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1998 | 54th Regular Session of the UN Commission on Human Rights (16 March - 24 April 1998)

Human rights, mass exoduses and displaced persons in Burundi, Brazil and Colombia

March 16 – April 24, 1998
Palais des Nations, Geneva

Mr. Chairman,
Franciscans Intentional and the Dominicans want to speak about the ever-increasing violations of human rights that are forcing people to flee their homes and to become displaced persons within their own countries.

In Burundi, according to UN reports, there are approximately 800,000 people living scattered around the country, away from their own homes. More than half live in so-called “protective sites.” The most appalling fact is that according to a UNICEF statement, 100,000 are displaced children who receive no assistance whatsoever.

In Brazil, less than 3% of the population owns nearly two-thirds of Brazil’s half billion hectares of arable land, 60% of which has never been utilized. At present, tens of thousands of Brazilians do not have a place to live. They left their homes due to economic forces or they were forcefully evicted to make room for large macro-business farming enterprises that serve the foreign market.

Crowding into favellas or sleeping in the streets these people are excluded from the meager protections of Brazilian society. The present government’s land reform program is far less effective than the popular program of the Movement of the Landless People, the Movimento Sem Terra which since its inception has settled over 57,300 families (200,000 people) in over 299 areas throughout the country. These settlements were established with a great deal of physical and legal struggle after organizations of landless people occupied unutilized land on large plantations or “fazendas”.

The struggle for land and a home is becoming more dangerous in Brazil. Organizers of the movement of the landless peoples are harassed and threatened. Recently two leaders, [Onalico Barros Araujo and Valentim Silva Serra] were killed at Fazenda Goias 2 [in the city of Parauapebas] in Para. A sign of the escalation in impunity is a new association of an armed militia composed of 500 men formed in Sao Paolo. For approximately 50 US dollars per month landlords can have a membership in this vigilante association. Their membership entitles them to telephone a request to have someone eliminated.

In Colombia, statistics indicate that over the past five years more than 1,200,000 citizens have been displaced and are internal refugees within their own country. The scandal of so many displaced persons is the biggest human rights problem facing Colombia. Reports clearly indicate that the vast majority of the people are forced from their homes or regions by military bombardments, the para-military groups and CONVIVIR, principally. The displaced people are not the victims of the continuous Colombian civil war. They are the casualties of the foreign interest in Colombia’s geographical location and her rich natural resources. Previously, Colombia was presumed to be the domain of business interests in the United States and Canada. Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, Colombia has become a new focus of European interests. For international business, Colombia has exceptionally good real estate value and for some business people the problem is that people get in the way. In the Uraba region villages have been forcefully cleared to make way for the new super highway “canal” that will connect the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans.

Mr. Chairman, a pattern is evident throughout Colombia. Para-military groups terrorize a region and the people who were not slaughtered flee the region. Once the land is cleared of people, its mineral or oil rights are sold to domestic and foreign investors. The paramilitary is then hired to protect these foreign interests. In villages with close proximity to guerilla territories the terror has a more political purpose. People are identified as guerilla sympathizers or “internal enemies” and eliminated. Their families are forced into internal exile. Many of the displaced persons are young widows who must scrape together a living while raising their children in the miserable temporary housing that ring most Colombian cities.

Mr. Chairman, we ask that:

  • Mr. Francis Deng, the representative of the Secretary General on internally displaced persons, visit Brazil and Colombia in order to report to the 55th Commission for Human Rights on the situation of the displaced persons in these two countries: and in his report he consider the relationship between internally displaced persons and their right to housing.
  • This year’s Chairman’s Statement on Colombia should not in any way appear to accept the legitimacy of CONVIVIR, lest it create a dangerous precedent of the United Nations’ approval of other private militia, mercenaries and para-militaries in other countries.
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