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Death threats against UNHCR partners in Colombia

Briefing notes

Death threats against UNHCR partners in Colombia

22 May 2009 Also available in:

The UNHCR Office in Colombia is deeply concerned about a recent wave of death threats against human right workers and social activists, including displaced leaders working to defend their communities' rights.

In the most recent wave of intimidation, pamphlets signed by one of Colombia's new illegal armed groups were distributed last week around the country, including in the Atlantic Coast region and in Bogotá.

The pamphlets issued threats against several state bodies as well as civil and human rights organizations. They particularly targeted the national Ombudsman Office for a series of early warnings the office has issued alerting people to the critical human rights situation in the same areas.

The Ombudsman Office is the National agency in charge of overseeing the protection of Civil and Human Rights within the legal framework of the state. It is one of UNHCR's closest partners in Colombia. Its Early Warning System provides a unique mechanism for prevention of rights abuses and of forced displacement. UNHCR reiterates its support to the Ombudsman and its staff at this difficult time.

Last week's threats come amid a climate of rising intimidation, originating from various armed groups, in recent months. Indigenous communities, social leaders and representatives of displaced people have all been targeted, putting at risk their rights to life, freedom of expression and participation in public life.

In some cases, the victims of threats have been forced to leave their communities in order to save their lives. In other cases, the threats end in death. Often, the survivors, including families and colleagues, refrain from denouncing the murders for fear of reprisals.

UNHCR strongly condemns these acts and is extremely concerned that new illegal groups that have begun operating in Colombia in the past few years are increasingly turning into another factor behind forced displacement in a country that already counts a very large IDP population.

Some 3 million are on the national registry for internally displaced person in Colombia, with an average of 300,000 new cases registered yearly in the past two years. UNHCR has 12 offices in the country and works hand in hand with the displaced population, supporting the State's efforts to provide them protection, assistance and long-term solutions.