Return Within the Bounds of The Pinheiro Principles: The Colombian Land Restitution Experience


In this Article, we argue that a successful program for land restitution and return for victims of forced displacement that obeys the Pinheiro Principles must take a comprehensive approach, or one that provides support programs for returning victims through centralized administration. We find that a minimalist restitution program, or one that simply provides a legal mechanism for obtaining restitution, is much less likely to succeed. In evaluating the likelihood of success, we consider whether the program will (1) adequately preserve victim choice while motivating victims to return, (2) provide for the fair and adequate administration of both restitution and return, and (3) enable returning victims to have more secure land tenure than when they were expelled. Along each of these dimensions of concern to returning victims, we conclude that, to be successful, a policy must provide for centralized administration of all phases of restitution and return, including extensive victim support.

Our evaluation of how public policy should implement the Pinheiro Principles is based on an analysis of the Victim’s Law in Colombia in which we examine its approach to land restitution for victims of the Colombian armed conflict. Our analysis is grounded in the political, legal, and social background to land restitution in Colombia. The armed conflict in Colombia has lasted for over forty years and has left between three to five million displaced persons. Conditions in Colombia present both challenges and advantages for successful land restitution: challenges because displacement is still taking place in Colombia and advantages because the Constitutional Court has been a strong advocate for victims’ rights.


Colombia, Land reform, Welfare reform



David L. Attanasio (Harvard Law School)
Nelson Camilo Sánchez (DeJuSticia)



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