Judicial Protection of Internally Displaced Persons: The Colombian Experience


Colombia is not only a country with one of the world’s largest populations of internally displaced persons worldwide but also the state with the most important contributions by the judiciary to the protection of such persons. I am pleased to present this publication of the Brookings-Bern Project on Internal Displacement on the Judicial Protection of Internally Displaced Persons: The Colombian Experience, which provides the first comprehensive analysis of the role of the Colombian Constitutional Court in addressing the situation of internal displacement in Colombia and the protection needs of one of the world’s largest populations of internally displaced persons (IDPs). It is also among the first resources of its kind to examine how a court of law has incorporated the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement into national law and relied upon this instrument to construe the nature and scope of fundamental rights enjoyed by internally displaced persons at the national level.

Table of Contents
The Constitutional Protection of IDPs in Colombia, by Manuel José Cepeda Espinosa
Design and Implementation of the Orders Issued in Decision T-025, by Clara Elena Reales
Protection of the Internally Displaced by Constitutional Justice, by Andrés Celis
The Human Rights of the Victims of Forced Internal Displacement in Light of the Progressivity of Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, by Rodolfo Arango
The Judicial Protection of Internally Displaced Persons in Colombia: National and Inter-American Responses, by Tatiana Rincón
The Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement: Judicial Incorporation and Subsequent Application in Colombia, by Federico Guzmán Duque
Complete Book

Through its jurisprudence, the Colombian Constitutional Court has had a significant impact on government policy and its response to the specific needs and vulnerabilities of the internally displaced. In issuing Decision T-025 of 2004, the Court declared that an “unconstitutional state of affairs” existed as a result of the gap between the rights guaranteed to IDPs by domestic law and the insufficient resources and institutional capacity of the government to protect these rights. In addition to setting forth a basic bill of IDP rights in this Decision, the Court issued a series of orders that spelled out concrete programs and policies that should be pursued in order to overcome the state of unconstitutionality in matters related to internal displacement. This jurisprudence is a particularly fine example of what principled and courageous judges can achieve under difficult circumstances. These orders have compelled national and local officials to take corrective measures to improve assistance to IDPs and give effect to their fundamental rights and freedoms. Although progress in meeting the benchmarks set forth by the Constitutional Courts has been achieved, much more can be done to protect IDPs and end their displacement.

To promote greater awareness and understanding of IDP-related litigation in Colombia and the constitutional complaint process, known as the tutela petition, that gave rise to the Decision T-025 and its progeny, the Brookings-Bern Project commissioned a group of leading legal scholars and practitioners in Colombia to develop analytical studies on the Court’s jurisprudence, challenges to its implementation, and the impact this jurisprudence has had on the protection of Colombia’s internally displaced. Contributors of these studies include several magistrates of the Constitutional Court, one of whom drafted Decision T-025.

These studies have been translated into English along with Decision T-025 and the Court’s subsequent decisions and their authoritative analysis easily available to scholars, practitioners, policymakers and others interested in exploring how courts and judicial processes can contribute to comprehensive and effective responses to situations of internal displacement.

This publication is the most recent in a series of resources developed by the Brookings-Bern Project based on research related to internal displacement and humanitarian issues, peacebuilding, and justice in Colombia. Other publications in this series include 
Internal Displacement and the Construction of Peace
Protecting the Displaced in Colombia: The Role of Municipal Authorities
, both of which have been disseminated widely and are available on the Project’s website. In addition, English-language versions of the Constitutional Court’s decisions analyzed in this publication have also been made available online by the Project.

I hope each of these resources will contribute to the ongoing efforts by government officials, civil society, and the international community to protect the fundamental rights of Colombia’s displaced persons and to find solutions to their displacement in a just and equitable manner. I am convinced that beyond Colombia they will inspire lawyers, judges and human rights activists to improve the legal protection of internally displaced persons through judicial means.

Walter Kälin
Representative of the Secretary-General
on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons