Last week Bogotá celebrated the 60 years of the Declaration of Human Rights with an event at the Renacimiento park. The event featured Bogotá’s increasingly unpopular mayor Samuel Moreno, as well as many other city government officials. Yet the most important voices that day were those of thousands of displaced individuals and families who spoke loudly, through words and artwork, about their condition highlighting that even after 60 years of the Declaration of Human Rights, Colombia is far from being a nation in which pressing rights issues are resolved.
Colombia has been ranked as the second country in the world with most displaced populations, only after Sudan. Different than in Darfur, the issues of forced displacement and containment in Colombia receive little public attention throughout the world. While international organizations have taken notice and have done admirable work to resolve this urgent Human Rights issue, little of the urgency of the matter has transcended into the international public’s consciousness.
While data differs depending the source, it is estimated that in Colombia there is between 2 and 4.5 million of displaced individuals. Most, if not all of them, are internally displaced within their own national territory. The difference between the data stems from the government’s limited definition of displacement.
The government fails to recognize individuals as displaced if they consider them even remotely associated with any illegally armed groups. This includes peasants who may have been pressured by guerrillas to have coca crops and that have to live through the violence of areas of the Colombian territory in which the presence of the government is weak, if at all existent. The government also does not recognize itself as a potential contributing factor towards forced displacement, even when its aggressive military action against illegal groups has often occurred in the backyards of many civilians.
The issue of displacement in Colombia is one, if not the most concerning Human Rights issue in the country. Entire populations are being forced to leave their homes and the life they have built, or alternatively face potential assassination. It is crucial that the government accepts a broader definition of displacement in order to recognize the full scope of the issue, and that it accepts its role in contributing to the displacement phenomenon. Only then would the government be able to create strategic plans through which it can assure all the citizens of Colombia of their basic rights.
Author Felipe Estefan is Colombian and studies media and international relations in New York