The University of Texas at Austin   School of Law

The Bernard and Audre Rapoport Center for Human Rights and Justice

Partners for change at the intersection of academics and advocacy.


Colombia Spring Break Project

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Delegates meet with a government agency representative (L to R): Alysia Childs, Sylvia Romo, Josh Clark, Silvio Garces and Karen Engle.

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The delegation made an afternoon site visit to Soacha, a sprawling settlement inhabited by survivors of displacement, located just a short distance from the capital.

The Rapoport Center for Human Rights and Justice sponsored a spring break fact-finding mission to Colombia from March 10-18, 2007 to study Afro-Colombian human rights issues. The trip was also sponsored by the Robert S. Strauss Center for International Security and Law, the Lozano Long Institute for Latin American Studies and the Human Rights Law Society. It was co-sponsored by the Center for Sociolegal Studies at the Law Faculty of the University of Los Andes and the Social Studies Center of the Humanities Faculty at the National University of Colombia. The trip was also made possible by the generous contributions of several private donors, to whom we are very grateful.

The Case of Afro-Colombian Property Rights

In 1993, through Ley 70, the Colombian legislature granted communal land rights to Colombians of African descent. Although Ley 70 provided for the titling of land to facilitate ownership, it is argued that in some cases it has resulted in increased violence aimed at Afro-Colombian communities. In other instances, communities might have secure title but little chance of sustainable development. Moreover, Ley 70 included provisions with regard to education, financial assistance and local government, much of which has yet to have been realized.

Our interdisciplinary student delegation (comprised of law students and graduate students at the LBJ School and LLILAS) met with members of Afro-Colombian communities (those who have been displaced, those who have secure title, as well as those who have not applied for title), members of non-governmental organizations, and government representatives in order to gather information, write a report and make a short documentary on the obstacles faced by Afro-Colombians in exercising their communal rights to property. The report, based on the students' research, has been presented to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights for use in assessing the situation of and preparing their special report on Afro-Colombian rights. Furthermore, the students will have the opportunity to present their recommendations to U.S. policy makers.

"I am very grateful for the chance to travel to Colombia during spring break and study Afro-Colombian land rights. We had the wonderful opportunity to meet with many important government officials and community leaders and gained a wealth of knowledge about the struggles that the Afro-Colombian community is facing. In addition, the trip helped to solidify my interest in human rights law. It was extremely beneficial to learn about human rights in a real life setting and meet people whose lives have been directly affected by the issues that we are studying." – Amber VanSchuyver (Law)

“I had many wonderful experiences such as learning about the failures of the Colombian justice system firsthand from top attorneys, visiting and dancing with members of a displaced Afro-Colombian community, and commiserating with community leaders on the need for a civil rights movement to make the law work.” – Paul Di Blasi (Law)

Read more student reaction.

Read more about the Colombia delegation . View photos from the trip and read the Press Release.