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BACRIM Displacement Victims Win Legal Recognition in Colombia

Colombia has the world's highest number of displaced people Colombia has the world's highest number of displaced people

Colombia's Constitutional Court has decreed that the National Victim's Registry must cover people displaced by the BACRIM, marking a victory for the thousands of Colombians forced from their homes due to criminal violence.

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The court also decreed that the government cannot place any limits on displaced people's inclusion in the registry, reported El Espectador. According to the court's decision, the government cannot argue that a displaced person is a victim of "common crime" rather than the "armed conflict" as a way of denying them access to reparations.

The tribunal indicated that displaced people do not have "ordinary mechanisms" to resolve their situations, meaning they are very vulnerable and enjoy little state protection.

According to El Tiempo, displacement caused by the hybrid criminal organizations known as the BACRIM -- from "bandas criminales" (criminal bands) -- is highest in the coastal regions of Nariño and in the urban areas of Medellin and Buenaventura. The new court ruling means that victims will be allowed to register as long as they have suffered forced displacement, and the official registry will no longer evaluate cases to determine if they are related to the armed conflict.

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The issue of whether the BACRIM should be considered actors in Colombia's conflict is a thorny one with widespread implications for how the groups are tackled -- illustrated by the Urabeños' recent plea to be treated as the "third actor" in Colombia's conflict and be allowed to negotiate with the government. However, whatever their status, the impact of these groups on victims, especially in terms of forced displacement, is no less severe than that of more outwardly political groups.

In this sense, the court's ruling is an important step towards providing justice for the thousands of people in Colombia displaced by the BACRIM, who had previously been unable to claim recognition as victims and had no recourse for recovering their homes or receiving reparations.

It also means the government can start to properly monitor the true impact of the BACRIM, as until now it has not included the number of people displaced by the BACRIM in statistics, meaning the true number of displaced people in Colombia, already the highest in the world, is much higher than the official figure of 4.9 million as of the end of 2012.

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