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The la Playita neighborhood of Buenaventura. During the height of violence last August, the Division for Risk Prevention of Human Rights Violations issued a statement classifying 59 of the 169 neighborhoods in Buenaventura district as high-risk. (Christian Fuchs — Jesuit Refugee Service/USA)

Bogota) May 2, 2013 – Significant increases in conflict between paramilitary, guerrilla and government forces have left more than 5,200 people displaced last year in Buenaventura, a district in southeastern region of Valle del Cauca. Despite increased forced displacement, the government has failed to guarantee assistance to the victims of violence in the region, according to a report by Jesuit Refugee Service, Buenaventura: An Unanswered Humanitarian Crisis.

Rather than the state being the principal provider of humanitarian assistance, supplemented by NGOs, the opposite is the case. The failure of the government, the JRS report continues, has exacerbated the humanitarian crisis. For instance, civil servants have frequently refused to include victims of displacement on the national registry. This breaches the 2011 Constitutional Court ruling and Colombians' right to truth, justice and reparation.

Also see The Refugee Voice: Striving for a Brighter Future in Colombia.

Last year, some 230,000 Colombians were forced to flee their homes due to violence, approximately five people for every one thousand inhabitants. The situation in Buenaventura district is significantly worse: nearly three times the national average. During the height of violence last August, the Division for Risk Prevention of Human Rights Violations issued a statement classifying 59 of the 169 neighborhoods in Buenaventura district as high-risk. In these areas, the paramilitary group, La Empresa, controls the drug trade and other illegal businesses, and uses threats against the civilian population.

According to JRS Colombia, the dynamics of the conflict in Valle del Cauca have changed. In contrast to messages of improving security issued by public officials, the situation has deteriorated. Struggles for control of cocaine production in the area, between a number of paramilitary and criminal groups — Rastrojos, Urabeños, and La Empresa — and the left-wing guerrilla group FARC caused mass displacement several times last year, particularly in April and August. Moreover, more than 700 people died in 2012 in Valle del Cauca region as a direct consequence of the conflict.

Despite the security situation, local populations criticize the response of state officials who frequently refuse to register them as being displaced. Where displaced populations are registered, according to JRS, the victims unit takes substantially more than the 60-day limit to respond, putting excessive strain on the district authorities. In addition, displaced groups complained about the use of technical language by public officials, making an already complicated process more problematic.

Lack of coordination and cooperation, compounded by conflict between state officials at varying levels, have prevented displaced populations from accessing assistance and protection. Even when the victims take legal action, JRS recorded several cases when Valle del Cauca authorities disregard court rulings.

The provision of humanitarian assistance is frequently denied to displaced persons as the perpetrators of violence are not deemed 'parties to the armed conflict.' Despite the 2012 constitutional court ruling calling for the adoption of inclusive definitions of 'parties to the armed conflict,' the criteria for inclusion in the victims' registry have still not been adjusted. Many individuals are consequently denied access to the registry on the basis of being victims of common criminals, ignoring the relationship between organized crime and the conflict.

A detailed analysis of the conflict in Buenaventura district reveals the existence of armed conflict in the area. Given the obligations of Colombia under international humanitarian law, and in line with successive court rulings, all forcibly displaced persons should be guaranteed access to the national system for assistance and reparation, the JRS report urged.

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