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27 June 2006

The Representative of the Secretary-General of the United Nations on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) issued the following statement on 26 June 2006 in Bogotá, Colombia:

“Colombia is a country with a commendable legislation and far-reaching policy framework on internal displacement. However, there is a clear gap affecting the human rights of many among the up to 3 million displaced persons between what the law says and what is implemented at the regional and local level.”

This is the key finding of the Representative of the Secretary-General of the United Nations on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons, Dr. Walter Kälin, who is concluding a 15 to 27 June official visit to Colombia undertaken at the invitation of the Government.

”The protection of their human rights should guide all the efforts to deal with the plight of internally displaced persons, in accordance with the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement”, he recalls.

In this context, he welcomes the various decisions of the Colombian Constitutional Court, in particular Decision T-025/04, obliging authorities at all levels to take effective measures to fully implement Ley N° 387 and the subsequent decrees in order to protect the fundamental rights of the displaced and the first steps taken by the authorities to implement that decision.

“I also am very impressed by the work done by the Defensoria and Procuradoria as well as by a vibrant civil society”, he says. However, he expresses his concerns about acts of violence or intimidations against many persons defending the human rights of the displaced as well as against the leaders of displaced or returnee communities.

The Representative recognizes that the causes of past and ongoing displacement are very complex. Nevertheless, the lack of respect for the civilian character of affected communities and their neutrality by the armed actors , as well as attempts to control land and populations for various purposes can be identified as being at the core of the problem.

“I am concerned in particular with the disproportionate impact of displacement on indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities. It is seriously affecting their cultural and land rights,” he says.

He is also concerned about the increasing phenomenon of inter- and intra-urban displacement. The representative calls upon the authorities concerned “to provide effective protection against forced displacement through early warning measures, and, in particular, to fully implement as well as the precautionary and provisional measures issued by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights”.

The Representative commends the authorities for providing initial humanitarian assistance, in particular in cases of mass-displacement, but notes that such assistance is often delayed or not granted in cases of individual displacement. He welcomes the many efforts to support the displaced after the initial period with an aim to ensure their socio-economic integration but finds that these efforts are too limited to improve the situation of the majority of displaced persons who often become the poorest among the poor. The result is a widespread disregard for the economic, social and cultural rights of the internally displaced, in particular their right to health and the right to housing. There is also a need to a more a differentiated approach to assisting indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities in order to ensure that such aid is adequate and compatible with their cultural values.

“The displaced and their communities did not ask to be displaced. They must be recognized as the victims of displacement,” states the Representative, “and therefore they have rights to reparation as well as to restitution of their land and properties”. He therefore calls upon the authorities to ensure that these rights implemented.

“I look forward to a continuing constructive dialogue with the Government of Colombia” the Representative concludes.

Finally, the Representative welcomes the important work undertaken by the agencies of the United Nations in Colombia to promote and protect the rights of the internally displaced, in particular the work accomplished by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Colombia, OACNUDH, with its integral mandate, and that of the Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees, UNHCR.

The conclusions and recommendations of his visit will be published in the public report he will submit to the UN Human Rights Council. He reiterated his desire that a constructive dialogue with the Government of Colombia will continue and that it will contribute to a more effective protection of the human rights of the internally displaced.

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For use of information only; not an official record