Colombia and UN refugee agency to sign deal to protect land rights of displaced

8 April 2008

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the Colombian Government are signing an agreement today to protect the property rights of the South American country’s vast population of internally displaced persons (IDPs).

The agreement will provide a legal framework for various programmes already in place to protect abandoned land and it will also outline new initiatives to restore the property rights of people who have lost their land through forced displacement, UNHCR spokesperson Jennifer Pagonis told reporters today in Geneva.

Some 2.4 million Colombians are on the national registry for displaced persons, with 78 per cent originating in rural areas before they fled for cities and towns to escape armed conflict and violence. As much as six million hectares of land have been lost by those people, and very few receiving any compensation.

Ms. Pagonis said the agreement includes a measure to begin land registration in communities at risk of future displacement, considered a critical step given that many farmers do not have legal titles to the land they own, making it far more difficult for them to claim the land back after their displacement.

Mechanisms are also being established to distribute land to IDPs who have lost their properties, and to protect abandoned land so it cannot be sold or otherwise disposed of by others.

The agreement is scheduled to be signed in Bogotá, the Colombian capital, later today by UNHCR’s Jean-Noel Wetterwald and national Agriculture Minister Andres Felipe Arias.

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