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Colombia launches campaign for the rights of displaced people


Colombia launches campaign for the rights of displaced people

More than 130 Colombian organisations have joined forces with the authorities to launch the 2007 Campaign for the Rights of Displaced People, which aims to focus attention on Colombia's three million people displaced by armed conflict.
6 February 2007
Ambassadors from several European and American countries call on the League of Displaced Women in Cartagena.

CARTAGENA, Colombia, February 6 (UNHCR) - More than 130 local and international organisations, including UNHCR, have joined forces with the Colombian authorities to launch the 2007 Campaign for the Rights of Displaced People.

The campaign aims to focus attention on the three million people displaced by armed conflict in Colombia and to lobby for their rights. Colombia's displaced make up about eight percent of the country's total population and represent the largest single group of concern to UNHCR anywhere in the world.

The launch took place last Friday in the popular tourist destination of Cartagena - a national treasure on the Atlantic coast full of remnants of the Spanish colonial era - during a conference of the G24, an informal group of countries supporting peace and development in Colombia.

Cartagena is also a symbol of Colombia's humanitarian crisis. More than 40,000 people are registered as displaced in the city, but the authorities acknowledge that - as in the rest of the country - the real figures could be much higher because many people are too scared to come out of hiding.

While the tourists enjoy the beauty of the old town, many displaced people in Cartagena live in virtual slums. Like many others displaced in the country, they face daily problems with housing, education, health and access to work. Ten years after Colombia adopted a national law to protect the internally displaced, many still do not enjoy the full exercise of their rights.

"This is a big demonstration of solidarity," UNHCR Representative in Colombia Roberto Meier said at the campaign launch, which was attended by senior government officials, opposition politicians and members of 132 civil organisations. "Different sectors of Colombian society are coming together to send one message - 'We will not tolerate indifference towards displaced persons'," he added.

An initiative of several non-governmental organisations and the Catholic Church, the UNHCR-backed campaign is fast gathering support from Colombian society and the international community. A cross-party group of parliamentarians has put forward a draft law supporting the campaign's objectives.

This year's campaign has started amid growing UNHCR concern over attacks on displaced people and their organisations. In recent weeks, several leaders of the displaced have been killed - including two in the Atlantic Coast region in the past two weeks.

Last month, in a Cartagena suburb, an arson attack destroyed a community centre belonging to the League of Displaced Women (Liga de Mujeres Desplazadas), one of UNHCR's oldest partners in Colombia. UNHCR has pledged to reconstruct the building, which it originally funded in 2004.

In a strong gesture of international solidarity, the ambassadors to Colombia of Canada, Argentina, Austria and the Netherlands - as well as representatives of the Swedish embassy - visited the League's "City of Women" in the Cartagena suburb on Saturday with UNHCR.

The campaign will seek to focus attention, within Colombia and abroad, on organisations like the League of Displaced Women. In bringing together a large section of Colombian society, it will seek to ensure that millions of displaced people are not left without protection and promotion of their rights.

In Geneva on Tuesday, meanwhile, UNHCR spokeswoman Jennifer Pagonis reiterated the agency's concern about the series of recent attacks on displaced people and their organisations and renewed a call on all armed groups in the country to respect international humanitarian law and leave civilians out of the conflict.

"We also request the Colombian government to continue to increase its efforts to protect displaced people," she told reporters. More than 170,000 people were forcibly displaced last year, according to government figures.

By Gustavo Valdivieso in Cartagena, Colombia