New UN human rights chief in Colombia as indigenous flee violence

27 October 2008

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights today begins a week-long review of the situation in Colombia amid concerns that indigenous groups continue to be forced to flee their territories by armed groups.

Navi Pillay makes her first country visit since taking up the human rights post last month, as the UN reports that some 300 people have fled the north-western Antioquia department since fighting began in mid-September between the army and Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

In the Putumayo department 57 families of the Nassa indigenous community left their homes and in Buenaventura 104 people escaped after alleged threats from the army, according to a press release issued by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance (OCHA).

The UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) is investigating the accusations against the army while six members of the Baro tribe – considered to be at risk of extinction – in the southern department of Amazonas have fled to the regional capital, Leticia, following an attack by unidentified militia.

In Colombia, Ms. Pillay will meet with President Alvaro Uribe and senior ministers, as well as members of Congress, the judiciary, civil society, and UN colleagues to discuss a range of human rights concerns.

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has a major country office in Colombia, and while there Ms. Pillay will have the opportunity to visit her agency’s field operations outside the capital, Bogota.

Ms. Pillay follows her Colombian trip with a four-day visit to Haiti, which begins on 2 November, the High Commissioner plans to meet with President René Préval and other representatives of Government and civil society, as well as visit a regional office outside the capital, Port-au-Prince.

Among the issues that will be raised are judicial reforms, and the extent to which economic and social rights are subject to legal jurisdiction – particularly relevant given the severe aggravation of existing deprivation by the recent natural disasters and the global food crisis.

OHCHR carries out its work in Haiti through the human rights section in the integrated UN peacekeeping mission, known as MINUSTAH.


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