June 4, 2010
The Honorable Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
Department of State
Harry S Truman Building, 2201 C Street, N.W.
Washington, DC 20520
Dear Secretary Clinton:
As you visit with government leaders from Ecuador and Colombia next week, you have an opportunity to assert U.S. leadership in addressing one of the world’s worst displacement crises. Refugees International and the U.S. Office on Colombia urge you to prioritize assistance and protection to refugees and internally displaced people in your discussions with government officials, and ultimately take the opportunity to address the Colombian refugee crisis from a regional perspective.
There are 3.3 million displaced people registered in Colombia, the second highest figure in the world after Sudan. Displacement continues at a rate of hundreds of thousands each year. Including unregistered individuals and refugees, one in ten Colombians is uprooted because of violence. Women and girls are especially vulnerable -- they are often displaced as a result of sexual violence, including by members of the security forces. After fleeing their homes, women face precarious living conditions and poor economic opportunities that are conducive to domestic violence, while young girls are often forced into prostitution in order to support their families.
Since 2004 the Constitutional Court in Colombia has been engaged in cases relating to the plight of millions of internally displaced people. The Court’s dedicated work has successfully pushed the national authorities to increase their financial commitment to attend to the needs of the most vulnerable displaced groups, such as Afro-descendants and Indigenous groups. However, serious gaps in assistance remain, and women and girls continue to be exposed to abuse and violence, lacking sufficient protection from the state.
Brave women leaders in Colombian civil society are seeking engagement with the authorities and advocating for the rights of displaced women and children. Despite their remarkable efforts, the Colombian government has failed to live up to its responsibilities and has not complied with the recent (2008) court order on the rights of displaced women. Not a single victim of sexual violence of the 183 sample cases cited in this court case has seen her perpetrator successfully prosecuted – representative of the general state of impunity for crimes of sexual violence in Colombia. Furthermore, hundreds of thousands of displaced women have received very little of the humanitarian assistance and socio-economic programs promised by the government and ordered by the Constitutional Court.
We suggest that you meet some of those women activists and hear first hand their grievances and recommendations. And we urge you to publicly express your concern about this issue and press the Colombian government to take adequate measures to prevent these abuses against women and to prosecute them when they do occur.
We also believe the U.S. can and should play a leadership role in supporting a regional response to Colombia’s refugee crisis. As you know, hundreds of thousands of Colombians have sought and continue to seek safe haven in neighboring countries due to ongoing violent conflict in their own country. The conflict dynamics are spilling over well beyond Colombia’s borders, progressively destabilizing border areas and giving the mounting crises a regional dimension.
The U.S. should encourage progressive refugee policies in the region, like the Enhanced Registration Process recently applied by the Ecuadorian government which succeeded in issuing personal identification cards to more than 26,000 refugees in one year. The government of Ecuador should be applauded for its commitment to adhere to international refugee protection standards and encouraged to continue its efforts and complete its ongoing refugee policy reform.
Civil society and religious organizations from several countries affected by the Colombian refugee crisis will convene a regional conference in Quito, Ecuador at the end of the summer. The conference, supported by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees, will bring together government officials from refugee departments of those countries and members of the humanitarian community serving refugees, to exchange experiences, highlight successful policies and identify areas requiring improvement. The U.S. government should support this regional approach.
Helping governments and humanitarian agencies in the region will contain the crises, improve the lives of the displaced and mitigate the destabilizing impact of the Colombian conflict inside the country and beyond its borders.
Daniel Glickman, President Kelly Nicholls, Executive Director
Refugees International U.S. Office on Colombia
Cc: Arturo Valenzuela, Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs
Eric Schwartz, Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration
Melanne Verveer, Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues