26 October 2007 The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) today raised the alarm about conditions in the Chocó region on Colombia's Pacific coast, where six displaced Afro-Colombian men were killed last week by members of an irregular armed group.
“UNHCR Colombia has expressed its concern over this very serious incident, the latest in a series of grave abuses committed against the population by irregular armed groups in this part of Chocó,” said agency spokesman Ron Redmond. Civilians, including displaced communities, have been suffering from threats, intimidation, violence and killings. The Diocese of Istmina reports 23 targeted killings in the city alone since the beginning of September.
“UNHCR is very concerned that the deteriorating humanitarian situation will cause more forced displacement from the area, which is home to both Afro-Colombian and indigenous communities,” said Mr. Redmond.
He said a team from the agency just back from the north-west of Colombia reported “a very worrying deterioration of the humanitarian situation in the Chocó region.”
The team from Bogota went to the area after six displaced men were killed on 16 October by members of an irregular armed group. Four other men, also displaced, were wounded in the same incident.
The six victims, displaced by armed conflict, had recently accepted work in a goldmine but were shot dead two days after starting by members of an irregular armed group who arrived at the mine armed and in uniforms.
The region is a rainforest, with one of the richest biodiversity in the world, rare minerals, precious woods and rivers providing direct access to the Pacific Ocean. It is strategic territory that has been fought over by irregular armed groups for years and has seen more new fighting in recent months, the agency said.
The murders of the six displaced Afro-Colombians came the same week as Colombia's Constitutional Court sat in special hearing to review measures taken by the government to protect Afro-Colombian communities from forced displacement. The court had found last year they were “persistent gaps” in specific attention, both in prevention and assistance.
Colombia has some 2.2 million people officially registered as internally displaced – independent figures put the figure at more than 3 million – while there are at least 500,000 Colombian refugees in the region.