PhD Defense B.A. Aguilar MA
Vidas dañadas y sentidos de la tierra. La reparación a victimas campesinas desde el enfoque de las capacidades.
- Location: Cobbenhagen building, Portraits room (access via Koopmans building)
- Supervisors: Prof. G.C.G.J. van Roermund, Prof. H.K. Lindahl, Prof. W.R. Herrera
Summary in English
Harmed Lives and Senses of Land. Repair to Peasants Victims from the Capability Approach
My grandparents were peasants who were forced to leave their lands in the fifties and sixties. They - who by that time had not known any other life than peasant life - had to leave everything that hitherto had been their world and move to other places until finally reaching the Colombian capital, Bogotá. They never considered themselves as victims or as displaced or dispossessed - when in fact they were - in the sense that those words have today, when Colombia is going through a time of transition. Although they suffered from this experience, they never thought they were entitled to reparation. Growing up, I realized that the story of my grandparents was far from unique or isolated. It was the story of many of my classmates' grandparents, so I started to learn something about what Colombia's history has been like. We are a country of displaced and dispossessed peasants (campesinos), even long before we gave it a name.
In this dissertation I seek to account for what has been harmed in people who define themselves as campesinos, having gone through experiences of dispossession and forced displacement that have taken them away from the lands and territories in which they used to live. I hold that the ‘full reparation’ approach that seeks the restitution of rights, paradigmatic in transitional justice (TJ) processes, seems insufficient to fully capture this harm. Apart from various factual difficulties related to its application (proof of ownership, estimation of monetary value, etc.), its conceptual limitation in understanding the harm is due to a specific way in which the law operates, particularly with respect to land ownership. This way of operating produces certain subjects (people) and certain things (goods), emphasizing their distinction and separation, which in turn defines their possible relationships. This discursive framework offers an understanding of what has been harmed by the dispossession of land - and, therefore, reparation would consist in the mere restitution of that right. However, this way of defining reparation in legal terms ignores crucial modalities of injustice experienced by peasant victims.
In this thesis I argue that the limited legal focus of reparation on the restitution of property rights not only does not capture the wider variety of experiences of harm suffered by peasant victims of land dispossession, but it can also perpetuate the harm. Instead, I hold that the Capability Approach (CA) proposed by Amartya Sen, can help to inquire, not into the ownership rights that people have lost through dispossession and displacement, or into the scope of property rights that they no longer have, but rather into the ways of life, of being and acting that have been significantly frustrated and harmed through the rupture of the bond they had to land and territory. Reparation should have to wrestle the question of how victims can restore, resume or (re-)start the lives they consider valuable, issues that can only be answered with understanding what has been harmed in those lives.
On the basis of the CA, my thesis is that in the case of Colombian peasants, what has been harmed by dispossession and forced displacement is a way of life that revolved around land and territory, included the struggle for their lands, live in dignity in this environment and the social organization shaped by this same struggle. Land and territory, therefore, are not mere means, but rather a constitutive part of who people are, who they wish to be, and what makes their lives worth living. Thus, land and territory are a special kind of goods inseparable from the ends of these people's lives. Beyond the violation of rights, the harm done points to the collective experiences of the broken social organization, giving rise to a collective subject called campesinado, and of the destroyed relations to land and territory.