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Colombia: court decision on increased protection for displaced women

Briefing notes

Colombia: court decision on increased protection for displaced women

27 May 2008

UNHCR welcomes a decision Friday by Colombia's Constitutional Court, which ruled that displaced women are particularly vulnerable and ordered the government to create 13 programmes for their protection, and prioritize them for access to emergency humanitarian assistance. The Court also ordered direct protection for 600 displaced women and asked the country's attorney-general to investigate several cases of sexual and gender-based violence.

The ruling came after months of hearings during which displaced women and organizations working on their behalf, including UNHCR, outlined the situation and risks this group faces. Displaced women form around 50 percent of the total displaced population, double the number of displaced men.

The Court identified a disproportionate impact of the country's conflict upon women, as well as ten factors creating special vulnerability including the risks of sexual violence, sexual exploitation or sexual abuse, recruitment of their children by armed groups, becoming targets if they have personal relations with members of armed groups, and the increased risk of losing their land. Discrimination against indigenous and Afro-Colombian women was also identified as a risk.

Programmes to prevent sexual violence against displaced women, protection of displaced women's' health, facilitation of access to land for women, and improved access to education, health and income generation were ordered to be created within three months.

We have offered technical assistance for the development of the new programmes based on the guidelines for the protection of displaced women designed jointly by UNHCR and the government's Office for Equity Towards Women.

We also welcome the approval of a new law, Law 1190, protecting the rights of displaced persons in Colombia which was passed by the two chambers of the Colombian Congress with cross-party support, and includes mechanisms to improve the implementation of policies favouring displaced persons, including increased coordination between local and national authorities and participation of the private sector.

The law will reinforce the implementation of a law in 1997 which acknowledged for the first time the specific rights of Colombia's displaced people and created policies to protect those rights. It will be presented officially by Congress on Friday 30 May.

The government is markedly increasing its assistance to displaced persons and over the last five years the budget has risen from $80 million to $400 million annually. In 2007, over 230,000 people were forcibly displaced in Colombia according to provisional government figures.