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Friday, February 27, 2015

UMN-Antioquia Human Rights Partnership granted hearing before Inter-American Commission on Human Rights

colombia2.jpgOver the past months, the University of Minnesota-Antioquia Human Rights Partnership has been working on the issue of forced resettlement in Antioquia, Colombia. Legal clinics operating in Medellín and supported by the Partnership have worked with victims who have been forcibly relocated, often as a result of armed conflict. In particular, the clinics have targeted the Colombian state's failure to adopt legislative and administrative measures aimed at protecting the rights of those affected by resettlement. After submitting a petition to the Inter American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) at the end of 2014, the Partnership has recently learned that they will be granted a hearing in Washington DC on March 19th, 2015.

According the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, there are over five million victims of forced displacement in Colombia. This number, while considerable, only represents a portion of the people who have been forced from their homes. In Colombia, and Antioquia specifically, the Partnership supported clinics have been working with victims who were forcibly displaced due to violent conflict, urban development, and high risk living situations. Without adequate measures in place to support these peoples' rights, they often face significant human rights violations. Among these violations are: (i) invasive, traumatic, and in many instances violent resettlement processes (forced evictions); (ii) failure to consider the social and cultural dynamics of forced resettlement populations and the individual conditions of those affected, many of whom are victims of armed conflict or persons living in poverty; (iii) the imposition of settlement into shacks and other precarious living situations that do not meet conditions of what is considered decent housing; (iv) the use of false, manipulated, and fragmented information during these processes and (v) the exclusion of families from census information which inhibits their access to subsidies offered by the state and also signifies that many of them are never guaranteed a solution to their housing dilemma.

In the Partnership's petition to the IACHR, they emphasized the relevance of these issues, especially in a post-conflict country. The UMN-Antioquia partners also emphasized that resettlement processes have a large impact on the social, cultural, and economic parts of people's lives. For these reasons, the Partnership underscored that a hearing before the IACHR was not only relevant, but necessary. Being granted a hearing means that the Partnership will have the opportunity to bring attention to these issues in an international forum and that the Colombian state will be have to respond.
Since receiving the news that a hearing on the issue has been scheduled, the Partnership immediately got to work organizing strategies for the event, as well as putting together a delegation of experts who will testify. The Partnership will be sending students and faculty from clinical programs at the University of Antioquia, University of Medellin, and the University of Minnesota to Washington DC to speak before the IACHR, organize meetings around the issue, and work to get the word on the lack of effective resettlement policies.

The University of Minnesota-Antioquia Human Rights Partnership is a three year initiative made possible by a $1.25 million grant from Higher Education for Development (HED) through USAID. The initiative links the University of Minnesota Human Rights Program and the University of Minnesota Law School to four partner law schools in the Colombian Department of Antioquia: the Universidad de Antioquia, Universidad de Medellín, Universidad Pontifica Bolivariana, and the Universidad Católica del Oriente. The initiative has three main objectives:

  • To strengthen the institutional capacity of the Antioquia law schools to train future legal practitioners in human rights by expanding the curriculum and developing faculty expertise in human rights and the rule of law.

  • To strengthen the capacities of the Antioquia law schools to better serve vulnerable populations in the areas of legal services and human rights litigation.

  • To enable students in the Antioquia law school consortium to be better prepared to protect human rights in Colombia.

To achieve these objectives, the Partnership funds and coordinates intensive human rights externships to Minnesota, courses in Antioquia, human rights legal clinics who develop projects, and much more.