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March 17, 2022

Understanding the Serious Human Rights Violations Faced by the Venezuelan Refugee and Migrant Population in Colombia

By Valentina Muñoz, Intern for ABA ROLI’s Colombia Office

The American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI), seeks to document the patterns of human rights violations (HRV) against Venezuelan migrant and refugee populations in Colombia through the implementation of its USAID-funded project Conectando Caminos por los Derechos (CCD). To this end, ABA ROLI works with the Government of Colombia to strengthen their information systems and databases, and with civil society organizations that permanently monitor HRVs at the national or local levels applying a gender and social inclusion approach. This approach highlights the specific risks and damage that vulnerable populations face in the country. 

In fact, as a result of the economic, social, and political situation in Venezuela, Colombia is the primary host country for the Venezuelan migrant and refugee population worldwide. Due to poverty, insecurity, access barriers, and institutional gaps in protection, the migrant and refugee population suffers from serious HRV. Migrant women are particularly vulnerable to gender-based violence (GBV) and often lack access to justice services. Furthermore, migrant women are often deprived of several fundamental rights. To document this situation, through CCD, ABA ROLI supports civil society organizations and national institutions, such as the Consultancy for Human Rights and Forced Displacement (CODHES) and the Presidential Counselor for Women Equity (CPEM for its acronym in Spanish).  

(Left) First Special Bulletin No. 96, June 2021; (Right) Second Special Bulletin No. 97, October 2021

(Left) First Special Bulletin No. 96, June 2021; (Right) Second Special Bulletin No. 97, October 2021


In 2021, CODHES published two special bulletins that document the HRV patterns that the Venezuelan migrant and refugee population suffer while in transit or during their stay in Colombia. The first Special Bulletin titled "The Human rights situation of the Venezuelan refugee and migrant population in Colombia” was published in June 2021. This bulletin documents the risk situation and HRV patterns suffered by the refugee population throughout the country. Based on official data and figures gathered from 2015 and 2020, the analysis found that the situation in Colombia falls within the category of serious HRV. Documented findings include:1,933 homicide cases, 33 cases of forced recruitment of children and adolescents, 1,650 displaced persons, 836 reported missing persons, and 2,319 victims of sexual violence. This information was publicly disseminated in two Intersectoral Dialogue Spaces held virtually in Bogotá on June 23, 2021, and in Medellín on June 29, 2021.

In October 2021, CODHES published the second special bulletin titled "Effects on the life and integrity of the refugee and migrant population from Venezuela in Colombia”. Based on the figures gathered in the first half of 2021 (January-June), the main forms of violence perpetrated against the Venezuelan refugee and migrant population included: personal injuries, homicide, sexual crimes, threats, extortion, disappearance, and forced recruitment. According to CODHES, most of the victims were comprised of underage and unaccompanied minors in transit or looking for their parents or relatives. These individuals are often at high risk. In addition, the bulletin reports that the forced displacement of migrants increased between 2020 and 2021, characterized by forced cross-border displacement due to security conditions, confrontations, and military operations. However, documenting complex HRV such as human trafficking or forced disappearances remains a challenge as there are no reliable sources of information on these violations.

Both reports gather data from CODHES’ Information System on Human Rights and Forced Displacement (SISDHES) and reflect a comparative analysis that uses official figures from Colombia’s National Police, the National Institute of Legal Medicine and Forensic Sciences, and the Attorney General's Office (FGN for its acronym in Spanish). The statistics show that the rate of homicides and forced disappearance of the Venezuelan population has significantly increased since 2015. In addition, the Ombudsman's Office has reported several cases of forced recruitment of children and adolescents for illegal activities, and the groups responsible are Colombian and Venezuelan criminal structures. Furthermore, the reports warn that women and children from Venezuela face several risks that increase their chances of becoming human trafficking victims, such as misleading job offers. Lastly, the figures showed that individuals who identify as female were the predominant victims of sexual violence, particularly underage women. 

Crimes against the Venezuelan migrant and refugee population

Crimes against the Venezuelan migrant and refugee population

Source: SISDHES-CODHES, 2021.

To better understand the violence women and girls face, ABA ROLI supported the Colombian Women’s Observatory in the publication of the special bulletin titled "Violence against migrant women in Colombia: a border to overcome." This report found that Venezuelan women and young girls are at risk and particularly vulnerable to GBV and sexual violence mainly due to their irregular migratory status, and the prejudice and sexist stereotypes against them. According to the CPEM, between 2017 and 2020, violent cases against migrant women increased by 308%. As last year's data shows, most women that have suffered from any form of physical, sexual, and psychological violence are of Venezuelan nationality. Even though they have a higher level of education than men, migrant women were incorporated into the labor market as unskilled workers and in informal conditions. In turn, they are paid lower wages and more exposed to labor exploitation, long working hours, instability, and human trafficking for sexual exploitation or servitude. 

 Violence against Migrant Women in Colombia: A Border to Overcome

Violence against Migrant Women in Colombia: A Border to Overcome

CPEM, 2021

These documents offer reliable data that demonstrate the seriousness of the HRVs the Venezuelan refugee and migrant population face in Colombia. ABA ROLI anticipates that documenting and disseminating information on these critical issues will improve responses to HRV while also enhancing citizen security in host communities in Colombia. Furthermore, the reports’ information will serve as a practical tool for the generation of public policies and the operation of early warning systems, including protection and self-protection mechanisms for migrants and refugees. Finally, increasing the visibility of documented violence encourages victims to take preventative actions to avoid armed conflict and organized violence in Colombia.

Learn more about ABA ROLI’s work across Latin America and the Caribbean.