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COLOMBIA
Indigenous at high risk of extermination
Susan Abad
12/19/2014
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In less than two years more than 40 indigenous people have been killed by armed groups.

This figure is frightening. More than 40 indigenous people have been killed in Colombia between 2013 and until today in 2014, according to the National Indigenous Organization of Colombia (ONIC).

“These have been difficult years for the communities, especially for those in the department of Cauca, where the armed conflict is intensely felt,” says the ONIC counselor, Juvenal Arrieta, to Latinamerica Press.

As stated in the 2014 report of the ONIC’s Council of Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Human Rights, International Humanitarian Law and Peace, “despite the orders given by the 2009 Auto 004 of the Constitutional Court of Colombia for protection of at least 64 indigenous communities in a state of high risk of physical and cultural extermination due to the armed conflict and forced displacement,” the protective measures have been ineffective, especially in recent years.

The document states that in 2013, the indigenous group Paéz-Nasa was the most affected, with 13 people murdered, followed by the Awá of the Nariño department with eight murdered, the Emberá Chamí with five murdered, the Embera Katío with two murdered, and the Zenú community with one. In February 2013, in the department of Arauca, a pregnant U’wa indigenous woman found herself in the middle of clashes between police and the community. She lost her baby due to the effect of tear gas. The indigenous communities in Arauca were holding a civic strike with road blocks to demand the government and multinational companies for compensation to the region for the environmental damage from hydrocarbon exploitation.

As far as 2014, the report states that “there were 10 reported victims as a result of targeted killings of leaders by the armed groups up to the month of September. Those affected are the Nasa people of the Cauca department with three murdered, the Awá people of the Nariño department with two victims, and the Emberá Chamí with two people murdered, followed by the Emberá Dobida community with two people killed and the Emberá Eyábida community with one murdered person.”
 
Unfounded accusations
“In this list are not included Manuel Antonio Tumiña Gembuel and Daniel Coicue Julicue, killed on Nov. 5 by the FARC [Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia] in Toribío as they were trying to prevent the guerrillas from placing their propaganda in their territories,” says Eduardo Camayo, the senior counselor of the Regional Indigenous Council of Cauca (CRIC) to Latinamerica Press.

The reasons for these deaths “at the hands of the various armed groups that are involved in this conflict” are, according to counselor Arrieta, “unfounded accusations, refusing to cooperate with the armed groups present in their territories, being pointed out for collaborating with some of the armed groups or reporting violations of human rights in the territories.” Arrieta ensures that his peers “not only are victims of illegal groups but also victims of the military forces. Depending on the region, we are victims of the guerrillas, of the bacrim [criminal gangs made up of former paramilitary members], of drug trafficking. It depends on the groups who dominate the region.”

Equally alarming, he adds, is “the high degree of impunity” for these crimes: “about 85 percent of these murders remain under investigation without being solved.” Concern grows when “even though information is gathered from fieldwork, complaints, records submitted by indigenous organizations in the regions, from data from the Ombudsman’s office and from institutions that have records on the violation of human rights, there is still a high degree of underreporting [of these attacks].The causes of underreporting include threats and pressures that indigenous people face from their victimizers to not report, [and] cases may occur in very remote jungle or border areas, where there is not only a geographic, but also a language barrier for reporting,” said Arrieta.

“In parallel to these violations, there are other problems that threaten the lives and safety of our colleagues and indigenous leaders. Among these most affected group is the Nasa people with a report of nine protected persons [by international humanitarian law conventions]  who were victims of intentional injuries, followed by the Wounaan people with one injured person, and the Awa community with one attack against a protected person. The Wiwa community reports one homicide attempt of a protected person, as does the Embera Chami community,” reports the ONIC.
 
Thousands displaced
Furthermore, the ONIC reports that “at the regional and national levels, there are nearly 3,000 registered displaced indigenous people in the departments of Putumayo, Nariño and Cauca regions where the armed conflict is concentrated.”

And although traditional authorities recognize the historical presence of the insurgent groups in several of the territories, “that does not mean that they are the owners of these territories,” says Camayo.

Following the recent murders in Toribío, the CRIC called on the FARC “to take political and social responsibility for what is happening” and on the government “to allow a delegation of the indigenous movement to go immediately to Havana to discuss the situation facing the indigenous. To hear what our proposals for peace are.”

Ombudsman Jorge Armando Otálora told Latinamerica Press about the need to strengthen measures to protect indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities. Likewise, he gave his support for the initiative to increase the presence of the indigenous among the victims who participate in the peace talks the government has been holding with the FARC for the last two years in Havana.

“If it is necessary to insist to let an indigenous attend [the negotiations] so he can take the demands and requests to the negotiators, I welcome that decision,” said Otálora. He called on the government and the guerrilla negotiators in Cuba to, “from the dialogue table, demand respect for international humanitarian law because negotiating in the midst of conflict does not imply involving civilians.” —Latinamerica Press.


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Mass burial of indigenous leaders killed in November in Toribío, Cauca department, by the FARC. (Photo: ONIC)
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