Colombia continues to endure a serious displacement crisis

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BOGOTÁ AND GENEVA -- "Colombia continues to endure a serious displacement crisis, despite important steps taken by the authorities to meet the challenge." This was the main conclusion of Professor Walter Kälin, Representative of the UN Secretary-General on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons, at the end of a week-long visit to Colombia.

The Representative met during his mission with high-level government officials, displaced persons and representatives of civil society organisations and of the international community. He acknowledged that important developments have taken place since his mission to Colombia in 2006, noting especially the constructive role of the Constitutional Court in shaping the national response to forced displacement.

"The Constitutional Court has had a consistently positive and concrete impact on the lives of displaced persons in Colombia," he said after a meeting with magistrates. The Court declared the State's response to internal displacement an "unconstitutional state of affairs" in 2004 and has since been following up with a series of related decisions.

The Representative also acknowledged the Colombian government's significant increase in budgetary resources, as well as programming efforts that have resulted in better access to education and health care for the displaced.

Despite these advances, the Representative remains concerned about the scope of forced displacement in Colombia. "The continuously high rate of new cases of forced displacement in certain parts of the country like the Pacific Coast, is especially worrying," he said.

He noted that forced displacement results from many different factors, including new illegal armed groups, new structures of organized crime and the continuing conflict between the Armed Forces and irregular armed groups. "I am particularly worried about the serious human rights violations against IDP leaders and the lack of adequate protection of their physical safety," he said, calling on the government to increase its efforts to end impunity for the crime of forced displacement and hold those responsible accountable.

The Representative stressed the need for comprehensive strategies, focusing on prevention and protection, as well as socio-economic stabilisation. On prevention, a key tool lies with Colombia's sophisticated Early Warning System. He urged the government to strengthen this system by allocating it the necessary resources and to make maximum use of its potential through systematic implementation of the warnings. He underlined the importance of including prevention measures in military operations, as highlighted by the Constitutional Court, including in those carried out within the framework of the legitimate fight against drugs.

Concerning protection, the Representative acknowledged the efforts undertaken by the State and the international community to protect the human rights of internally displaced persons and to provide them with humanitarian assistance. He underlined that all human rights, including the right to reparation, must be respected for all victims of forced displacement regardless of the cause or agent of displacement. He further stressed that registration, unless it covers all victims, is likely to contribute to a further marginalisation of some of the displaced.

Socio-economic stabilization depends on displaced persons being able to rebuild a normal life, with full enjoyment of their human rights, including the right to adequate housing and to decent standards of living through income-generating activities. While the Representative visited some successful projects in Barranquilla on the Atlantic Coast, most internally displaced persons in Colombia are not yet able to benefit from such initiatives. The Representative encouraged the expansion of socio-economic stabilization programs.

The successful implementation of such comprehensive strategies relies on close coordination between national and local authorities. Previously the Representative had noted a gap between national policy development and lack of capacity to implement them locally. "I am pleased to note that there is now an increased awareness and commitment of the municipalities on the issue of internal displacement," he concluded during a workshop with local authorities today (Friday).

The Representative emphasized the need for continued support of the international community to Colombia's efforts to resolve the displacement crisis as an essential step towards building stable peace.

Mr. Kälin assumed office as Representative of the Secretary General on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons in 2004. He is mandated by the UN Human Rights Council to enter into dialogue with governments and international actors in order to enhance the protection of the human rights of internally displaced persons. In support of his mandate, he undertakes working visits and missions to countries affected by internal displacement. Most recently he has travelled to the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sri Lanka, Kenya, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Georgia.