Friday, July 17, 2009

Thousands more people forced to flee from Colombia’s armed conflict

A new report from Amnesty International on the increase in number of internally displaced persons as a result of the violence in Colombia. For the record, it should be added that the Uribe administration was quick to respond that AI's numbers were inflated. According to Armando Escobar of Acción Social, the presidential agency for displacement, 180,000 Colombians were forced to leave their home because of violence in the country in 2008, fewer than half the number given by Amnesty. Escobar suggests that the rise is a statistical artifact caused by a ruling by the State Council that allowed people that had been displaced in an earlier year to register. The same ruling ordered children of displaced families to be registered as well, something that was not done before.

Amnesty International
16 July 2009

Between 3 and 4 million people in Colombia have now been forced to leave their homes because of the country's long-running armed conflict. At least a further 500,000 are believed to have fled to neighbouring countries.

The number of internally displaced people in Colombia is now amongst the highest in the world. The number is still rising according to a new Amnesty International document, published on Thursday.

Everything left behind: Internal displacement in Colombia says that around 380,000 people were forced to flee their homes in 2008. That is an increase of over 24 per cent from 2007, according to the figures supplied by human rights organization CODHES (Consultoría para los Derechos Humanos y el Desplazamiento).

"The dire humanitarian situation in Colombia is one of today's most hidden tragedies, and belies claims by the Colombian government that the country has overcome its troubled past," said Marcelo Pollack, Deputy Director of Amnesty International's Americas programme.

Most displaced people are escaping violence arising from Colombia's 40-year-long internal armed conflict. Guerrilla groups, paramilitaries and the security forces have targeted many of them deliberately. Often, the aim is to remove whole communities from areas of military, strategic or economic importance.

The great majority of those affected are Indigenous Peoples, Afro-Descendants and campesinos, many of whom live in areas of interest to the parties to the conflict.

Much of the wealth accumulated by the paramilitaries and their backers in politics and business has been based on the misappropriation of land through violence or the threat of violence. Some estimate that between 4 and 6 million hectares of land owned by thousands of campesinos, Indigenous Peoples and Afro-descendants have been stolen this way.

Most displaced people have to flee their homes very suddenly, in situations where their lives were under imminent threat. Some become separated from their families or communities and are forced to leave, taking only what they can carry. Most go on to face discrimination wherever they go and no prospect of ever being able to return home.

A displaced person told an Amnesty International delegate in Colombia: "It was my turn to get out of the area. The violence had worn me down. The PM [paramilitaries], the army and the guerrillas are all there. [One of these groups] sent me a note saying they were going to kill me. One night a guy with a weapon came to my house. He gave us a fright. It was 8 o’clock at night. He was up to no good. He was circling round the house with a weapon, none of the family saw him but a neighbour did. They told us, you’d better get out. I left with my family, including my eldest daughter and her son. There are seven of us altogether."

Amnesty International has called on all parties to the conflict to respect the right of civilians not to be dragged into the conflict.

The organization has also urged the Colombian authorities to take effective measures to prevent forced displacement, improve the protection of civilians and to identify and return all stolen lands and other assets to their rightful owners or their families.

"Until the Colombian authorities acknowledge the very real effects of the conflict, the human rights of millions of people have little chance of being protected," said Marcelo Pollack.


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