IACHR Expresses Concern Over the Notable Increase in Forced Internal Displacement in Colombia

September 30, 2021

Washington, D.C. — The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) expressed its concern over the notable increase in forced internal displacement in Colombia and called on the State to adopt comprehensive measures to address the underlying causes of these situations and to guarantee the protection and security of those impacted by them.

The IACHR acknowledged the efforts made by the State to address forced displacement, in particular through measures such as 1) the Framework Policy for Social Harmony and Citizen Security, the objective of which is strengthening the police force and coordinating with the Armed Forces to improve security and social harmony in regions where organized armed groups are currently operating; 2) the Protection Strategy for Vulnerable Populations (ESPOV); and 3) the Early Warning System for the Armed Forces and National Police Force.

Despite the above, it should be noted that the number of mass forced displacements in the country has increased significantly. According to Global Trends: Forced Displacement in 2020, a report published by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Colombia is still the country with the highest number of internally displaced people in the world: a total of 8.3 million as of the end of 2020. Likewise, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), between January and August 2021, the number of internally displaced people in the country increased by 135% in comparison with the same period in 2020. Specifically, the figures indicate that more than 57,100 people were reportedly displaced during 110 mass emergencies, the main cause of which were direct threats by nonstate armed groups. Similarly, according to figures from the Ombud's Office of Colombia, in the first half of 2021, some 102 mass displacements occurred, during which 44,290 people were forcibly displaced. On this point, the Ombud's Office noted that this implied double the number of internal displacement events in comparison with the previous year.

According to OCHA, most recent mass displacement events occurred in the municipalities of Roberto Payán and Magüí (Nariño), Argelia (Cauca), Cáceres and Ituango (Antioquia), and Buenaventura (Valle del Cauca), among Pacific coast departments and departments in the northwest of the country. Civil society also expressed concern over displacements in the municipalities of Santa Rosa in Bolívar department, and Litoral de San Juan in Chocó department. Likewise, the IACHR took note of the reports made by civil society organizations regarding displacement in Buenaventura between January and March 2021, which is said to have affected approximately 3,625 people. Specifically, they claimed that the acts of violence that allegedly caused this displacement were linked to attempts at territorial control to build infrastructure for ports and tourism.

The IACHR has noted with concern the scale of both the individual and family displacement in Colombia. According to civil society organizations, this form of displacement ultimately affects a greater number of people than most displacement, even though it is by nature harder to record. This is particularly relevant in the case of people in social leadership roles who have had to leave their territories in response to threats. Similarly, civil society organizations reported that social leaders that are working to reclaim territories belonging to displaced families and communities have become targets of various types of violence, including assassinations.

Furthermore, despite major efforts on the part of the State, civil society organizations also reported that this response is falling short due to the scale of the current situation. Moreover, it does not guarantee effective protection of the rights of victims of internal displacement.

Likewise, with regard to addressing the root causes of internal displacement, the IACHR received information that only limited progress has been made on implementing the Peace Agreement, especially the components that seek to mitigate the structural causes of violence through the substitution of illegal crops and economic development with a territorial approach.

In connection with this, the organizations in question provided information on the expansion of nonstate armed groups, which are threatening local populations and pushing them out of their territories; cuts to crisis response budgets; the absence of victim assistance initiatives or shortfalls in these; and the fact that people were being returned immediately without risk analysis and guarantees of safe return. Furthermore, according to the Ombud's Office of Colombia, most of the groups that are impacted by displacement are those experiencing historic, structural vulnerability, such as indigenous peoples and communities of African descent (59% of cases) and the Campesino population.

The IACHR also noted the differential impact that forced displacement has on women. That is, once women are displaced, they face specific needs and problems that derive from the fact that they are women. In this regard, the Constitutional Court of Colombia has emphasized that forced internal displacement generates specific gender-based risks for women. These include the risk of violence, sexual exploitation or abuse; exploitation or enslavement for domestic work; the risk of forced recruitment of their sons and daughters; and obstacles to owning land and protecting their assets.

In light of this situation, the IACHR reiterated that forced internal displacement is a continuous, multiple violation of human rights that comprises the violation of a large number of rights, including the right to an adequate standard of living, freedom of movement, freedom of residence, housing, health, education, employment, and family life. For its part, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights noted that internal displacement is a multiple and continuous human rights violation, one that endures until people can return to their places of origin safely, voluntarily, and with dignity, or until they are voluntarily resettled in another part of the country. Likewise, according to the IA Court, the internal displacement crisis has set off a security crisis, given that groups of internally displaced people become a new target for nonstate armed groups or a potential source of recruits for these.

In this sense, in light of the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement and the Guidelines for the Formulation of Public Policies on Internal Displacement, the IACHR urged the Colombian State to comply with its obligations to 1) prevent displacement; 2) provide protection and assistance during displacement; 3) provide and facilitate humanitarian assistance; 4) provide safe return, resettlement, or local reintegration; and 5) ensure that any measures taken to protect the rights of displaced people include a gender and diversity approach and consider the specific needs of groups that have historically been targets of discrimination and the impacts on these groups.

Furthermore, the IACHR underlined that the obligation of due diligence during the process of investigating human rights violations during internal displacement, sanctioning these, and providing reparation for victims must function as a guarantee mechanism to prevent the situations that give rise to displacement.

Finally, the IACHR reiterated that the State must implement various actions to address these issues, as it did as part of the work around the report entitled Truth, Justice, and Reparation: Fourth Report on the Human Rights Situation in Colombia. These include:

  1. adopting the measures needed to prevent forced displacement, including a gender perspective and differentiated approaches;
  2. implementing relevant measures to ensure the protection and security of people returning to the territories from which they were displaced, including mine clearance in these territories; and
  3. making progress on the judicialization of cases of forced displacement to contribute to their visibility.

In this regard, the IACHR urged the State of Colombia to redouble its efforts to formulate and implement public policies that bring about the effective transformation of the structural causes of violence in the country through comprehensive actions that guarantee the right to life, security, and justice, as well as access to economic, social, cultural, and environmental rights for this population. In this regard, it made a particular appeal to the States to strengthen measures seeking to achieve full compliance with the Peace Agreement, on the understanding that this is an ideal tool for tackling the structural causes of violence in the country. Finally, the IACHR once again expressed its willingness to play a part in this process and placed its technical cooperation mechanisms at the disposal of the State and civil society.

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for and to defend human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 258/21

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