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COLOMBIA
On the verge of ethnocide
Susan Abad
1/11/2007
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Indigenous communities become victims of human rights violations at the hands of security forces, paramilitaries and guerillas.

The Nukak people have no longer have someone translate for them. Things will become even more difficult for this indigenous group since its leader, Mow be’, committed suicide after failing in his efforts to bring his tribe back to their jungle home, where they had lived for centuries.

The Nukak are one of the last nomadic peoples in the world. For centuries they have lived in the jungle between the Guaviare and Inirida rivers in the southern Guaviare department. Living from hunting, fishing, and gathering fruits, the Nukak break off into small groups in camps that they abandon after using up the resources in the area.

The Oct. 17 death of Belisario Maubé, as he was called in the city of San José del Guaviare, where 200 native Nakuk arrived after fleeing the war, is only one more result of the human rights violations that Colombia’s small indigenous population continues to suffer.

"We have been suffering abuses for more than 500 years, but since the peace process with the [Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia] broke off during the government of Ándrés Pastrana [1998-2002], and now with the military offensive of [President] Álvaro Uribe against the guerillas, our rights have been extremely vulnerable," said Lizardo Domicó, secretary general of the National Indigenous Organization of Colombia, or ONIC.

Statistics from the Indigenous Cooperation Center, known by the Spanish acronym, CECOIN, reveal that in 2002, Uribe’s first year in office, 298 indigenous people were killed with political motives, the highest number registered in the last 30 years.

According to CECOIN, the total number of cases of political violence against indigenous Colombians — including murder, forced disappearance, assault, kidnapping, torture, rape, death threats and arbitrary detentions — totaled 56 in 1996. This number rose to 529 in 2003.

Colombia’s 86 indigenous peoples, who total 1 million people, "are suffering an ethnocide not only because of the guerillas and paramilitaries, but on behalf of the state as well," lamented Domicó.

"The conditions of internally displaced indigenous people are especially worrying, particularly those of women, girls and boys," said United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms of Indigenous Peoples, Rodolfo Stavenhagan following his 2004 visit to Colombia. He recommended that the Colombian government declare indigenous lands neutral, "peace zones."

"The government has denied this request claiming that indigenous territories have strategic importance to the mobilization of armed groups and drug-traffickers," said indigenous Sen. Jesús Piñacué, who holds one of the three seats in Congress set aside for indigenous representatives.

"Uribe has not made the effort to heed the rapporteur’s recommendations, which led to the establishment of the International Verification Mission, through which European human rights and civil society organizations visited five Colombian regions the last week of September," he added.

Following the publication of its final report Sept. 29, the mission expressed worry after finding military and police posts, trenches, sentry boxes and front lines, constructed in the middle of indigenous communities.

The mission also said they found paramilitaries on these lands that have not effectively demobilized and continue committing crimes and intimidating the population. Large projects are in the works on these indigenous lands as well, and indigenous communities are not consulted, nor are respected the criteria established by the International Labor Organization’s conventions, and between the government and indigenous authorities.

"The mission regrets not having been able to meet with some of the principal members of the Colombian government and state institutions, such as the Vice-presidency, the Interior Ministry’s Ethnic Affairs Office, and the Ministry of Mining and Energy. The members of the mission interpret this absence as a lack of political will by the Colombian government to fulfill its obligations and respect and protect the rights of indigenous people in Colombia," the mission said in its final statement.

The mission urged the international community to speak out against the phenomenon, "which the precautionary and provisional measures issued by the Inter-American Commission and Court of Human Rights have not even been able to detain."

A September report by the National Indigenous Council of Peace said that between January and August of this year, there were 18 murders, 28 disappearances, 279 detentions without due process, 10,800 death threats, 12 kidnappings, and 75 assaults on indigenous people. Two indigenous Colombians were killed by land mines, and 5,731 people were forced off of their ancestral lands.

"What’s worrying is the state has 92 percent of the responsibility in these cases while only 2.2 percent is attributed to the guerillas and 2.7 percent to the paramilitaries," Domicó said.

Sen. Piñacué recently warned Colombia’s Congress "the imminent disappearances of five or six peoples, among them the Nukak Maku, Chimilas, Yukpas and the Coreguaje, who had lost their ancestral ways of life by being displaced to the cities by the war, war, where they will become diluted or simply die.


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