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UNHCR condemns murders of two leaders of displaced Colombians


UNHCR condemns murders of two leaders of displaced Colombians

The UN refugee agency has strongly condemned the murders of two members of an association of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Colombia and urged authorities to investigate the crimes and prosecute those responsible.
10 February 2004
A UNHCR staff member meets with Colombian IDPs. UNHCR/P.Smith

GENEVA, Feb. 10 (UNHCR) - The UN refugee agency today condemned the murders of two members of an association of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Colombia and urged Colombian authorities to investigate the killings and prosecute those responsible.

Marta Cecilia Aguirre, a 36-year-old mother of four, and Giovanni de Jesús Montoya Molina, 45, were murdered on Sunday in front of their homes in the north-western Colombian city of Aparetado in separate attacks by unidentified armed men in civilian clothes.

Aguirre was a founding member of the Apartadó Displaced Persons Community Association (ASOCODEA) and currently served as its vice-chairperson. Montoya Molina, from Antioquia Province, was also a member of the association after being displaced five months earlier. He leaves behind a one-year-old daughter.

"UNHCR offers its condolences to the families of the victims and calls on Colombian authorities to investigate these crimes and to prosecute those responsible," said UNHCR spokesman Kris Janowski at a news briefing. The refugee agency also urged authorities to ensure the protection of IDP leaders who have been threatened in other parts of Colombia as well.

"UNHCR will continue working with ASOCODEA and other IDP associations, strengthening them and supporting them in the defence of their rights. This violence must stop," Janowski said.

The murders of Aguirre and Montoya Molina are the latest in a string of attacks against individuals and groups involved in human rights work for Colombia's IDPs. UNHCR has publicly condemned these attacks.

ASOCODEA was founded by IDP families in Apartadó in 2000 and currently counts some 220 displaced families in the city among its members. The majority are IDPs from the north-western provinces of Córdoba, Antioquia and Chocó. UNHCR has supported the association.

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.

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.

In another development, UNHCR signed an agreement on Feb. 6 with the UN Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) in order to carry out joint activities in Colombia. Both agencies decided to coordinate efforts and look for resources, and also for other partners, in order to improve the aid currently given to women of all ages who are suffering the consequences of the conflict in Colombia. Some joint pilot projects between the two UN agencies are expected to be identified soon.

UNIFEM has been working in Colombia since 1994 and is consolidating and expanding its operations, giving priority to efforts to strengthen the role of women in the construction of peace, and also to support displaced women.