UN human rights expert spotlights enduring plight of Afro-Colombians

15 February 2010
Gay McDougall, UN Independent Expert on Minority Issues

Afro-Colombians continue to be displaced from their ancestral lands and face ongoing violence and deep poverty, a United Nations human rights expert has said, urging authorities in Colombia to do much more to protect the rights of minorities in the Andean country.

Gay McDougall, the UN Independent Expert on Minority Issues, told a press conference in Bogotá on Friday that while Colombia has impressive legislation aimed at recognizing the rights of Afro-Colombians, many of these laws are rarely implemented or enforced.

“The vast majority of communities and organizations that I consulted complain that implementation... remains woefully inadequate, limited and sporadic,” said Ms. McDougall, who wrapped up a 12-day visit to Colombia during which she met with President Álvaro Uribe, other Government officials, academics, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and many Afro-Colombians.

“Most importantly, where steps have been taken, no real enforcement has followed.”

Afro-Colombian representatives told Ms. McDougall that displacement and dispossession together comprise the biggest problem.

“Despite the granting of collective titles to some 90 per cent of Afro-Colombian ancestral lands, many communities are displaced, dispossessed and unable to live on or work their lands. As one woman told me: 'The laws say all the right things but still nothing has happened'.”

The Independent Expert voiced particular concern about “mega-projects,” or large-scale operations involving major corporations that are promoted as providing economic gain to the whole of the country but have had the effect of encroaching on Afro-Colombians' land rights.

“In the face of such economic interests and mega-projects, it appears that the rights of communities are 'inconvenient rights' and that the laws put in place to protect them are equally inconvenient.”

During her press conference Ms. McDougall also spoke out about the impact of poverty and violence on Afro-Colombian communities, but especially women.

She called on authorities to “urgently put in place responses that recognize the extreme impact of violence and displacement on Afro-Colombian women and create conditions of security, dignity and justice.”

Ms. McDougall, who reports to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, serves in an independent and unpaid capacity and has held the post since July 2005.


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