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Colombia: UNHCR marks 10th anniversary of pioneering law to protect displaced

Briefing notes

Colombia: UNHCR marks 10th anniversary of pioneering law to protect displaced

6 July 2007

This month marks the anniversary of a pioneering law passed in Colombia 10 years ago to protect the rights of people forcibly displaced inside the country as a result of the armed conflict there. Law 387, as it is known, was adopted on 18 July 1997 to enshrine the rights of the victims of forced displacement to protection from the state, economic assistance, and long-term solutions. It remains one of the world's most advanced pieces of legislation in this domain.

UNHCR will celebrate the anniversary with a series of public activities as part of its yearlong 2007 Campaign for the Rights of Displaced People. The high point will be a large public event organized with the municipality of Bogota at the end of the month to raise awareness of forced displacement in Colombia. Hundreds of displaced people from all over the country will gather on the city's main square, the Plaza Bolivar, to tell their story. The square is the historical and political centre of the capital and will be turned for the day into a rural field to create a visual image of the experience of forced displacement.

According to the government, an average of 18,000 Colombians are uprooted by violence every month, with more than 200,000 new registered cases every year in the past four years. In total, some 2 million people are on the national registry for displaced people, while another million may have been victims of forced displacement but are not registered.

The 2007 Campaign for the Rights of Displaced People is run by UNHCR with the support of more than 130 organizations and the Colombian church to raise awareness of the magnitude of this tragedy. It includes the collection of one million signatures in solidarity with the displaced. July will also see the launch in the National Museum of an exhibition paying homage to displaced people that will go to every municipality in Colombia - 1,098 different locations.

UNHCR also supports a draft bill, currently in Parliament after being approved by the Senate, to reinforce Law 387. The new draft focuses on concrete mechanisms for full implementation of the law as well as on reparations to the victims of forced displacement.

Despite the law, many displaced people still do not in practice enjoy their legal rights to assistance and reparations. About half of them, for example, do not have access to the health system and encounter similar problems of access to housing, education and employment.