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Minority issues: UN expert calls on Colombian authorities to focus on Afro-Colombians’ plight

BOGOTÁ(15 February 2010) – The UN Independent Expert on minority issues, Ms. Gay McDougall, called on the Colombian government to concentrate efforts in improving the situation of those communities identified as Afro-Colombian, Black, Raizal and Palenquero, especially in key issues related to displacement, dispossession, poverty and violence against individuals and communities, in both rural and urban environments.
 
At a press conference in Bogotá, at the end of her first official mission to the country (12/02/10), the UN human rights expert acknowledged that “Colombia has an impressive and commendable legislative framework that recognizes many rights of Afro-Colombians, starting with the Constitution of 1991 which recognizes not only the right to non-discrimination but also the right to equality for all citizens.”
 
However, the UN Independent Expert noted, “the vast majority of communities and organizations that I consulted complain that implementation of Colombia’s legislation on Afro-Colombian communities remains woefully inadequate, limited and sporadic. Most importantly, where steps have been taken, no real enforcement has followed.”
 
“Displacement from their lands was highlighted as the highest priority issue for many Afro-Colombians whom I met,” she said. “Despite the granting of collective titles to some 90 percent of Afro-Colombian ancestral lands, many communities are displaced, dispossessed and unable to live on or work their lands. As one woman told me, ‘the laws say all the right things but still, nothing has happened.’”
 
“Inconvenient rights”
 
The UN Human Rights Council’s envoy drew attention to the fact that many Afro-Colombians have been displaced by ‘megaprojects’, large-scale economic operations, often involving national and multinational companies, promoted by the government as bringing development and economic gain to the whole of Colombia. “The communities however, have grave concerns about encroachment on their land rights and adverse environmental impacts.”
 
Ms. McDougall warned that, “in the face of such economic interests and megaprojects it appears that the rights of communities are ‘inconvenient rights’ and that the laws put in place to protect them are equally inconvenient.”
 
Afro-Colombian Women and Violence are among the key issues highlighted by the UN Independent Expert at the end of her mission to Colombia: “Afro-Colombian women have spoken to me of the multiple discrimination they face as Afro-Colombians, women, displaced and poor; a potentially fatal combination that leaves them in a situation of extreme vulnerability.”
 
Ms. McDougall called on the Colombian authorities to “urgently put in place responses that recognize the extreme impact of violence and displacement on Afro-Colombian women and create conditions of security, dignity and justice.”
 
During her 12-day mission to Colombia, the UN Independent Expert visited numerous cities and regions, including Bogotá, Cartagena, San Basilio de Palenque, Turbaco (Bolívar), Urabá region (Chocó/Antioquia), Apartadó, Quibdo, Cali, Buenaventura (Valle del Cauca) and the municipality of Suárez (Cauca) and the surrounding areas where the Afro-Colombian communities are prominent.
 
Ms. McDougall met with both President Álvaro Uribe and numerous senior government officials, and consulted directly with representatives and members of Afro-Colombian communities and other non-governmental organizations, as well as academics and others working in the field of minority issues, social inclusion, and the promotion of equality and non-discrimination.
 
The UN Independent Expert will present a report containing her findings and recommendations to the United Nations Human Rights Council.
 
Ms. Gay McDougall (United States) was appointed as the first holder of the post of UN Independent Expert on minority issues in July 2005. The mandate of the Independent Expert was established to promote implementation of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities, and to identify challenges as well as successful practices in regard to minority issues.
 
(*) Full statement by the UN Independent Expert on minority issues: http://www.ohchr.org/en/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=9821&LangID=e
 
Texto completo de la declaración de la Experta Independiente sobre cuestiones de las minorías: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/issues/minorities/expert/docs/Colombia_Statement_12022010_sp.doc