USA: UNHCR welcomes House resolution on Colombian displacement
UNHCR welcomes a resolution passed by the US House of Representatives last week in solidarity with millions of displaced people in Colombia. The resolution - which received widespread backing - recognizes 2007 as the Year of the Rights of Displaced People in Colombia and offers support to help the victims rebuild their lives. It is the first time the US Congress has singled out forced displacement in Colombia as one of the worst humanitarian crises on the American continent.
Victims of one of the world's longest internal armed conflicts, an average of 18,000 Colombians are uprooted by violence every month - more than 1 million in the past five years alone. The resolution, which next goes to the US Senate for approval, calls on the Colombian government and the international community to prioritize discussion of the humanitarian consequences and internal displacement. It recommends that the US government increase aid for emergency and long-term assistance to the victims.
The House resolution also commends UNHCR for its work in Colombia and its support to the 2007 Campaign for the Rights of Displaced People. The campaign is a broad initiative run by UNHCR, the Catholic Church and CODHES, a leading Colombian non-governmental organisation. It aims to raise awareness, both within Colombia and in the rest of the world, of the magnitude of the humanitarian crisis and to increase solidarity with its victims.
The campaign also supports a draft bill currently in the Colombian Parliament that would strengthen existing legislation giving displaced people comprehensive rights to protection and assistance. But despite the government's efforts, implementation remains patchy and difficult. As the country prepares to celebrate tomorrow (Wednesday) the tenth anniversary of a pioneering law to protect them, many internally displaced people still do not enjoy their rights in practice.
The US House resolution notes, for example, that displaced people in Colombia are disenfranchised and poorer than the general population, with a high incidence of food insecurity, inadequate shelter and limited healthcare. It also cites the disproportionate impact of forced displacement on Afro-Colombian and indigenous minorities as well as the general lack of prospects for return amid ongoing conflict.
Non-governmental organisations say the total number of internally displaced people in Colombia is as high as 3.8 million - the figure used in the US House of Representatives resolution. The difficulties associated with accuracy in displacement statistics in Colombia were highlighted in a landmark August 2006 judgement by the country's Constitutional Court, which pointed to serious discrepancies between the real magnitude of the situation and the figures of the national registration system, which cites over 2 million displaced. The Constitutional Court quoted the Director of the Agencia Presidencial de Acción Social y la Cooperación Internacional as having publicly acknowledged that the figure for internally displaced in Colombia was close to 3 million.