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UNHCR condemns attacks on Colombian women

UNHCR condemns attacks on Colombian women

UNHCR has expressed deep concern over continuing attacks against women human rights activists in Colombia, including a recent break-in at the office of a women's organisation for the internally displaced which works closely with the UN refugee agency.
24 December 2003
Members of an association for internally displaced people meet in the northern Colombian city of Barrancabermeja, where a female activist was murdered in October.

BOGOTA, Colombia, Dec 24 (UNHCR) - The UN refugee agency has expressed deep concern over continuing attacks against human rights groups in Colombia, including a break-in last week at the office of a women's organisation which works closely with UNHCR.

A statement issued Tuesday by UNHCR's Bogota office condemned last Friday's attack on the Colombian non-governmental organisation Corporación Casa de la Mujer by a group of unidentified armed men who stole computer files and documents. The NGO works closely with UNHCR in helping internally displaced women and their families. UNHCR has provided new equipment to the NGO so it can continue its work.

The break-in was the latest in a series of incidents involving individuals and groups involved in human rights work for Colombia's internally displaced people (IDPs), particularly women. 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. Other attacks and threats have been carried out against women involved in IDP groups in the Caribbean Coast region of Colombia.

The UNHCR statement called on authorities to investigate all of these incidents and to prosecute those responsible. It also urged authorities to ensure the protection of those who have been threatened, including their families. It noted that UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, in a statement on Colombia in June, declared that "civil society not only plays a crucial role in all aspects of humanitarian work; it is an essential element in any democracy."

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.