Commissioners: Rosa María Ortiz, José de Jesús Orozco Henríquez (Chair), Rose-Marie Belle Antoine, Elizabeth Abi-Mershed (Deputy Executive Secretary)

Petitioners: Consejo Regional Indígena del Cauca (CRIC)

State: Colombia

Petitioners from Consejo Regional Indígena del Cauca (CRIC) addressed the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) on October 31, 2013 to discuss human rights violations committed against Indigenous peoples arising out of the armed conflict in Colombia. Their concerns focused on indigenous rights to land, prior and informed consent, and the treatment of indigenous communicators specifically within the region of Cauca.

Petitioners alleged that the greater militarization resulting from Colombia’s ongoing armed conflict has disproportionately affected indigenous communities. Although the government reached an agreement with indigenous groups on precautionary measures in 2009, according to the Petitioners, these measures have not been fully implemented and there is no guarantee they will be in the future. Petitioners explained that armed forces in Cauca use sexual violence against indigenous women, which the community perceives as attempts to exterminate the population by undermining the integrity of indigenous people.

To further show that precautionary measures are inadequate, a CRIC representative described instances of torture, forced displacement, intimidation, and murders against indigenous communities. Indigenous communicators are also targets of murders and intimidation techniques given the integral role of indigenous radio in defending the community. Another CRIC representative argued that the checkpoints—which are employed as part of the government’s demobilization efforts—constitute not only an encroachment on indigenous land, but also a violation of international standards. Among the concerns for land and prior and informed consent, the Petitioners emphasized the serious environmental harm that results when non-biodegradable tools and equipment are left behind in the mining process.

In response, representatives for the Colombian government stressed the high priority it places on the protection of indigenous people. The state representatives requested that the international community recognize Colombian autonomy and respect the Colombian democratic process. Government representatives acknowledged the negative impact the armed conflict had on enjoyment of human rights, noting indigenous communities in particular. The representatives further expressed their desire to seek agreements through dialogue and to promote inclusive participation with indigenous communities. A representative from the Ministry of the Interior referenced the government’s new strategy to protect indigenous peoples through the use of demilitarized zones, including more than sixteen systems already in place to guard different communities. The government requested clarification from CRIC on ways to improve the implementation of precautionary measures and emphasized their willingness to make adjustments based on the community’s needs.

Commissioner Antoine requested that the Colombian government submit additional information on the enforcement of laws and policies referenced by the government’s representatives. Commissioner Orozco Henríquez sought to clarify the government’s analytical methods to determine risks specific to indigenous peoples and help determine appropriate measures.

According to the state representatives, the government relies on close ties with 187 liaisons to ensure ongoing open communication about the risks facing the indigenous population as well as remains in contact with two experts on protection for indigenous groups. The government did not, however, mention Commissioner Ortiz’s comment on the actions of security forces who are responsible for protecting indigenous communities, yet are the alleged perpetrators for over 600 complaints lodged by the indigenous peoples.

In their closing remarks, CRIC representatives reasserted the fundamental right to protest and stated that if current conditions do not change within six months, indigenous people would once again mobilize. In response, the Colombian government welcomed such protests as long as they remain peaceful, but will use force if there is a threat to security since the Colombian Constitution requires the military provide security throughout the state. After claiming they are unaware of humanitarian issues and mass displacements in Colombia, the representatives nevertheless stressed the government’s willingness to talk about mechanisms to ensure such problems do not happen again.

See the IACHR’s 2009 thematic report on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples’ Rights Over Their Ancestral Lands and Natural Resources