Land grabbing at the legal crux: Forced displacement and land restitution in Colombia

Authors: Max Counter*,
Topics: Latin America, Human Rights, Legal Geography
Keywords: Colombia, land grabbing, land restitution, forced displacement, human rights
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/3/2019
Start / End Time: 12:40 PM / 2:20 PM
Room: Washington 1, Marriott, Exhibition Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

Colombia’s armed conflict has entailed industrial-scale land theft, foreshadowing the Inter-American Court of Human Rights historic 2005 judicial designation of “land grabbing” as a human rights violation. “Land grabbing”, as the violent dispossession of rural, afro-descendent and indigenous populations’ land for agro-industrial and mining use, has served as a central heuristic for understanding Colombia’s armed conflict. Against this background, and focused on Colombia’s 2011 “Victims’ and Land Restitution Law”, this paper looks “beyond” land-grabbing in two facets. First, it examines land restitution as a means of undoing violent patterns of land grabbing. Secondly, it questions how violent patterns of displacement might be legally rectified without presupposing that those who currently own dispossessed land necessarily obtained property through land grabbing processes. Examining land restitution in Colombia’s Magdalena Medio, I detail the legal measures used to prosecute legacies of land grabbing, as well as the controversy arising when those powerful legal measures are trained upon relatively small, “good faith” owners of once-dispossessed land. This paper approaches land restitution as an important means of undoing violent patterns of land concentration, yet cautions against presupposing that all patterns of violent displacement can be understood through a land-grabbing analytic. Land may be dispossessed using overt, coercive violence or, following critical scholarship from Diana Ojeda and others, through subtle forms of “everyday dispossession” (despojo cotidiano). How land restitution programs detect and manage these distinctions bears upon post-conflict legal land regimes’ precarious capacity to either ameliorate, or potentially exacerbate, violent legacies of forced displacement.

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