Vulnerable Insiders: Constitutional Design, International Law, and the Victims of Internal Armed Conflict in Colombia

By David Landau

This article, prepared for a conference on “The External Dimensions of Constitutions” held at the University of Cambridge in September 2016, explains how the Colombian Constitutional Court constructed a set of rights for a group of vulnerable insiders—victims of the country’s long-running internal armed conflict. The Court based its jurisprudence on a 1991 constitutional design that turned towards international law as a way of resolving a severe domestic crisis of violence and legitimacy. The Court has drawn heavily on principles of international human rights law and international humanitarian law to develop a set of protections for Colombia’s massive population of internally displaced persons, as well as to protect the rights of victims to receive adequate access to truth, justice, and reparations during peace processes with illegal armed groups. The Court has generally developed a model of intervention that emphasizes the rights of victims while preserving flexibility for the state in order to avoid disruption of delicate peace processes. It has also successfully drawn on a logic of solidarity that identifies victims as deserving and overlooked recipients of aid by the Colombian state. This very logic may identify a potential limit of the model: a strategy based on solidarity may successfully incorporate overlooked insiders, such as internally displaced persons, but it is unclear whether it will prove as successful with outsiders such as cross-border refugees.

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