Colombia has enacted a landmark "Victims' Law" aimed at redressing the estimated four million victims of the country's long-running internal conflict.
The law creates mechanisms for compensating survivors of the tens of thousands of people, mostly civilians, killed since 1985 in Colombia's civil war. Stolen land is to be returned to hundreds of thousands of displaced.
President Juan Manuel Santos signed the law on Friday in the presence of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon.
"Today is a historic day," said Santos speaking to a crowd of 600 guests including the Colombia's military brass, senior judges and representatives of than two million internally displaced. Santos has made the law the prime focus of his 10-month-old administration.
"Our country is not condemned to 100 years of solitude," he added, invoking the title of the novel by Colombia's winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, which depicts the nation as one that can't escape endless cycles of violence.
Authorities say the law will take a decade to implement and cost at least $20bn. Additionally, the conflict has not yet ended. The country remains beset by conflict, though leftist rebels and right-wing bands control far less territory than they did a decade ago.
CODHES, a human rights group, says 49 people seeking to reclaim stolen land have been killed since 2002. Eight of these people were killed this year alone.
UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-Moon pledged the UN support saying, "The United Nations will do all it can to support the governement and the victims in their efforts to build lasting democracy, peace and reconcilation."
He added, however, that "the job has just begun".
Tentative public praise
Many victims applauded the law, but also expressed concern.
"I think that without seriously getting under control 'parapolitics', the 'para-economy' and those who have cleared out lands, it will be very difficult to produce processes of restitution of land and reparations," said Rep. Ivan Cepeda, longtime head of Colombia's organization of victims of state crimes.
He was referring to Colombia's so-called paramilitaries, privately funded far-right militias that emerged in the 1980s to counter kidnapping and extortion by leftist rebels.
The paramilitaries devolved into drug-trafficking gangs, used by wealthy landowners to extend their holdings at the expense of peasants, indigenous groups and Afro-Colombians.
The paramilitaries continue to exert a powerful, violent and corrupting influence in rural Colombia, where the central government remains relatively weak and local politicians and military officials sometimes aid and abet them.
Jailed paramilitary warlords who surrendered in exchange for promises of relative leniency have admitted to ordering more than 50,000 murders. Human rights activists say the death toll could be triple that amount.
Source: Al Jazeera and agencies