Colombia: UN voices concern over wave of death threats against partner agencies

Colombian indigenous children in jungle settlements in Panama [File Photo]

22 May 2009 – The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Colombia today expressed its deep concern over a spate of death threats made against human rights workers, including uprooted people defending their communities’ rights.

In the most recent wave of intimidation, one of the South American nation’s new illegal armed groups distributed pamphlets last week, targeting several state bodies and civil and human rights organizations.

The national Ombudsman Office, one of UNCHR’s closest partners in Colombia, was singled out by the group for issuing early warnings to people of critical human rights situations in several areas.

The Office is in charge of overseeing the protection of civil and human rights in the country’s legal system and its Early Warning System is a unique method of preventing rights abuses and forced displacement, UNHCR said.

“UNHCR reiterates its support to the Ombudsman and its staff at this difficult time,” agency spokesperson Andrew Purvis told reporters in Geneva today.

He added that there is a rising climate of intimidation in Colombia in recent months, with indigenous communities, social leaders and representatives of displaced groups all having been targeted.

In some cases, those threatened have been forced to leave their communities for their safety, while some have even lost their lives, Mr. Purvis said, noting that often, survivors, their families and colleagues refrain from speaking out against the intimidators for fear of reprisal attacks.

“UNHCR strongly condemns these acts and is extremely concerned that new illegal groups that have begun operating in Colombia in the past few years are increasingly turning into another factor behind forced displacement in a country that already counts a very large IDP [internally displaced persons] population,” the agency’s spokesperson said.

In the country, roughly 3 million people are registered as internally displaced, with an average of 300,000 new cases registered annually in the past two years. UNHCR has one dozen offices in Colombia and works closely with the uprooted, supporting Government efforts to protect and assist them, as well as find long-term solutions.


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