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UNHCR condemns murders of Colombian IDP leaders

Briefing notes

UNHCR condemns murders of Colombian IDP leaders

10 February 2004

UNHCR strongly condemns the murders of two members of an association of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the north-western Colombian city of Apartadó. Marta Cecilia Aguirre, a 36-year-old mother of four, and Giovanni de Jesús Montoya Molina, a 45-year-old father of one, were murdered Sunday (8 Feb.) in front of their homes in separate attacks by unidentified armed men in civilian clothes.

Mrs. Aguirre was a founding member of the Apartadó Displaced Persons Community Association (ASOCODEA) and currently served as its vice-chairperson. Mr. Montoya Molina, from Antioquia Province, was also a member of the association after being displaced five months earlier. He leaves behind a one-year-old daughter.

UNHCR offers its condolences to the families of the victims and calls on Colombian authorities to investigate these crimes and to prosecute those responsible. It also urges authorities to ensure the protection of IDP leaders who have been threatened in other parts of Colombia as well. UNHCR will continue working with ASOCODEA and other IDP associations, strengthening them and supporting them in the defence of their rights. This violence must stop.

The murders of Mrs. Aguirre and Mr. Montoya Molina are the latest in a string of attacks against individuals and groups involved in human rights work for Colombia's IDPs. Last September, a member of a women's IDP association in the southern city of Puerto Asís, Francis Girón Quilindo, was murdered. Another activist, Esperanza Amaris Miranda, was slain on October 16 in the northern city of Barrancabermeja. After an attack against the premises of the non-governmental women's association Casa de la Mujer in Bogota in December, UNHCR publicly condemned these attacks. Last week, a member of the Popular Women's Organisation was brutally attacked in Barrancabermeja.

ASOCODEA was founded by IDP families in Apartadó in 2000 and currently counts some 220 displaced families in the city among its members. The majority are IDPs from the north-western provinces of Córdoba, Antioquia and Chocó. UNHCR has supported the association since it was founded through community strengthening projects.

UNHCR's work in Colombia is aimed at protecting and promoting the rights of internally displaced people and supporting and strengthening the response of the government and civil society to forced displacement. It works in coordination with Colombian authorities, church groups, NGOs, IDP associations and other UN agencies.

More than 1 million internally displaced people are registered with the Colombian government, but NGOs estimate there could actually be close to 3 million IDPs in the country. According to official sources, 74 percent of the displaced are women and children.

Close to half the internally displaced people are adult women. Many of them have been victims of sexual violence and many have had to assume the role of heads of household following the death or disappearance of their husbands. More than a third of displaced families are headed by women.

Agreement with UNIFEM: In another development, UNHCR signed an agreement on Feb. 6 with the UN Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) in order to carry out joint activities in Colombia. Both agencies decided to coordinate efforts and look for resources, and also for other partners, in order to improve the aid currently given to women of all ages who are suffering the consequences of the conflict in Colombia. Some joint pilot projects between the two UN agencies are expected to be identified soon.

UNIFEM has been working in Colombia since 1994 and is consolidating and expanding its operations, giving priority to efforts to strengthen the role of women in the construction of peace, and also to support displaced women.

UNHCR has been working in Colombia since 1998, with the mandate of promoting the protection and durable solutions for Colombians, both men and women, who have been forcibly displaced.

UNHCR´s approach emphasizes the restoration of rights, taking into account the specific needs of different groups among the displaced population. Special efforts are devoted to strengthening women's organisations, helping in the development of female IDP leaders, and supporting the Colombian National Registry Office's documentation campaigns for IDP and vulnerable populations, of which women form the biggest group.