated and prosecuted.” Finally, Principle 20.4 establishes that “States should adopt specific measures to prevent the destruction or looting of contested or abandoned housing, land and property.” These instruments can help the PNC plan and implement its activities so as to guarantee the rights of IDPs, to help diminish the risk of continued or reignited conflict, and to strengthen land tenure security in Colombia.
Victor Endo will represent the Land Alliance in the ‘I Congreso Internacional de Policía Rural’ to be held on 1 to 3rd, November, 2016 in Bogota, Colombia. The Land Alliance’s continued involvement in policy, institutional and technical reforms in the Colombia land sector in the context of the peace process precipitated an invitation to address the Congress and share both research and practical knowledge of the important intersection of public security and land tenure security as the basis for achieving sustainable rural development in post conflict Colombia.
 Gabriel Arrisueño Fajardo and Victor Endo are land rights researchers based in Lima, Peru and consulting associates of the Land Alliance.