Commissioners: Felipe González, José de Jesús Orozco Henríquez, Dinah Shelton, Emilio Álvarez Icaza (Executive Secretary)

Petitioners: Organización Nacional Indígena de Colombia (ONIC)

State: Colombia

Representing multiple indigenous groups, petitioner María Patricia Toban Yagan of the Organización Nacional Indígena de Colombia (ONIC) deplored violations of the human rights of indigenous people in Colombia at a hearing before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) on March 14, 2013. She pleaded with the state and Commission for guarantees of protection, a Commission on-site visit, and protection measures to ensure the territorial and personal integrity rights of indigenous people in Colombia.

ONIC made four specific requests of the IACHR. First, Toban Yagan asked that the Commission and state consider mechanisms to guarantee actual fulfillment of safeguards provided for in the Constitutional Court’s Auto 004 decision, which addresses the structural security problems for the protection of indigenous people. Second, she asked that the Commission perform an on-site visit to Colombia and talk to indigenous people to verify their situation. Third, she asked that the Commission direct the state to institute protection measures, and that such procedures be adequately implemented by the state through cooperation with organizations representing indigenous peoples. Fourth and finally, she asked that Colombia and other countries with indigenous peoples participate in a continent-wide study to document the broad scope of relevant issues for such populations.

To support these requests, ONIC provided evidence of serious human rights violations, specifically the failure of the state to protect indigenous peoples from illegal mining activities, the forced displacement policies of Colombia, and the failure of the state to abide by requirements for prior consultation with indigenous peoples for initiating mining contracts with third parties. According to ONIC, more than 195 families were forcibly displaced during a bombing raid by the government in 2012. Additionally, ONIC testified that in February 2013, the Colombian Army entered into indigenous territory with a warrant claiming they were looking for drug traffickers, shelled the village, and dropped canisters of gas, all in violation of Article 246 of the Colombian Constitution, which provides for complementary jurisdiction of indigenous justice systems and Colombian prosecutor on indigenous lands. Furthermore, ONIC discussed the serious humanitarian situation that has led to thousands of murders, including the specific targeting of indigenous leaders, and argued that the circumstances and clear targeting of the government constituted genocide.

The Colombian government representatives stressed their respect for indigenous peoples and reiterated that the government views indigenous peoples as an integral part of the Colombian nation. Although the representatives conceded that a general situation of violence with rebel groups and drug traffickers does exist in Colombia, the representatives asserted that that the state is fulfilling its international obligations with regards to respecting the territorial rights of indigenous peoples and complying with agreements on prior consultation. Furthermore, the representatives pointed the Commission to units within the army and Office of the Prosecutor, both of which deal specifically with protection of indigenous rights and security, as evidence of the safeguards implemented by the government for the protection of indigenous peoples and their rights. Finally, the state representatives rejected ONIC’s claim of direct targeting of indigenous peoples through air raids and bombings and noted that both of the alleged bombings were carried out due to reasonable grounds of belief that drug traffickers and armed groups were present, and that neither was carried out specifically against an indigenous group.

Commissioner Dinah Shelton noted that for more than 500 years, the lands and territories of indigenous peoples have been exploited and that indigenous peoples bear a disproportionate burden of development and denial of rights. She questioned ONIC as to whether the illegal mining and extraction came from trans-boundary incursions or national mining companies. She also questioned the use of the term genocide and asked whether ONIC had specific evidence of a genocidal intent on the part of the state, as required by international law. Addressing the state representatives, Commissioner Shelton asked whether there was specific law on prior consultations and whether it was in compliance with international conventions and IACHR standards. Finally, Commissioner Shelton asked both the state and ONIC to submit in writing any information on indigenous women, as the Commission will be publishing a report on indigenous women this coming year. Commissioner José de Jesús Orozco Henríquez asked the state which specific measures had been adopted or could be adopted to protect the life and integrity of indigenous peoples, and whether the state had statistics on issues such as resources allocation.