Sale of Victims’ Data Undermines Colombia Land Restitution

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Authorities in Colombia have arrested seven officials accused of selling private information on victims of the armed conflict, demonstrating the corruption that has hampered the country’s restitution efforts and puts victims’ lives at risk from criminal interests.

The group stand accused of accessing information on displaced people, land restitution claimants and other victims, then selling it to the highest bidder, reported El Espectador.

Judicial sources told newspaper El Colombiano that the ring used the information in various ways, including adding fake victims to databases; stealing victims’ identifies for fraud; speeding up compensation payments to certain people; and identifying those who reported crimes.

Those arrested, who were all from the northern province of Antioquia, included several officials from the Unit for Attention and Integrated Reparation of Victims, an official from the Medellin Mayor’s Office, and the ombudsman of the town of Chigorodo.

InSight Crime Analysis

Colombia has been putting into place an ambitious victim compensation and land restitution scheme since the government passed a “Victims Law” in 2011 (pdf). The process has so far been slow and has achieved little, according to critics, and the type of corruption uncovered in this case has likely contributed to the lack of results.

Adding fake victims to databases can seriously erode support for restitution efforts. When false victims have been discovered, critics have used the cases to undermine the whole process, calling for the state to place the onus on claimants to prove they are “real” victims — which is near-impossible for many.

Even more grave is the sale of information such as the identities of those who reported crimes — presumably to armed groups. Since the restitution process began, campaigners have faced threats and violence from criminal organizations descended from the paramilitary groups who were behind most of the land theft, violence and abuses. Up to 50 claimants have been murdered since the law came into effect, and at least 500 received death threats in 2013 alone, according to a report by Al Jazeera.

The effects of this form of corruption on this process are plain to see. In 2012 InSight Crime visited the region around Chigorodo, where a land restitution campaign has been confronted with threats and violence from paramilitary successor groups. A central complaint of the communities was that they could not turn to the state, because any time they reported criminal activities the information was relayed straight to the groups threatening them.

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