Colombia: indigenous peoples face "extinction"

Date of publication: 
16 March 2013

The Andean Coordinating Body of Indigenous Organizations (CAOI) and the National Indigenous Organization of Colombia (ONIC) on March 15 jointly presented a report to the Inter-American Human Rights Commission (IACHR) warning that 65 the 102 indigenous ethnicities in Colombia are now at risk of cultural or physical “extinction.” The report noted that Colombia’s Constitutional Court has ordered special protection for these 65 peoples, but asserted that risks posed by the armed conflict and lawless resource extraction on their lands have not abated. The report charged that violations of indigenous rights are not merely “collateral damage” in the ongoing civil conflict, but often an actual aim of armed actors.

While each of the listed groups have their own language and culture, they have all dwindled to less than 500 members, and in some cases less than 200. Ten are now made up of under 100 individuals. “The demographic fragility, together with other complex processes, such as the internal armed conflict that persists in this country, poverty, discrimination and institutional abandonment, have placed them in a situation of physical and cultural extinction,” the report said. (CRIC, March 15)

In an “unprecedented” ruling last month, all mining and exploration activities in some 50,000 hectares of territory belonging to indigenous Embera Katio community of Alto Andágueda were suspended for up to six months due to a failure to consult and protect the communities in the area. According to the presiding judge, the six month period will give the Embera some desperately needed security after being repeatedly attacked by outsiders, employees of the mining companies in the area. The six month term will also give the courts time to determine the legality of the Embera’s land titles. The resguardo (indigenous community) straddles the border of Chocó and Antioquia departments. (Intercontinental Cry, March 2; Colombia Reports, Feb. 13; El Tiempo, Feb. 11)

After abstaining from the vote on the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) in the UN General Assembly in 2007, Colombia reversed its position and endorsed the UNDRIP in 2009, committing to measures for the cultural survival of its native ethnicities. (IWGIA)

Indigenous leaders in southwestern Cauca department recently charged Colombia’s armed actors with a plan of extermination against the region’s indigenous peoples.