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High Commissioner chairs conference displacement in Colombia

Briefing notes

High Commissioner chairs conference displacement in Colombia

16 March 2007

High Commissioner António Guterres is in Bogota today as he nears the end of a weeklong mission to Ecuador and Colombia that included a meeting with Colombian President Álvaro Uribe and a visit yesterday to displaced Afro-Colombian people in Chocó, in the north-west of the country.

Today, Mr. Guterres will chair a conference on displacement in Bogota. The conference, which brings together high-ranking government officials, civil society and displaced people, has two main objectives: to draw attention to the humanitarian consequences of displacement and encourage the full implementation of the law so that all displaced people have equal access to their rights.

Colombia has some of the most advanced legislation in the world for internally displaced people, thanks to a national law passed 10 years ago. It covers the rights to protection by the state, documentation and access to services such as health, education and housing.

More than 3 million people have been displaced inside Colombia as a result of the decades-long armed conflict between irregular armed groups and the government forces. Accounting for around 8 percent of Colombia's population, they are one of the largest populations of concern to UNHCR in the world.

Mr. Guterres, who met President Uribe on Wednesday, pledged UNHCR's continuing support for government efforts on behalf of nation's displaced people. He stressed the importance of applying the law in a concrete way and carrying it out equally for everyone.

In the past two years, the Colombian government has considerably increased its resources to help displaced people. However, practical delivery of the law remains patchy in some areas and not all IDPs have equal access to their rights.

The High Commissioner said internal displacement presents governments with unique challenges that call for sustained and considerable efforts on the part of all involved. He pointed out that a commitment to the truth and to humanitarian principles is essential for meeting this challenge.

Yesterday (Thursday), Mr. Guterres travelled to a small Afro-Colombian community in Chocó, in the north-west of Colombia. Most of the families in the community were displaced because of the volatile security situation in the area, and they are still frightened they may have to flee again. The High Commissioner told them that security and peace were their first rights, without which no other rights could be adequately enforced.

He also stressed during his visit to the country the importance of addressing the root causes of displacement, which in Colombia are linked to the conflict between irregular armed groups and the state. He added that, while the international community is there to help, the problems of Colombia can only be solved by the Colombian people and their government.

Today's conference coincides with the release of a UNHCR study that evaluates changes and displacement trends and in the government's response in Colombia over the past three years. The High Commissioner will outline some of the main findings and conclusions of this study. He will also draw attention during the conference to the 2007 "Year for the Rights of Displaced People in Colombia" campaign, which unites civil society with the government to lobby for the rights of the displaced.

Before his visit to Colombia, the High Commissioner was in Ecuador on Monday and Tuesday and called for more international support for Colombian refugees in that country.