Brookings-LSE Project on Internal Displacement

Representative of the UN Secretary-General discusses Colombia's displacement laws

Alto Comisionado para los Derechos Humanos
High Commissioner for Human Rights

"In Colombia, the laws and institutional framework to assist IDPs are good, but their non application affects the rights of the internally displaced,"

says the Representative of the UN Secretary-General
on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons

Bogotá D.C., 26 June 2006

"Colombia is a country with commendable legislation and a 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."

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

"The protection of their human rights should guide all 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 Nº 387 and 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 intimidation 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 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 to housing. There is also need for a more 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 are 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 his public report 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 more effective protection of the human rights of the internally displaced.

The Representative of the Secretary-General of the United Nations on the Human Rights of Internally-Displaced Persons, Dr. Walter Kälin, has just concluded an official visit to Colombia - from 15 to 27 June 2006 - at the invitation of the Colombian authorities.

To date, the Representative has met with the Minister and Deputy Minister of Defence, the Director for Human Rights and International Relations of the Ministry of Interior and Justice, the High Counsellor of the Presidency for Migration, Social Policy and International Cooperation, the Procurador, the Defensor del Pueblo, as well as members of the Constitutional Court and of the National Commission for Reconciliation and Reparation.

In order to gain first-hand impressions, the Representative of the Secretary-General traveled to Villavicencio, San José del Guaviare, Tumaco, Santander del Quilichao, Toribio, Curvaradó, San José de Apartadó, Cartagena, Valledupar and Soacha. In all places, he met with local authorities, representatives of the civil society, representatives of international organisations working on the issue of internal displacement as well as with leaders of displaced communities and with the IDPs themselves.