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1999 | 55th Regular Session of the UN Commission on Human Rights (22 March - 30 April 1999)

The situation of internally displaced persons in Mexico, Colombia and the Philippines

March 22 – April 28, 1999
Palais des Nations, Geneva
Madam Chair, from our work with thousands of internally displaced people in Colombia, Mexico and the Philippines, Franciscans International and Dominicans have questions not often addressed here. Why is this suffering allowed to continue in countries that have democratically elected governments? Who plans, benefits or at least takes advantage of this misery?

There are natural disasters that displace people. But people displace other people, sometimes out of hatred as in Kosovo, but always for profit. For example, economics are at the root of the present day phenomenon of IDPs in Colombia. Twenty-five years ago the displacement of people in Colombia was due to the struggle between guerillas and government over the control of land. Fifteen years ago narco-traffickers displaced thousands of people and have become the largest landowners in the country with an estimated 3 to 5 million hectares of the best agricultural and ranching land under their control. Today, in Colombia and elsewhere displacements are moving at an accelerated rate due to international business interests.

In the context of globalization and with the neo-liberal market conditions imposed by international financial institutions on the developing world, countries are opening doors for transnational companies to gain a major control over income-generating natural resources. National policy and natural resources are turned over to foreign investors as the land is cleared of inhabitants, sold, developed and then surrounded by security zones created and guarded by military or rightwing paramilitary forces. People are displaced at each stage of this procedure.

The Philippines, which remains essentially an agricultural economy, wants to move into the 21st century and march with the rest of the industrial-technological world. The plan is to open large swathes of rural areas to development by building industry-friendly complexes, supported by cheap reliable power supply, high-tech communications facilities, good roads and bridges and accessible residential areas.

This development scheme has, however, created huge dislocation among the local population. Entire communities sought to resist their displacement, which not only resulted in destroying their homes and sources of livelihood but also dissolved valuable social relationships. Resistance has been met with deception, or failing this, harassment and finally forcible demolition. During the first nine months of the Estrada administration at least 14,000 families have lost their homes during demolition operations, mostly in Mindanao and Metro Manila.

In Chiapas Mexico paramilitary groups affiliated with the ruling Institutionalized Revolutionary Party PRI are responsible for the internal displacement of 15,000 indigenous people in the highlands and northern part of the state of Chiapas.

In each of these countries para-military groups (privatized security forces) spy upon, intimidate and eliminate persons who cause trouble to the vested interests. These privatized security forces effectively police large civil populations, answer to orders given elsewhere and are out of the reach of the local justice system.

There are many documented cases of Colombian land cleared of inhabitants by paramilitaries that becomes the property of foreign investors. These foreign investors are companies that create jobs and pay taxes in Canada, England, Norway, United States, etc. For example, Conquistador Mines is a mining company that is incorporated in British Colombia Canada but headquartered in St. Helena, California. The company is focused on developing gold, silver and platinum properties exclusively in Colombia. There are allegations that Conquistador has links to paramilitary death squads, which have displaced thousands of people from Bolivar State.

Some member states of the Commission that criticize other countries policies on displaced persons at the same time benefit from the land that has been stolen and sold to companies that are based in their own countries. Policy formulated in the finance or treasury department flatly contradicts what is being urged by the same government at the Commission on Human Rights. The right hand does not know what the left hand is doing. It is a convenient policy of governmental schizophrenia that exploits and condemns at the same time.

We recommend that your task is to return to capitals to inject concerns for the human rights of internally displaced persons into key government departments such as finance and trade.

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