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Colombia/Ecuador: disappearances

Briefing notes

Colombia/Ecuador: disappearances

10 June 2008

We are calling for the full and speedy resolution of the investigations into allegations of disappearances, as well as torture, attempted rape and death threats, against members of a Colombian refugee community in Ecuador.

Three Colombians, including one refugee and one asylum seeker, disappeared at the end of last month from the village of San Martin in northern Ecuador, just across the border from Colombia. Like many other rural communities in that part of the country, San Martin is home to large numbers of Colombian refugees.

UNHCR has received consistent reports from first-hand witnesses that the three were kidnapped by a group of masked men in uniforms during an armed incursion into San Martin on 26 May. The group, which has not been identified by the authorities in either country, apparently came from Colombia.

According to information we recieved, the masked men tortured members of the local community before taking the three men away. There also are allegations of attempted rape against a pregnant refugee woman in San Martin.

UNHCR strongly condemns these acts of violence against refugees and their host communities. It appreciates the serious efforts of the authorities in Ecuador and Colombia to resolve the matter in a transparent way. Both countries have opened their own investigation which we hope will bring full light onto the events and bring those responsible to justice.

Recognizing Colombia's efforts to improve the protection of its civilians as well as Ecuador's solidarity with the victims of the conflict, UNHCR also calls on both governments to continue their efforts to strengthen protection mechanisms in order to avoid a possible repetition of these alleged events.

There are about 60,000 Colombians in need of international protection in Ecuador's northern provinces. Most of them fled the internal armed conflict in Colombia fearing for their lives or safety. The majority live along the border among local Ecuadorian people, in rural communities that are often remote and under-developed.

UNHCR is present on both sides of the border in Colombia and Ecuador to help governments protect and assist refugees and Colombian internally displaced people.