Protecting the Displaced in Colombia: The Role of Municipal Authorities

July 21, 2009


Workshop Presentations: Ibáñez and García

Together with Acción Social, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and the Universidad de los Andes, the Brookings-Bern Project on Internal Displacement convened a seminar to examine the role of municipal authorities in responding to Colombia’s large number of internally displaced persons (IDPs). The seminar, held in Bogotá on 14 November 2008, was based on research carried out by Ana María Ibáñez and Andrea Velásquez. The seminar provided an opportunity for the Representative of the Secretary-General on the Human Rights of IDPs (RSG) to dialogue with local and departmental authorities from around the country. In the report of his 2006 mission to Colombia, the RSG made several recommendations to overcome the gap between policy-making in and the operationalization and implementation of various departments and municipalities, including:

  • Streamlining existing structures and procedures;
  • Increasing decentralization to provide local authorities with the economic and administrative resources to take decisions and implement national policies more expediently and effectively and giving clearer guidance on how to implement the national directives;
  • Improving the monitoring and implementation of benchmarks, as well as the national oversight of attitudes and behavior existing at the level of implementation that directly impinge on the lives of beneficiaries and rights-holders; and
  • Enhancing training for municipal authorities on how to implement the national IDP policy at their respective levels, as well as giving them the necessary tools to do so.

The seminar demonstrated the gap between governmental authorities working at the national level on the one hand and those working at the departmental and local levels on the other. Internal displacement is a national issue that affects all departments in the country and that requires a coordinated response by government at all levels. The seminar revealed some frustration on the part of municipal authorities who felt that they were asked to assume major responsibilities for IDPs—without the additional resources needed to do so. But participants were quick not only to identify problems, but also to offer suggestions to improve the system so that IDPs receive the assistance they need—both in the emergency phase and in the more difficult and longer-term phase of socioeconomic stabilization.