Fire destroys premises of key UNHCR partner in Cartagena
A fire on Saturday night destroyed the premises of one of our key partners in Colombia, the Cartagena-based and internationally recognised League of Displaced Women (Liga de Mujeres Desplazadas). The organisation, which has received frequent threats for its work on behalf of thousands of women and children displaced by violence in Colombia's Atlantic Coast region, says the fire was the result of an arson attack.
The blaze destroyed a community centre in the League's "City of Women," located in a poor neighbourhood of Turbaco on the outskirts of Cartagena. The community centre was used as a meeting place, community kitchen and for human rights training for the local displaced population. It was soon to begin functioning as a school for some 140 children in the area.
UNHCR will do everything it can to help the organisation overcome this crisis and continue its work with displaced women and their families. As a first step, we are offering more funds for the rebuilding of the centre, whose construction we had helped finance in 2004.
We have been working with the League since 2001 and more than 2,000 people from all ethnic backgrounds have benefited from our joint projects in the areas of women's and displaced people's rights as well as income generation and housing.
The League's members - especially its leaders - have received frequent threats and in the past two years, the local Ombudsman Office has repeatedly warned that the group was at high risk of targeted violence. In a separate report, the Ombudsman Office also warned of a generalised rise in threats and violence against community leaders in the Atlantic region - notably in large cities.
Following this report, an inter-constitutional committee recently issued an Early Warning Alert on behalf of the government. We are very concerned that many of our humanitarian partners and community leaders face an increasingly tense and volatile security situation in the entire Atlantic region.
The League of Displaced Women has won several human rights prizes, including a runners-up prize in last year's Spanish Human Rights Prize, Il Premio Rey de España de Derechos Humanos, and a nomination for the Colombian National Peace Prize in 2005.
UNHCR has been working in Colombia since 1997 to back up the authorities' response to the displacement crisis. With some 3 million people displaced by the ongoing internal armed conflict, Colombia has one of the largest IDP populations anywhere in the world.