The United Nations has condemned Colombia for failing to prosecute cases of forced displacement.
Speaking at a specially-convened hearing on accountability, the UN’s representative for displaced people in Colombia, Terry Morell, said there was near total impunity for those who stole land or forced people from their homes.
Morell called on the country’s Prosecutor General to take urgent action, highlighting more than 1,400 murders of displacement victims between 2007 and 2010, and claiming that 99% of displacement crimes went unpunished. Forced displacements continue at an alarming rate, with the UN’s last estimate of Colombia’s internally displaced people (IDP) figure as 3.67 million, the highest number in the world.
It had been “forgotten,” said Morell, that 70,000 people, or 92% of the population, had fled the village of Mapiripan and its surrounding areas following an AUC massacre in 1997.
There was a lack of investigation and a lack of awareness that should not be passed onto affected communities, said Morell, for the gap in recorded facts did not mean “that the acts did not take place and that the victims do not exist.”
Colombia’s lead prosecutor, Viviane Morales, rejected the UN’s criticism, pointing out that there were four different offices working on displacement issues.
There had been 28 convictions for various massacres which took place between 1997 and 2001, she said.
She defended the prosecutor’s efforts in the face of the immense task which Colombia’s long-running armed conflict had produced. “Figures are still modest,” acknowledged Morales, admitting “sometimes officials feel overwhelmed by the immense workload (…) that we have with what has been the conflict in Colombia.”
Work was hampered by “false victims” trying to illegitimately get compensation funds, she said, meaning investigations had to proceed extremely carefully. “There are significant numbers of people who have posed as victims who are not,” said the prosecutor.
Last month, Colombia’s internal displacement monitoring center said the government of Juan Manuel Santos had failed to effectively protect the rights of its IDPs, with only 10% granted access to basic commodities such as housing, income and emergency assistance.