1. The phenomenon of internal displacement has reached such proportions in Colombia in recent years that the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (the "Commission," the "Inter-American Commission" or the "IACHR") considers it to be one of the gravest aspects of that country's overall human rights situation. Because the sheer magnitude of internal displacement in Colombia today constitutes nothing less than a humanitarian catastrophe, the Commission has decided to prepare this Chapter which, inter alia, examines the causes of internal displacement, the actual situation of displaced persons in various parts of the country, and the State's responses to this human crisis.

2. The Commission is aware that the plight of internally displaced persons is particularly tragic and cruel. Their ranks in Colombia and elsewhere tend to disproportionately include those requiring special assistance and services, such as children, the elderly and expectant mothers. Although the displaced are frequently forced to flee their homes for the same reasons as refugees, the fact that they remain within national territory means that they cannot qualify as refugees or benefit from the special regime accorded to refugees under international law. Their presence within national territory also means that their government must assume primary responsibility for guaranteeing their security and well-being.

3. Recognizing the seriousness of the situation of displaced persons, the Commission decided, during its 91º session held in February 1996, to name a special rapporteur to work with this issue. This rapporteurship has permitted the strengthening of relations between the Commission and the United Nations Representative to the Secretary General on Displaced Persons. In addition, the special rapporteur has collaborated with the Inter-American Institute of Human Rights and other organizations to study the issue of displaced persons in the Americas.

4. Internally displaced persons are entitled to enjoy in free equality the same rights and freedoms under the American Convention on Human Rights (the "Convention" or the "American Convention"), and other domestic and international law norms, as the rest of the country's citizenry. In fact, however, they rarely do since displacement in and of itself essentially contradicts the enjoyment of basic human rights. Even when people are forced to leave their homes for legitimate reasons, their displacement generally entails multiple human rights violations. This is particularly true during internal armed conflicts, which are one of the principal causes of internal displacement worldwide. It is during such conflicts that the basic rights and needs of the displaced are most imperiled and least respected and protected.

5. Internally displaced persons, however, do not forfeit their inherent rights because they are displaced; they can invoke international human rights and, where relevant, humanitarian law to protect their rights. As the Commission has noted on repeated occasions, there exist certain fundamental guarantees protected in the American Convention which may not be suspended even in times of armed conflict or other emergency. The American Convention and other human rights and humanitarian law treaties, such as the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, contain guarantees of particular relevance to displaced persons. However, there are areas in which the protection provided in these instruments is not sufficiently specific in relation to the situation of displaced persons. This is because these instruments were not specifically tailored to meet the varied needs of the internally displaced.

6. For example, although the American Convention and other treaties provide for the right to life and physical integrity, as well as the right to freedom of movement and residence, they do not provide for an express right not to be unlawfully displaced, to have protection and assistance during displacement, and to enjoy a secure return and reintegration. Moreover, the American Convention does not guarantee an explicit right to find refuge in a safe part of the country, nor an express guarantee against the forcible return of internally displaced persons to places of danger.

7. Shortcomings in existing human rights and humanitarian law applicable to displaced persons have been extensively studied and analyzed by Francis M. Deng, who in 1992 was appointed by the United Nations Secretary General as his Representative on Internally Displaced Persons. Both the General Assembly and the Commission on Human Rights of the United Nations encouraged Mr. Deng to prepare an appropriate normative framework for the internally displaced based on his research and findings. In April 1998, Mr. Deng presented to the United Nations Human Rights Commission, at its fifty-fourth session, a report with an addendum entitled "Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement." The United Nations Human Rights Commission adopted by consensus a resolution co-sponsored by more than fifty states, including Colombia, which, inter alia, took note of the inter-Agency Standing Committee's decision welcoming the Guiding Principles and encouraging its members to share them with their Executive Boards, as well as Mr. Deng's stated intention to make use of these principles in his dialogue with governments and all those whose mandates and activities relate to the needs of the internally displaced.( 1 )

8. The Commission notes that the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement ("Guiding Principles") essentially restate in a single document general principles of protection, established in the American Convention and other treaties, in more specific detail and address the grey areas and gaps in the law previously identified by Mr. Deng. The document consists of thirty principles that address all phases of displacement: the norms applicable before internal displacement occurs (that is, protection against arbitrary displacement), those that apply in actual situations of displacement, and those that apply to the post-conflict period.

9. For purposes of these Principles, internally displaced are:

Persons or groups who have been forced or obliged to flee or to leave their homes or places of habitual residence, in particular as a result of or in order to avoid the effects of armed conflict, situations of generalized violence, violations of human rights or natural or human-made disasters, and who have not crossed an internationally-recognized state border.( 2 )

10. The Commission welcomes and fully supports these Guiding Principles. As the most comprehensive restatement of norms applicable to the internally displaced, the Guiding Principles will provide authoritative guidance to the Commission on how the law should be interpreted and applied during all phases of displacement. (The Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement are attached to this Chapter as Annex 1).

11. Colombian law also contains provisions on the internally displaced. Law No. 387, of July 18, 1997, adopted to address the issue of forced internal displacement, defines in its first article the concept of displacement, using a definition similar to that found in the Guiding Principles.( 3 )

12. Furthermore, Law 387 of 1997 "adopts measures for prevention of enforced displacement, assistance, protection, consolidation, and socioeconomic stabilization of persons displaced by violence," and provides for a series of mechanisms for guaranteeing such rights for the displaced and for preventing the causes of displacement.( 4 )

13. The Colombian Constitution also contains rights of particular importance for the displaced. For instance, Article 42 of the Constitution provides that the State "and society shall ensure the integral protection of the family." Article 24 of the Constitution also recognizes that every Colombian "has the right to move freely in the national territory".


1. General Information on the Causes and Effects of Internal Displacement

14. Different studies on the number of displaced people in Colombia offer estimates that vary from 700,000 to 1,200,000. All sources, however, describe the last four years as the worst in the country’s history. Some point out that this situation, which in 1996 alone affected 180,000 people, affected an even greater proportion of the population in 1997 and early 1998. A study by the Colombian Episcopal Conference estimates the number of persons displaced between January and October 1997 at 250,000.( 5 ) CODHES (Bureau for Human Rights and Displacement) calculated that in the first half of 1998, 148,000 people were affected by violence and forced to abandon their places of residence.( 6 ) Other figures estimate that in 1997, every hour, four families began their exodus through the national territory seeking "refuge".( 7 )

15. Although figures published by CODHES and the Archdiocese of Bogotá on displacement in the past decade have been refuted by the Government – but accepted by the Office of the Human Rights Ombudsman and UNICEF –, the Commission has no option but to take them as indications. According to these statistics, in the country as a whole, 920,000 people have been displaced since 1985; of these an estimated 235,000 are thought to have settled in Bogotá, and a further 180,000 people displaced in the same interval are said to be living in Medellín.

16. According to a report in 1997 by the Archdiocese of Cali, 2.5% of the inhabitants of the capital of El Valle Department were displaced for various reasons, and every day of the year at least three families displaced by violence arrive in Cali from the Departments of El Valle, Cauca, Nariño, Antioquía, Chocó, and the Atlantic Coast.( 8 )

17. Sources connected to non-governmental organizations that mainly work with the displaced consider that, while displacement has increased in the northern regions, 1997 was also a key year in the emergence of new displacement trends in the southeast region. Populations in these regions were allegedly victims of massacres and threats following their participation in peasant protest marches during the coca growers’ strike of 1996. They were also the targets of reprisals by the armed forces, after soldiers were detained by the FARC in Las Delicias, Putumayo, during "zone recovery" operations undertaken by paramilitary groups.( 9 )

18. In August 1997, the National Information Network, a dependency of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on Integral Assistance for the Population Displaced by Violence, published "The First Consolidated Report on Volume and Geographical Distribution of Displacement from 1996 to June 1997". The table below is taken from this report, which does not include all the municipalities or departmental capitals:( 10 )

Displaced Families by Reception Area (January 1996 - June 1997)









































Norte Santander




















19. Displacement in Colombia tended traditionally to be associated with the mass exodus of peasant families driven out of their fields and customary places of residence by outsiders. In recent years, however, segments of the urban population (urban poor, teachers, trade unionists) and indigenous groups have swelled their ranks. This shows that new causes of displacement have been added to the original causes. These new causes include the escalation of the armed conflict and upsurges in human rights violations, as in the northeastern regions of Antioquia, which witnessed an announced "cleansing" campaign against guerrilla collaborators.

20. Some international groups that conducted observation missions on the ground in Colombia informed the Commission that they had noted new and additional characteristics of forced displacement. They found that, in addition to displacement as a consequence of the internal armed conflict, displacement was also occurring for economic reasons. This displacement for economic reasons was intended to permit control over large areas of land, sometimes with the objective of establishing important economic projects in certain areas. These organizations also observed a new phenomenon of "itinerant displacement." This phenomenon takes place when displacement caused by violence later evolves into economic migration, thereby creating a "culture of uprootedness" as the displaced struggle for survival.

21. The Delegate Procurator General for Human Rights in Colombia has identified four types of displacement:

1. Displacement of peasant populations deliberately brought about by the different actors involved in the violence through killing or physically assaulting peasants until they manage to drive away the entire group or community. This is mainly caused by paramilitary groups in the Chocó region, part of the Urabá region in the Department of Antioquia, in Bolívar and in Magdalena;

2. Non-deliberate displacement resulting from confrontation between armed groups, bombardment, or military actions that indiscriminately target the local population, who lack minimum guarantees and protection for their life and physical integrity. This situation arose in the regions of Antioquia, Magdalena Medio, Bolívar and Meta;

3. Displacement caused by groups of people intent on taking possession of the land, who act through private-interest action groups that force peasants to abandon their homes and crops;

4. Voluntary displacement of people to forestry or wildlife reserves, whose aim is to cultivate illicit crops cultivation and who generate another type of conflict.( 11 )

22. For its part, the study by Dr. Alejandro Reyes, a political analyst, states that displacement is significantly more pronounced in areas where political violence coincides with violence associated with land ownership (Atlantic Coast, Chocó and the Urabá region of Antioquia) than in areas where, despite the level of political violence, the incidence of land disputes is less (Northeast, Central Andean Region, Southwest).( 12 ) Dr. Reyes believes that, "in local wartime conditions it is not only impossible to put forward social demands, but the problem becomes one of how to safeguard the stability of the population in their territory, since the territory acquires strategic value for the opposing sides. Displacement occurs when threats force a dilemma between property and life and the State is incapable of providing protection for the population."( 13 ) This analysis and the Commission’s own confirmations during its on-site visit, satisfy it in the conviction that there is a close connection between social injustice, particularly land takeovers, and internal displacement, the prime causes of which predate the current armed conflict.( 14 )

23. The Commission has received information stating that 65% of heads of displaced households who owned land had to abandon it as a result of the acts of violence that forced them to flee. This statistic tends to confirm once more that, concealed behind the phenomena of violence and armed confrontation, are economic interests associated with the so-called agrarian counter-reform that affects small and medium-scale landowners.( 15 ) Currently, 67% of heads of displaced households are not gainfully employed.( 16 )

24. Toward the end of 1997, the Permanent Consultation on Internal Displacement in the Americas (CPDIA)( 17 ) released its report compiled following several on-site visits, the first of which was at the request of the Colombian Government. The report mentions the following general and specific impacts or consequences of displacement: 1) defenselessness and isolation of displaced communities during both emergency periods and return or resettlement, together with a lack of humanitarian assistance through integral, inter-institutional and multi-disciplinary projects; 2) as a result of these shortcomings displaced persons have no possibility of legal access to new homes, lands, or jobs, and are forced to undertake a struggle for survival, competing amongst themselves to secure a space in "squatter slums or illegal urban settlements"; 3) breakup of families and communities, and dissipation of social ties in general; 4) swift-moving process of concentration of rural properties to the disadvantage of the population, along with drastic changes in land use and ownership.

25. The Commission considers that the psycho-social consequences of displacement, which pass without attention, have accelerated the destruction of the social fabric and have contributed to the impoverishment of the population, the disintegration of the family, malnutrition, sickness, alcoholism, drug addiction, prostitution, school absenteeism and common crime.( 18 )

2. Sectors Disproportionately Affected by Internal Displacement

26. In its study on population and the effects of displacement, the Archdiocese of Cali states that the displaced population is "young, unproductive, composed of poor, small land-owning peasants forced to leave their places of work by multiple threats to their lives". The ranks of the displaced disproportionately include women, children, and indigenous people.( 19 )

Women: According to CODHES figures, 59% of displaced people are women, many of them widows with several children; of the women, 65% are themselves minors( 20 ). Such magnitude augurs great fragility in the family unit, given that in many resettlement areas women must shoulder family responsibilities alone, while men look for some kind of work in or away from the immediate vicinity of their new location.

27. The vast majority of displaced women have peasant backgrounds and are forced to seek refuge in very precarious living quarters in the impoverished neighborhoods found on the outskirts of urban centers, where they can raise neither crops nor animals in order to feed their families; in most cases they also do not have access to basic health services.

28. Although the Colombian Constitution and specific national legislation may have recognized equal rights for women, and despite the fact that the State has ratified the Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence against Women (also known as the Convention of Belem do Pará), thereby incorporating a new gender focus, many of these norms and the great majority of governmental programs fail to encompass internally displaced women.

29. The Commission notes that Principle 19(2) of the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement refers directly to the situation of women, establishing that: "Special attention should be paid to the health needs of women, including access to female health care providers and services, such as reproductive health care, as well as appropriate counseling for victims of sexual and other abuses." However, the information the Commission has in its possession indicates that this requirement has not been fully complied with.

Children. According to the Colombian Episcopal Conference, approximately 70% of displaced persons are minors; this figure includes young mothers who, having lost their husbands and means of support, bring up infants on their own.

30. Non-governmental sources say that 85% of displaced children do not receive a primary education and only 20% have access to medical care. The study by the Archdiocese of Cali claims that "functional illiteracy is a trait common to most members of households displaced by violence" and is due to the important school dropout rate during displacement. The Commission also believes that the lack of real access to free mandatory primary education contributes to a situation in which displaced children are not accepted and integrated into the towns where they have relocated. As to health programs, 81% of the displaced persons interviewed by the Archdiocese team said they had access to none.

31. A census conducted by the Office of the Human Rights Ombudsman in the Turbo shelters in November 1997 counted more than 2,000 children, who benefited from neither proper nutrition nor sanitary programs, despite the poor hygiene conditions in the place; nor did the census find any education programs to which they had access. A similar situation was recorded by a census carried out in Pavarandó, with nearly 1,800 children up to the age of 14, and many other temporary accommodation centers that lack even the most basic means for caring for displaced children. Several displaced children from Finca Bella Cruz, relocated in the Department of Tolima, were found to be suffering from advanced malnutrition

32. Such shortcomings prevent children from developing healthily. The American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man, the American Convention, and other universally recognized instruments, reflect the consensus that children have the right to special care and integral protection. As direct victims of the conflict, displaced children should be treated with priority and without discrimination in receiving the benefits of government programs designed for children

33. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which Colombia has ratified, and Article 19 of the American Convention require the State to provide protection for the child, ensuring the provision of food, sanitary, and medical assistance. For its part, the Guiding Principles establish that: "Certain internally displaced persons, such as children, especially unaccompanied minors, ... shall be entitled to protection and assistance required by their condition and to treatment which takes into account their special needs ".( 21 )

34. Conscription of children under the age of 15 is absolutely forbidden under the provisions of international humanitarian law, as well as under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. The Guiding Principles also provide that: "In no circumstances shall displaced children be recruited nor be required or permitted to take part in hostilities."( 22 ) However, the Commission has received information and is investigating complaints alleging that displaced children have been recruited by armed dissident groups and, especially, by paramilitary groups.

35. Furthermore, the Commission has received reports according to which large numbers of infants born during displacement or in accommodation centers have not been registered with the competent authorities and, therefore, have no documentation of any kind. It should be mentioned that the right to recognition as a person before the law is a universally recognized principle of international law. In this respect, the Guiding Principles also stress the need to carry out an effective documentation process for all displaced persons, including children.

Indigenous peoples. According to data obtained by this Commission, displacement affecting indigenous groups in Colombia is extremely grave. In the Department of Córdoba, the displaced indigenous population numbered over 10,000. Figures such as this compound the massive displacement that the indigenous communities of the Department of AntioquIa, who were forced off their ancestral lands by the violence of paramilitary groups, have endured since 1996.

36. The Zenú community of El Volao, Necoclí Municipality, in the Urabá region of the Department of Antioquía, was displaced by the Self-Defense Groups of Córdoba and Urabá (ACCU) in March 1995. Several indigenous families in south Tolima were also displaced following the murder of their leaders, intimidation by the army, paramilitary operations, and guerrilla attacks in March 1996.

37. The CPDIA, for its part, considers that the region of El Chocó, in particular Bajo Atrato, where there are plans to construct the Atrato-Truando Canal, has become a war zone. In this area, those most affected are afro-Caribbean communities and indigenous groups, whose displacement is frequently the outcome.

38. It should be stressed that Principle 9 of the Guiding Principles expressly mentions that: "States are under a particular obligation to protect against the displacement of indigenous peoples, minorities, peasants, pastoralists and other groups with a special dependency on and attachment to their lands."

39. The actions taken against some indigenous communities must be evaluated in light of this principle, international law, and the provisions in the American Convention relating to equality and to non-discrimination for reasons of race, language, national origin, and religion.

3. Living Conditions of the Internally Displaced

40. As displacement figures have risen exponentially, national and international assistance programs have been unable to keep up with all the needs of displaced people. The humanitarian assistance provided by the Colombian State has not met international standards of speed, effectiveness and neutrality, due to a variety of political, bureaucratic and census reasons. The 1997 census performed by the National Information Network determined that the number of people displaced by violence who had received assistance from the Government totaled 38,033. The Colombian State points out that the International Committee of the Red Cross found that 661,540 displaced persons received humanitarian assistance during 1997. However, the Red Cross included in its figures not only the assistance provided by the Government but also by international organizations and non-governmental organizations. Some Government officials responsible for assistance to displaced persons have criticized the lack of State assistance for this population. The representative of the Office of the Presidential Adviser for Displaced Persons in Antioquia denounced publicly that he did not receive any public funding for assistance to the displaced.( 23 )

41. The Commission also notes that the fact that many displaced persons lack documentation is a source of great obstacles, for adults as well as children. Undocumented persons face difficulties in getting registered and obtaining documentation of citizenship. This situation provokes, among other things, a loss of property, due to the inability to provide documentary evidence, and the inability to obtain protection for human rights. For example, most of the aid programs available to displaced persons require applicants to provide certification of their status as displaced persons. This certification is very difficult to obtain, except in a few municipalities which have made a special effort to resolve the situation of the undocumented persons. The land distribution problem is also aggravated by the documentation difficulties of the displaced population.

42. It should be noted that Principal 1 of the Guiding Principles provides that internally displaced persons should not suffer any discrimination as a result of their condition. A system that requires displaced persons to obtain special documents classifying them as such could violate this principle. In addition, international human rights law guarantees the fundamental right of all persons to juridical personality. The American Convention provides that this is a non-derogable right.( 24 ) Paragraph 20 of the Guiding Principles also provides very clearly that, to give effect to the right that displaced persons have to juridical personality, "the authorities concerned shall issue to them all documents necessary for the enjoyment and exercise of their legal rights. . . . In particular, the authorities shall facilitate the issuance of new documents or the replacement of documents lost in the course of displacement, without imposing unreasonable conditions, such as requiring the return to one's area of habitual residence in order to obtain these or other required documents."

a. Situation in Camps and Settlements

43. A recent phenomenon has been the creation of displaced persons’ camps. In the wake of the peasant killings in Urabá, in April and December 1997, the town of Pavarandó Grande de Mutatá became "the biggest displaced persons camp in Colombian history" with more than 5,000 residents.( 25 ) According to figures provided by international organizations, most of the camp residents came from 48 black communities. Half of these were children under 14 years old, some of whom are thought to have died as a result of lack of medical care and high malnutrition levels. The Pavarandó camp was the site in Colombia that most "resembles a typical refugee camp" with rows of tents bearing the insignia of the Red Cross and other non-governmental organizations providing food and medical care. According to reports from non-governmental organizations, the infrastructure was inadequate, and the displaced complained that the supply of food rations they received was erratic and insufficient." ( 26 )

44. The first programs for return and relocation of families in Pavarandó began in January 1998. Most of the displaced persons were returned to six camps in the area of the Bajo Atrato in the Chocó Department. However, before the return process could be entirely completed, the displaced persons in Pavarandó fell victim to renewed acts of violence. In early September 1998, fearing an attack from paramilitary forces, the nearly one thousand people waiting to return to the Urabá region of the Chocó Department left the camp at Pavarandó. The paramilitary forces accused them of supporting FARC (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia) guerrillas, who, in August 1998, attacked the 17th Army Brigade stationed in the area.( 27 ) The Commission describes this renewed displacement of the displacement victims who had been living in Pavarandó as extremely grave.

45. The Commission was able to observe the difficult living conditions in the camps during its visit to the Turbo Sports Hall shelter in the municipality of Apartadó, Department of Antioquia. The people living in the Sports Hall come from several different parts of Riosucio in the Chocó portion of the Urabá region. They fled to the Municipality of Turbo to escape a terror campaign, waged by paramilitary groups, as well as military air strikes at the end of 1996. The residents complained to the Commission that several communities had been bombed and terrorized through executions of local residents. According to these residents, over the course of several hours, houses were looted and their inhabitants then forced to vacate. They told the Commission that the paramilitaries had taken control of the area where they had lived. On February 27, 1997, the displaced people reached the Turbo Sports Hall shelter, where at the date of the drafting of this report, there were still some 330 people living in cramped and exposed conditions.

46. The Commission observed that the residents of this camp were living in exceedingly overcrowded conditions. Most of the displaced sleep on beds packed in side by side in the large, open space inside the Sports Hall. The residents complained of lack of privacy. They also protested that the food assistance provided by the Government (25,000 pesos worth of goods for 15 days) was not enough. Despite government promises, the shelter was left without gas for cooking and with insufficient water for the amount of people. In November, aid was officially suspended to 75 families for lack of funds, while disease and the risk of epidemic increased, in particular among the children, several of whom showed symptoms of advanced malnutrition. The Commission also recorded several complaints alleging the disappearance or execution of some of the people displaced to Turbo.

47. Based on the information that it received during and after its visit to the Sports Hall and to other shelters in Turbo, the Commission decided, on December 17, 1997, to ask the Colombian State to adopt precautionary measures to protect the life and safety of the displaced persons temporarily residing there. The use of precautionary measures for entire communities of displaced persons was a new type of action in terms of the development of the legal mechanisms for protection in the inter-American System. The Commission considered that the seriousness of the situation required this move. The decision was based on information received by the Commission, during the weeks after its visit to Turbo, indicating that members of paramilitary groups had made their presence known to the displaced persons on several occasions. On December 11, 1997, two armed individuals, recognized as paramilitaries, entered the Turbo Sports Hall and asked for a member of the displaced persons community. On December 14, another paramilitary member was seen inspecting the "Unidas Retornaremos" shelter.

48. The Commission more recently received a copy of a letter addressed to the President of the Republic regarding another group of displaced persons, who have settled in shelters in the Municipality of Dabeiba, Department of Antioquia. The letter, signed by displaced people from the town of La Balsita and dated August 9, 1998, describes the situation of this community. According to the letter, more than 1,000 people were displaced when a group of approximately 400 paramilitary forces entered the towns surrounding La Balsita on November 21, 1997, killing 21 peasants and disappearing others. The paramilitary group specifically warned the peasants that they should leave their towns if they wanted to save their lives.

49. On November 30, 1997, the community settled in the municipality of Dabeiba, where 250 people live in two provincial meeting halls in very cramped conditions and sleep on the floor. The kitchen and washroom are located in the same area where the people sleep. The residents of these shelters complain that they are in short supply of water. They also complain that they sometimes go three weeks without receiving food.

50. These residents also say that some of the local officials in the community of Dabeiba, as well as the commander of the local army post, have used threats in order to pressure the displaced people into returning to their districts, without offering to provide protection for their life or physical integrity. The displaced persons in Dabeiba maintain that army personnel have also told them that they will suffer serious consequences if it is found that any of them have "given a glass of water to a guerrilla." Two members of the displaced persons’ community were murdered.

b. Persons Displaced to Panama

51. A large group of displaced persons, who fled from Riosucio, Unguía and other areas of the Chocó portion of the Urabá region at the end of 1996 and beginning of 1997 as a result of paramilitary incursions taking place at the time, sought first to flee to Panamá. This group established impromptu camps in the Darién region of Panamá. However, soon thereafter, the displaced persons were told that they could not stay in the neighboring country. According to the displaced peasants, the list of conditions that they formulated to the Colombian Government to allow a return was ignored and the displaced persons were forced to return to Colombia without the guarantees that they had sought.

52. Some of the refugees were taken to Apartadó, Department of Antioquia at first. These refugees were placed in a shelter where they lived in overcrowded and unhygienic conditions. In addition, at this time, Apartadó was experiencing the same paramilitary violence that had forced many of the displaced persons to flee from the Chocó area.

53. The Colombian Government took a significant number of the displaced persons that fled originally to Panamá to the Cupica Bay on the Pacific coast of the Chocó Department. Many of the peasants displaced from the Chocó region to Panamá currently remain in Cupica. Despite the fact that the Government forcibly removed these persons to this site, it has failed to provide them with adequate humanitarian assistance during their time there. According to the information received by the Commission, the displaced persons do not receive adequate food and only very rarely receive meat to cook. They have access to only one doctor for the entire displaced persons population and medicines for serious illnesses are not available. When serious illnesses arise, the sick person must travel to Solano Bay, two hours away by boat. Because of the transportation difficulties, a few sick individuals have waited four days to be taken to the hospital.

54. According to the information presented to the Commission, the displaced persons from the Chocó Department are still discussing with the Government the conditions for their safe and dignified return. Meanwhile, the situation at the sites continues to be extremely difficult. The Commission has also received information indicating that paramilitary groups maintain absolute control over some areas of the Chocó region causing insecurity and new displacements.

c. Situation of the Displaced Persons from Finca Bella Cruz, Department of Cesar

55. On February 14, 1996, paramilitary groups executed an armed operation against the peasant community at the Finca Bella Cruz, located in the municipalities of La Gloria, Pelaya and Tamalameque in the Department of Cesar. The peasants were forced to abandon their homes and crops as a result of the attack. Some eyewitnesses have stated that members of the armed forces were present and participated with the paramilitaries in the attack. The attack apparently took place in reprisal for the activities of the peasants in claiming the lands that they had occupied for almost three years. On March 13, 1996, a month after the attack, the peasants from Bella Cruz obtained a judicial decision ordering that they be granted title over the uncultivated land. That land had also been claimed by the "Marulanda Investments" group, a company run by the descendants of a landowner, also of the Marulanda name, who had expulsed the peasants living in the area with the assistance of paramilitary groups in the 1940s.

56. Following the promulgation of a European Parliament resolution condemning the attack on the peasants, the Government of Colombia launched an inquiry into these grave acts of violence and into the responsibility of members of the Government with an alleged interest in Finca Bellacruz. According to information provided to the Commission, the investigation initiated by the Human Rights Unit of the Office of the Prosecutor General of the Nation led to the detention, in May 1998, of Francisco Alberto Marulanda Ramírez, brother of Carlos Arturo Marulanda, ex-ambassador for Colombia to the European Community. On January 15, 1999, the Office of the Prosecutor General also issued an arrest warrant against Carlos Marulanda.

57. Near the end of March 1996, the peasants managed to secure an agreement with the Government enabling them to return to their lands after spending several weeks living in overcrowded conditions in a privately-owned building in Pelaya. However, the Institutional Verification Committee set up under the agreement with the displaced persons and made up of representatives of the Government, armed forces, non-governmental organizations, and the persons affected, was unable to gain to access to Finca Bellacruz on April 8, 1996, because the area was considered too dangerous due to the presence of paramilitary groups.

58. Some days later, on April 19, 1996, a team of officials from the Colombian Institute of Agrarian Reform (INCORA) were attacked by paramilitary groups guarding the ranch, as they attempted to carry out measurements essential for delivering to the peasants their lots and title deeds. According to complaints by non-governmental organizations the paramilitary forces cut off part of the scalp of one of the officials. Ever since, despite various attempts by INCORA, access to the ranch has been impossible because of the violence of the paramilitary forces. Between November and December 1996, the authorities relocated some of the displaced families in several different departments. Some had success in Tolima but those who were supposed to go to Cundinamarca were turned away by the Governor. For several months the Governor refused to comply with the Government’s decisions and directives, declaring that the displaced people were "guerrillas who posed a grave threat to the security of the department." The Governor also instructed the mayors to refuse the group temporary relocation. According to the most recent information obtained by the Commission, there are still some 50 families that have yet to be permanently resettled, and none of these families has been able to return to their lands or regain the title deeds the State was to award them.

59. Thus, the court decision awarding title and the attempts of the INCORA officials became meaningless. The responsibility of the authorities in failing to ensure protection for the physical integrity of the displaced persons, the impossibility of pursuing the judicial inquiry into the alleged grave violations of human rights and of humanitarian law, and the blocking of the award of the title deeds constitute challenges that the Government cannot allow to go without resolution.

d. Petitions and Peace Community Proposals

60. Some communities of displaced people have organized themselves into "Peace Communities," demanding respect as members of the civilian population and/or submitting lists of petitions for their return. The communities displaced from the Riosucio area of the Department of Chocó, who have settled in Pavarandó, Department of Antioquía, presented a proposal to the Government in July 1997 in order to avoid further breakup of their communities. After stating that the resolve of their members was being worn down by overcrowding, unemployment, and lack of prospects, they proposed an overall agreement and negotiation of a series of socioeconomic development and community survival initiatives involving the State, international cooperation agencies, and entities like the Diocese of Apartadó, the Office of the Human Rights Ombudsman, and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). The Community from Turbo has also presented a list of petitions and has demanded a meeting with the President of the Republic to discuss the issue of the "unfulfilled promises."

61. The representatives and inhabitants of the 28 communities forming San José de Apartadó in the Urabá region of Antioquia decided, in April of 1997, to publicly sign a declaration demanding respect for their neutrality and an end to the war. A Special Observation Committee was formed out of several national and international delegations, as well as a Member of the Dutch Parliament. However, the parties to the armed conflict have not always respected the neutrality of the community. From its declaration of neutrality to the visit of the Commission in December of 1997, 43 members of the Community of Peace of San José de Apartadó were killed by paramilitary groups, the Military Forces and the FARC. Members of the Military Forces have indicated that they do not accept the declaration of neutrality, because they consider it a declaration of alliance with the armed dissident groups. Upon analyzing the incidents of violence committed against the Community of Peace of San José de Apartadó, the Commission asked the State to adopt precautionary measures on behalf of the entire community on December 17, 1997.


62. Unlike the essentially rural displacement situations that Colombia saw in the first half of this century, which resulted from a quest for or seizures of cultivable lands, in recent years the phenomenon has become an integral part of the military strategy of the main actors. The chaos, vulnerability, and terror inspired in the population are part of a modus operandi. Observers and victims agree that none of the armed actors answers for their acts and all accuse each other of manipulating the peasants and terrorizing the population. This diffusion of blame further ensures impunity.

63. The Human Rights Ombudsman considers that "the migration of these people arises from the fact that members of the military and police, paramilitary organizations, and armed groups force them to flee their homes and occupations to avoid the death, torture, insults, and other misfortunes visited on their relatives, friends, and neighbors. Displacement in Colombia is the joint responsibility of all sides in the conflict and reveals that the warring factions have an utter contempt for basic principles of humanity."( 28 )

64. Amnesty International’s most recent report on displacement in Colombia also notes that, "[i]n the vast majority of cases, displacement of the civilian population is not a casual, sporadic or inevitable by-product of counter-insurgency operations--it is a crucial tool in the armed forces' strategy to combat the insurgent forces. Targeted areas are "cleansed" of the real or potential support base of the guerrillas and repopulated with peasant farmers who are paramilitary supporters."( 29 )

65. In 1996, a report produced by the Colombian Episcopal Conference research team, updated by CODHES and published in "Desplazados internos en Colombia"( 30 ) apportions blame for displacement as follows:

    • 33% to paramilitary organizations
    • 29% to guerrilla groups
    • 16% to Government Forces
    • 15% to unknowns or others, and
    • 6% to urban militias.( 31 )

66. Other non-governmental organizations calculate similar percentages. According to Amnesty International, "paramilitary organizations [are] the primary cause of displacement: some 35% of internal displacement is caused by paramilitary organizations, 17% by the armed forces and police and 24% by armed opposition groups."( 32 )

1. Government Security Forces

67. According to the Report in 1994 of the Representative of the U.N. Secretary General on Internally Displaced Persons, "testimonies received by the Representative as well as the discussions he had with the Government indicate that the civilian population living in combat zones is the most susceptible to being displaced."( 33 ) Indeed, according to Mr. Deng, in zones controlled or influenced by the guerrillas, currently around two-thirds of the country, the armed forces often resort to air raids, followed by ground searches, which often force the people to move temporarily or permanently.

68. Most observers agree that during the period of effect of Presidential Decree No. 717, of April 18, 1996, when almost 25% of the country was declared a "special public order zone ", in which the armed forces were granted emergency powers, the situation of displaced persons worsened, and that "an extremely high percentage of human rights violations and infringements on provisions of humanitarian law has gone unpunished."( 34 )

69. Several non-governmental and international organizations insist that persons displaced as a result of bombardment by government security forces are placed, after fleeing their communities, in camps or settlements closely guarded or controlled by the military and police. The siting of military barracks very close to where people, displaced or otherwise, are concentrated, leads to the assumption that accusations regarding the use of human shields by some military commanders are not far removed from the truth.

70. The insecurity of these persons is increased by their inability to perceive objectively as protectors of their lives or physical integrity, those who, very often, accused them of being "guerrillas" and forced them to vacate their communities and leave behind their entire means of survival in order to become outcasts in regions or cities unknown to them.

71. The Commission also examined the conditions surrounding the implementation of illicit-crop eradication programs by the military in zones allegedly under guerilla control. The aim of such programs is to destroy coca plantations using chemicals like tebuthiuron, which is classed as one of the most harmful to humans and future crops.( 35 ) Reports from several sources allege that military forces have caused the displacement of coca growers using these methods, as well as extreme violence against persons they alleged were connected with insurgents. Although Government authorities are entitled to prevent and suppress crime, and, in particular, to eliminate illicit crops, the security forces must respect the basic rights of the population at all times and may not use methods irreconcilable with international law.

2. Armed Dissident Groups

72. From the outset and for both historical and strategic reasons, armed dissident groups have opted to operate in rural areas and gradually advance on urban centers. In 1994, the Episcopal Conference reported that armed dissident groups were engaging in the use of anti-personnel mines, hostage-taking, kidnappings, destruction of civilian property, and attacks on vital civil works. All such actions by insurgent groups bring about displacement of people. Although observers agree that rural zones are the worst affected, armed violence does not exclude towns and cities, where persons displaced from rural areas again encounter the same kinds of violations and insecurity. On this point, the report of the CPDIA says that, "these groups [of armed dissidents] have also been the cause of urban displacement and its effects were seen in parts of Medellin."( 36 )

73. According to the Archdiocese of Cali, the information provided by displaced households shows that urban militias and guerrilla forces are among the chief causes of the displacement of the persons who arrive in Cali. These households also maintain that actions against the civilian population by dissident groups that operate in the Departments of El Valle, Cauca, Nariño, Putumayo, and Antioquía are also direct causes of displacement.( 37 )

74. Even though the Commission does not have jurisdiction under the American Convention to take cognizance of complaints against groups whose acts are not attributable to the State, it considers appropriate at this point to stress that respect for provisions of international humanitarian law applies to all parties in a conflict, and, in particular, to reiterate the applicability of the Guiding Principles, which require that all groups and persons respect the basic rights of internally displaced persons in their relations with them.

3. Paramilitary Groups

75. Based on information it has received in this regard, the Commission believes that paramilitary groups are the biggest cause of collective displacement of the rural population. According to humanitarian, ecclesiastical, and international observer organization sources, the escalation of paramilitary activity in recent years has mainly taken the form of "cleansing" operations against civilian populations suspected of helping or contributing logistically to guerrilla groups or those that occupy land that the paramilitaries wish to adquire. In 1994, the Report of the Representative of the U.N. Secretary-General on Internally Displaced Persons, considered that:

NGOs and victims of human rights violations, as well as a large number of government officials, told the Representative that these groups are the primary source of violence and related displacement and that in many cases they enjoy at least the tacit support of the Army while in many areas they are financed and used by drug-traffickers.( 38 )

76. The Commission also received information indicating that the Colombian State has failed to take administrative, legislative, judicial or other actions to block or prevent the activities of these groups. The State thereby contributes to the impunity of these groups and the displacement that results from their actions, which are often announced in advance.

77. In referring to the case of the displaced from the Finca Bellacruz, the former Presidential Adviser on Human Rights said that:

These (paramilitary) groups have attempted to defend the interests of given sectors against guerrilla forces but have committed abuses, excesses, and crimes. It was precisely these groups that, in February 1996, allegedly drove out the peasants (of Bella Cruz), [now] victims of displacement ... In the municipalities of Pelaya and neighboring municipalities there is a situation of intense conflict, the main victim of which is the civilian population, mostly peasants, caught between guerrilla and paramilitary groups.

78. The Archdiocese of Bogota notes that paramilitary groups are the primary cause of displacement to the capital. Of the displaced households consulted, 42% placed responsibility with these groups for the killing, terror, and threats that persuaded them to flee.

79. As was analyzed in Chapter IV of this Report, the Commission considers that under international law the State of Colombia could be implicated in certain paramilitary group actions. For this reason, in certain circumstances, provisions of both human rights and humanitarian law could apply to actions conducted by paramilitary groups( 39 ).


80. The Commission was able to confirm that there is agreement in both government and non-governmental circles as to the gravity of the internal displacement phenomenon and the pressing need to prevent it and to protect the victims. There is also consensus among national observers and representatives of international organizations that the State has made some effort to provide solutions for the displaced. However, many agree that the policy adopted thus far by the Government to deal with this situation has not been adequate and has failed to diminish it. The most serious aspect of this lack of effective response is the absence of governmental measures to prevent the incidents that provoke the forced displacement of persons, despite the fact that this preventive aspect is conceived as a central focus of governmental policy. It must be noted, in this connection, that the vast majority of forced displacements were announced in advance by the elements responsible for causing them or were denounced by the affected communities, supervisory bodies, the Church or organizations from civil society.

1. Political Framework of the State for Assistance and Protection for the Internally Displaced

81. The Commission acknowledges the will of the State in recent years to deal with the internal displacement situation within the overall framework of protection of human rights. The Commission welcomes the boost given at the same time to the advancement of human rights and humanitarian law by the incorporation of international instruments and specific agreements on internal displacement into national law, through Article 93 of the Constitution, or through legislation. These efforts have made it possible to pass a significant number of legal norms and to implement government and quasi-governmental programs that have helped to provide some measure of assistance and protection to the displaced.

82. In 1994, the Government mentioned in the National Plan for Development and Social Progress that it attaches priority to adopting a clear policy on displacement. In September 1995, Document No. 2804 of the Economic and Social Policy Council (CONPES)( 40 ) created the National Program of Integral Assistance for the Population Displaced by Violence in Colombia ("National Assistance Program"), with the aims of providing assistance to this population and preventing the dynamics of violence that generate the phenomenon. However, only a few months later the authorities admitted that the Program had been plagued with "difficulties with inter-institutional management and coordination, information, and
funding."( 41 )

83. On April 28, 1997, the Office of the Presidential Adviser on Integral Assistance for the Population Displaced by Violence was created with the purpose of coordinating all operations, measures, and mechanisms of the National Assistance Program( 42 ). Funding for the Program is provided for under Decree 1458, of May 30, 1997, which governs the nature and functioning of the Fund for Rehabilitation, Social Spending, and Combating Crime, and in which a special item for displacement was created. CONPES Document 2924, of 1997, also presented strategies for prevention, immediate assistance and socio-economic consolidation and stabilization.

84. Law No. 387, of July 18, 1997, which was a Government initiative, reorganized several agencies that work with the internally displaced and stipulated the need for the National Assistance Program to coordinate with non-governmental organizations and international agencies specializing in this area. Against the backdrop of this law, a National Plan for Integral Attention for the Population Displaced by Violence was designed. The National Plan set forth the actions that the Government would need to take to protect the displaced population. The Plan was intended to complement the government policy directives set forth in the CONPES documents. It included several new protocols for actions to be followed by the various entities that work with displaced persons.

85. The conception of the State was also that actions planned for the medium and long terms should lay the foundations of socioeconomic stability for the displaced population as part of a process of voluntary return or resettlement in other rural or urban zones. This stability would be achieved by providing them access to the National System of Agrarian Reform and Rural Development and Social Welfare Programs.

86. In 1997 the Government also requested the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to open an office in Colombia with the aim of reaping the benefits of the experience gained under its mandate in processes of return of the displaced population. The State has also worked with various international agencies to develop an early warning information system.

2. Shortcomings and Deficiencies of the State on the Issue of Internal Displacement

87. The Commission recognizes that the Colombian State, through its governing bodies, has taken steps to apply the recommendations of experts in addressing the issue of internal displacement. However, the sheer multitude of problems preventing the government from reaching its goals, some of which the State authorities themselves recognize, so far rules out any possibility of a significant decline in internal displacement.

88. The shortcomings in the State’s response have largely been due to the fiscal problems it faces, as well as to the "spread of armed insurgency, which encompasses regions where peasants have mobilized for land, and where there are also clashes with legitimate Government forces, thus turning all these areas into war zones, where most of the victims are peasants and displacement occurs as a result."( 43 ) The Commission assumes that the State has trouble gaining access to some parts of the country in order to carry out judicial inquiries, owing to the intensity or escalation of internal armed conflict there. The Commission understands that in some cases implementation of policies for the prevention and protection of the internally displaced can become virtually impossible. However, in many cases where these might reasonably have been contemplated, the competent agencies have shown no particular desire to initiate and execute such actions.

89. The Commission views with concern the following shortcomings in the application of the National Assistance Program:

    • Human rights violations and infringements of provisions of humanitarian law allegedly committed by members of the military and security forces against the civilian population go unpunished. This situation both encourages the continuation of such abuses and helps to protract and increase displacement itself. To date, the Commission has received no reports of convictions of members of the armed or security forces alleged to have committed such violations in the course of armed operations. The impunity with which paramilitary groups act and operate has also been an exponential factor in the displacement of the rural population.

    • The fact that the Government has opted for a policy of assistance rather than one of prevention and adequate protection may be warranted in Colombia’s current environment, but in no case can it provide an admissible excuse. Indeed, eradicating the causes of and preventing displacement are primarily duties of the State.

    • Apart from the problems relating to the prevention of displacement, major shortcomings have also been discovered in relation to provision of assistance to persons already displaced. Despite budgetary problems, it has been found that there is a great deal of duplication or overlapping of effort in the National Assistance Program and that there has been no real coordination among the various government agencies, or between the Government and inter-governmental and non-governmental organizations. These deficiencies have left a large number of displaced families unregistered, resulting in a denial of access to basic welfare programs. The Commission notes that the current trend under international law, established by the U.N. Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and backed by the Inter-American Commission, requires that States cover the vital necessities of the civilian population throughout a conflict and that they provide for a supply of food, drinking water, satisfactory conditions of hygiene, and medical care for the sick and wounded.

    • The National Assistance Program has not taken into consideration the urgency of designing a policy to ensure proper documentation of the displaced population. This situation not only harms children, whose birth in many cases has not even been registered, but also the displaced in general in terms of their legal standing. The responsibility for ensuring proper documentation lies unavoidably with the State. It is not acceptable that the letter of the law cannot be complied with primarily because of a lack of personnel prepared to provide this documentation and other similar reasons.

    • The policy of socio-economic consolidation has not addressed the difficulties faced by the general population, and particularly the displaced population, in obtaining access to land to be cultivated. This reality confirms the conclusions of experts who have found that the agrarian reform process has been interrupted in those regions "where the violence caused by the guerrillas, counter-insurgency operations, paramilitary groups and the territorial expansion of the drug trade comes together to cause the forced displacement of persons, particularly peasants. A relation has been established between factors which have impeded agrarian reform, in various ways and at different times, with the violent expulsion of peasants from their homes. . . . Thus, for example, peasants settled on lands purchased by INCORA have been threatened and forced to seek authorization from the Institute to renounce their lots and leave."( 44 )

    • There is also a serious problem as regards lack of development alternatives in coca producing areas. The CPDIA mission assessed the situation of illicit cultivation areas in the Departments of Putumayo, Guaviare, Caquetá, and Meta, where government control has caused massive displacement of coca farming peasants. Most of these peasants were colonists, who arrived from other parts of the country over the past several years and settled in the hope of finding an alternative livelihood. The CPDIA believes that these territories have turned into virtual theaters of confrontation, declared "zones of public order," and that flaws in the government’s crop substitution program combined with the unsafe conditions in these areas has clearly encouraged the displacement of the peasant population.

    • Encouraging or providing incentives for return to zones where conflict persists, or where the State cannot guarantee the safety of its citizens, exposes displaced people to the danger of being taken hostage or becoming the target of violence by one of the warring parties. It also banishes any possibility of consolidating resettlement areas, thus, effectively ruling out titling of lands awarded to displaced persons. On this subject, the Commission recalls that Principle 21 of the Guiding Principles on internal displacement insists on due respect and guarantees for the right to property of these persons. The Guiding Principles also provide that return must take place in conditions of safety and with dignity. By the same token, the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination adopted on August 16, 1996, General Recommendation XXII with regard to refugees and displaced persons on the basis of ethnic criteria. The recommendation stresses that "all such refugees and displaced persons have the right freely to return to their homes of origin under conditions of safety, that State parties are obliged to ensure that their return is voluntary, and that the displaced have, upon return, the right to restoration of property or adequate compensation when this is not possible."
    • The work directed at extending cellular telephone capabilities and implementing an early warning information system has been ineffective, despite the inclusion of these possibilities in the CONPES documents and the constant requests for such innovations by the public and private sectors in the affected regions. This lack of progress has contributed to the failure to prevent forced migratory movements.
    • In designing its policies, the National Assistance Program does not appear to have taken into consideration the characteristics of the State, the fragility of some institutions, and, above all, the absence of transmission mechanisms between the central authorities and the departments. Nor did it create quick, coordinated mechanisms with national and international, religious and non-governmental organizations that for many years have shouldered practically unaided all responsibility for providing assistance to internally displaced persons.

90. The Colombian State deserves recognition for the passage of Law 387 of 1997 and the creation of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on Integral Assistance for the Population Displaced by Violence. However, the humanitarian aid and legal protections available to displaced persons leave much to be desired. The scarce resources dedicated to the problem and the avoidance of responsibility in some cases expose the true situation. True and effective aid and protection should take place in addition to and in coordination with the legal and organizational work which is taking place.

91. In its observations regarding this Report, the Colombian State informed the Commission that the Government has already become aware of some of the difficulties mentioned above. Solutions to some of these problems are included in the National Development Plan 1998-2002 proposed by President Pastrana. According to the State, one of the essential components in the new policy on displaced persons will be a greater emphasis on prevention and socio-economic stabilization. The goal is to move beyond the prior focus on assistance. The Commission is pleased to receive this information regarding the new policies of the Government regarding displaced persons. The Commission will observe with interest the trajectory of these policies. However, the Commission must note that some observers have expressed concern regarding the delay in the development of a strategy for resolving the displaced persons issue and regarding the decision of the President to close the various branches of the Office of the Presidential Adviser for Displaced Persons in different parts of the country.

92. The Commission wishes to underscore that it is the primary duty of the Colombian State to provide protection and humanitarian assistance to internally displaced persons within its jurisdiction. If the magnitude of the problem is such that it exceeds the State’s budgetary possibilities or capacity to furnish assistance, it has the obligation to seek assistance from the international community in carrying out the necessary humanitarian tasks.


93. In this area, the Commission takes note of the fact that the participation of the international community and of specialized agencies in providing assistance and protection to the displaced population has been increasing in response both to the magnitude of the phenomenon and to formal requests from the State for international assistance in order to enable it to assess and address the situation.

94. Several international organizations with a mandate in Colombia have recently adopted the aim of focusing their attention on the magnitude of the phenomenon. Accordingly, the ICRC has gone to considerable lengths in performing its mandate to protect all victims of armed conflict. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Colombia includes the magnitude of the problem as a permanent item on its agenda. The UNHCR has made several in loco visits and in 1998 decided to set up an office in Colombia. The European Union has made funds available for humanitarian assistance and for reconstruction of uprooted groups. Some cooperation agencies have strengthened their presence in the country in order to ensure greater integrality in their work. In 1997, the CPDIA undertook its second mission in the country to assess the deteriorating displacement situation and to observe government policies and implementation of recommendations that the CPDIA and other international organizations made in previous years.( 45 )

95. The international community has contributed, by providing financial and technical support for implementation of immediate attention and protection programs by local non-governmental organizations. However, according to the evaluation of CPDIA experts, "in the absence of a body to coordinate these initiatives, sometimes overlapping or dissipation of efforts has occurred, and certain regions have been helped while others have received little
assistance."( 46 )

96. The Commission considers that the presence of the ICRC, UNHCR, and other agencies with experience in issues relating to internal displacement, refuge, and resettlement is crucial in areas where the conflict is most intense. These organizations may also provide suitable solutions, not overlapping or erratic ones, to the crisis. Such solutions should combine with the readiness the State has shown in recent years to follow the recommendations of experts or of specialized agencies.

97. The IACHR urges greater cooperation between the Government of Colombia and international agencies that work on the issue of internal displacement, in order to take steps that are more effective both in preventing displacement and in providing protection and assistance to persons already displaced. Specifically, the Commission urges the Government, in cooperation with these agencies and with the Representative on Internally Displaced Persons of the Secretary General of the U.N., to provide the means for creating lasting solutions, which allow internally displaced persons to return voluntarily, in safety and with dignity, to their homes, or to resettle in another part of the country.


98. The Commission wishes to express its concern over the hazardous situation that human rights activists in charge of assisting displaced persons face in the course of their professional labors. The Commission considers that human rights activists working with the displaced, connected to government institutions or otherwise, whose activity involves providing legal protection or humanitarian assistance for displaced persons, have been the target of serious human rights violations, an alarming number of which have resulted in extrajudicial executions.

99. According to the Third Annual Report of the Office of the Human Rights Ombudsman, activists are prominent persons in government and non-governmental institutions whose activities providing legal protection and humanitarian assistance to the displaced population are very visible, for which reason they quickly become targets for the parties to the
conflict.( 47 )

100. Disturbing proof of the foregoing was the execution by unidentified individuals on August 11, 1998, of Amparo Jiménez Payares, a journalist and official of the National Displaced Persons Network (a government agency) for El Cesar and La Guajira. Mrs. Jiménez had received several threats after writing a report in relation to peasants displaced by violence in the Municipality of Pelaya, Department of El Cesar. The authorities have caught three suspects in connection with the murder of Mrs. Jimenez, including alleged conspirators and actual perpetrators.


Based on the foregoing, the Commission make the following recommendations:

1. The parties in the armed conflict should observe the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, to avoid and especially to prevent the conditions that lead to forced internal displacement.

2. The State should order all of its institutions and agents to respect international and domestic provisions relating to internally displaced persons, with special attention to the obligation to respect their rights to life, physical integrity and personal security. The Colombian State should publish widely the text of the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement.

3. The State should ensure resettlement or return to habitual places of residence. The Commission underscores that processes of return must take place voluntarily and in conditions that ensure the safety and dignity of returnees.

4. The Colombian State should implement an information campaign on the situation of the displaced, stressing their condition as noncombatant civilians, who are not liable to recruitment by any of the parties to the conflict, in order to avoid confusion caused by accounts disseminated by representatives of the State, including members of the armed forces and police.

5. The Colombian State should carry out humanitarian assistance and development programs in coordination with international agencies that specialize in the issue, ensuring proper accommodation, satisfactory conditions of health and hygiene, and that members of the same family are not separated.

6. The Colombian State should ensure that all elected or appointed authorities at the national and local levels respect the principles of equality and non-discrimination, in order to avoid the rejection of internally displaced persons.

7. The Colombian State should consolidate judicial mechanisms so as to prevent the proliferation of impunity benefiting institutional and/or private actors who have caused internal displacement and a corresponding deep-seated feeling of extreme vulnerability in the affected population.

8. The Colombian State should accord priority to strengthening protections for human rights activists working with the displaced.

9. The Colombian State should launch a documentation campaign for internally displaced persons in as short a time as possible, utilizing the experience gained by several countries in the region and the cooperation of organizations experienced in this area.

10. The State should strengthen the presence of the international sector and coordinate to carry out jointly effective assistance programs that provide coherent, lasting solutions.

11. The State should implement a land distribution policy under the legal framework in place that provides greater involvement and protection for INCORA officials so that they can fully perform their functions in the different stages of awarding land to displaced persons.

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( 1 ) Commission on Human Rights Resolution 1998/50, 17 April 1998, E/CN.4/1998/53/Add. 2 The member States of the OAS which co-sponsored the resolution were the following: Peru, Uruguay, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Argentina, Chile, Colombia, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Nicaragua.

( 2 ) Guiding Principles for Displaced Persons, annexed to Report of the Representative of the Secretary-General for Displaced Persons, Mr. Francis M. Deng, submitted pursuant to United Nations Commission on Human Rights Resolution 1997/39, E/CN.4/1998/53/Add. 2 [hereinafter Guiding Principles].

( 3 ) Article 1 of Law 387 establishes that:

A displaced person is anyone who has been obliged to migrate within the national territory, abandoning his place of residence or his customary occupation, because his life, physical integrity, and personal security or freedom has been jeopardized or is threatened owing to the existence of any of the following situations: internal armed conflict, internal disturbances and tensions, widespread violence, massive violations of human rights, breach of international humanitarian law, or other circumstances originating from prior situations that might or do drastically disturb the public order.

( 4 ) Office of the President, Jacquin Strauss de Samper, First Lady of the Nation, Los Desplazados: Esa Colombia que no podemos ignorar, 1997 [hereinafter Report of the Office of the President].

( 5 ) GAD (Support Group for Displaced Peeople’s Organizations), Éxodo, Informe sobre el Desplazamiento Forzado en Colombia, enero 1 - octubre 31 de 1997 [hereinafter Éxodo].

( 6 ) CODHES is a non-governmental organization based in Bogotá that specializes in this issue.

( 7 ) Éxodo, op. cit.

( 8 ) Life, Justice, and Peace Commission, Archdiocese of Cali, Desplazados en Cali: Entre el miedo y la pobreza, 1997 [hereinafter Report of the Archdiocese of Cali].

( 9 ) Éxodo, op. cit.

( 10 ) National Information Network document, August 1997. In mid-1998, the Network still had no official figures on displacement in the major cities and some municipalities. See Office of the Presidential Adviser on Integral Assistance for the Population Displaced by Violence, May 1998.

( 11 ) Office of the Delegate Procurator General for Human Rights, Reply to Proposal No. 131 of April 1997, cited in the Final Report on the on-site technical assistance mission on internal displacement in Colombia of the Permanent Consultation on Internal Displacement in the Americas (CPDIA), Technical Secretariat, Inter-American Institute of Human Rights, 1997 [hereinafter Report of the CPDIA].

( 12 ) Alejandro Reyes Posada, El problema territorial del desplazamiento forzoso, annexed to Report of the CPDIA.

( 13 ) Idem.

( 14 ) Idem.; Alfredo Molano, Ventana al Porvenir, Siguiendo el corte, 1990.

( 15 ) Report of the Colombian Episcopal Conference, Derechos Humanos: Desplazados por violencia en Colombia, 1995 [hereinafter Report of the Episcopal Conference].

( 16 ) Report of the Archdiocese of Cali, op. cit., pp. 42-45.

( 17 ) The CPDIA was established in November 1992 on the initiative of the regional representatives of specialized agencies of the United Nations System and the World Food Program (WFP). The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the Organization for International Migration, the Inter-American Institute of Human Rights, and the International Committee of the Red Cross joined this initiative. Several international non-governmental organizations and independent experts have also taken part in it. The Inter-American Institute of Human Rights acts as the Technical Secretariat for the Group.

( 18 ) In its observations, the State noted that the Colombian Institute for Family Welfare (Instituto Colombiano de Bienestar Familiar) and UNICEF do have programs to address the psycho-social consequences of forced displacement. The State does recognize, however, that work in this area is difficult and is often not treated as a priority given the urgency of the more immediate needs of the displaced population.

( 19 ) This Report also contains separate Chapters in which the Commission refers specifically to the subject of displacement in relation to these groups.

( 20 ) Office of the Human Rights Ombudsman, La Niñez y sus Derechos: Sistema de Seguimiento y Vigilancia.

( 21 ) Guiding Principles, Principle 4 (2).

( 22 ) Idem., Principle 13 (1).

( 23 ) See "Cierran Consejería y crecen desplazados", El Tiempo, December 7, 1998.

( 24 ) American Convention on Human Rights, Art. 3.

( 25 ) El Tiempo, December 31, 1997.

( 26 ) United States Committee for Refugees, Colombia’s Silent Crisis: One Million Displaced by Violence, March 1998.

( 27 ) El Tiempo, September 9, 1998.

( 28 ) Office of the Human Rights Ombudsman, Third Annual Report of the Human Rights Ombudsman to the Congress of Colombia, 1996, p.82 [hereinafter Third Annual Report of the Human Rights Ombudsman].

( 29 ) Amnesty International Report, Colombia, 'Just What Do We Have to Do to Stay Alive?' Colombia's Internally Displaced: Dispossessed and Exiled in Their Own Land, October 1997.

( 30 ) Report of the Colombian Episcopal Conference, Derechos Humanos: Desplazados por violencia en Colombia, 1995, p. 160.

( 31 ) CODHES, op. cit.

( 32 ) Amnesty International, op. cit.

( 33 ) Report of the Representative of the Secretary-General, Mr. Francis Deng, submitted pursuant to Commission on Human Rights resolution 1993/95, E/CN.4/1995/50/Add.1, October 3, 1994, par. 54 [hereinafter 1994 Report of the Representative of the Secretary-General].

( 34 ) Third Annual Report of the Human Rights Ombudsman, pp. 28-29.

( 35 ) "Pushed by U.S., Colombia Plans New Chemical Attack on Coca," New York Times, June 20, 1998.

( 36 ) Report of the CPDIA, p. 28.

( 37 ) Archdiocese of Cali, op. cit., pp. 37-38.

( 38 ) 1994 Report of the Representative of the Secretary-General.

( 39 ) See Chapter IV.

( 40 ) CONPES is an entity of the Colombian Executive Branch composed of ministers who deal with this topic and who have authority for approving specific plans and projects submitted by the Government.

( 41 ) Report of the Office of the President, op. cit., p. 12.

( 42 ) Decree 1165 of April 28, 1997, provides that the Office of the Presidential Adviser on Integral Assistance for the Population Displaced by Violence is in charge of coordinating the implementation and operations of the National Program of Integral Assistance for the Population Displaced by Violence and of the National Information Network. The purpose of this Network is to compile and organize information on displacement.

( 43 ) Reply of the Minister of Agriculture before the Chamber of Representatives, cited in Report of the CPDIA, p.27.

( 44 ) Id., note 15.

( 45 ) Éxodo, op. cit.

( 46 ) Report of the CPDIA, p. 96.

( 47 ) Third Annual Report of the Human Rights Ombudsman.