Global Human Rights Defence

Defending the Human Rights of Indigenous Groups in Colombia

Authors: Abdul Kabeer and Teodora Krstic

Human rights violations are growing at a rampant rate in Colombia, where around 67 indigenous people are at risk of disappearance. This means around 65% of the indigenous population may be extinct in the next decade or so (Santo Domingo, 2018). This article gives a general introduction of the different groups of indigenous groups residing in Colombia, while demonstrating how the human rights of these indigenous communities are being violated, which in turn is causing their extinction. This article also covers issues such as forced land displacement and injustice caused through different criminal justice systems. Lastly, this article also deals with the steps taken by the Colombian Government through Constitutional amendments to protect the rights of these people.

There are at least 102 indigenous groups in Colombia. According to Colombia’s national census (2018), more than 1.3 million of its inhabitants are indigenous. Almost 80% of these groups live in rural areas, and many of them live in the officially recognized reserves (resguardos), covering 34 million hectares. Groups like the Inga [1], Kamentsa, Siona[2], and Kofan[3] live in southern Colombia, in the landscape between the Andes Mountains and the lowland Amazonian plains (The Amazon Conservation Team, 2021). These indigenous groups are famous for their shamanic leaders known as taitas [4], masters of traditional healing practices. Near the Caqueta river, in the Colombian Amazon, there also lives a community known as Murui-Muina. The Murui-Muina work closely together with the Ministry of the Environment and Sustainable Development, National Land Agency of Colombia, and Amazon Conservation Team to expand the Puerto Sabalo-Los Monos and Monochoa indigenous reserves (The Amazon Conservation Team, 2021).

The rise to decline: problems faced by indigenous communities

The Nukak people, also known as Nukak-Maku, live between the Guaviare and Inirida rivers, in tropical forests on the fringe of the Amazon basin (Leslie; Mondragon, 1988). Some decades ago, the Nukak significantly decreased due to outbreaks of malaria, measles and pulmonary diseases – due especially  to the contact of this group with outsiders. Many Nukaks were forced to find new homes and livelihoods as drug traffickers. The FARC[5] and other military officials occupied their lands, for mining and extraction of other resources, in 1988 (Leslie; Mondragon, 1988). They struggled to settle in new lands. Firstly, the Nukak have their own tonal language related to the Kakwa language and thus communication with other peoples in these new lands was an issue. Furthermore, the lands they settled in were very different from their previous habitats. The Nukak were accustomed to  green, lush lands, which were used for fishing, hunting and farming purposes. They were also unfamiliar with the diseases found in these foreign lands, thus relocation and adjustment to the new way of living had a deteriorating effect on their culture and livelihood (William George, 2012). The Nasa peoples’ territory has been violated and used for industrial purposes by multinational corporations assisted by the military men of Colombia [6]. In 2020, indigenous communities went to Bogotá, capital city of Colombia, to protest the government’s policies regarding their welfare and demanded justice for the killings of indigenous people and their leaders(International work group for indigenous affairs).

Everything is lost: homelessness and forced migration

The most challenging issue faced by these indigenous groups is loss of lands due to the Colombian conflict [7] FARC, the government, the industrial sector and mining companies. Many natives of the Embera community [8]were forced to leave their homes because they feared for their lives as a result of conflicts with FARC and other organisations such as ELN [9] and AGC[10]. Bertulfo Domico Domico, one of the leaders of the Embera, was murdered in 2017. Community leaders believe that his demise was brought upon by his fight for their rights and land (Thale Jenssen, 2018).

It is said that: 

Innumerable Indigenous communities have suffered forced displacement due to conservation efforts, extractive industry operations, political strife, and the impacts of climate change. Every day we hear about Indigenous migrants who are forced to leave their home in search of work because it is no longer viable for them to make a living locally. They flee violence; they flee because they can no longer provide for their families, because their resources are depleted or polluted by large scale agribusiness” (Gakemotho Satau, 2020). 

This forced migration has divided families, where children are separated from their parents and this diminishing bond between family members within indigenous communities has brought on even more problems in the proper functioning of their societies. Notably, cases of alcoholism, drug addiction and severe mental health issues (Gakemotho Satau, 2020).

Are we really equal?

Spanish conquerors entered the land of Colombia in the fifteenth century. Since then, the Colombian indigenous population was subject to Spanish law and no legal recognition was given to indigenous criminal justice systems. In the 19th century, the Constitutional Court of Colombia passed a series of decisions which further imposed several restrictions on these communities. Some of these restrictions include the inability to govern their own lives, and the authorisation of missions and religious authorities to regulate their social behaviour (Juanita Chaves, 1999). These restrictions have created a sense of discrimination, where indigenous peoples are treated differently from the majority population living in the Colombia. 

In 1970, the Supreme Court recognised that it is unfair to regulate the social behaviour of these indigenous people, and further attempts to give equal and fair rights to these indigenous populations  were made by the new Constitution of Colombia [11]. Articles 246 and 330 of the relevant Constitution also allowed indigenous councils to exercise judicial functions according to their own rules and regulations, as long as they did not contradict national policies. Indigenous groups also gained access to the National Congress, departmental assemblies, mayor’s offices and municipal councils through public elections. The protection of their lands, the designation of indigenous languages as official languages, the respect for the right to bilingual and intercultural education, and dual citizenship for those who live in border regions were major steps taken by the Colombian government to protect the human rights of these communities (Domingo, 2018). 

Although the Constitution has recognised the rights of the indigenous people living in Colombia, the proper implementation of the laws governed by the Constitution is still a pervasive issue. According to the leader of the Siona, “We are secluded due to mining activities, we can not practice our customs and our children have been recruited and taken out of school […] We as leaders are living in a tough situation and we run a serious risk in denouncing what is happening in Colombia” (Mario Erazo Yaiguaje, 2018). Culturally, growing contact with outsiders has also had a devastating impact on the lives of these people,forcing these communities to challenge their customs and religious obligations. This can be seen through the colonisation of the territory of the Nukak Maku (a nomadic group living in the southern jungles of Guaviare, Colombia) by farmers seeking to cash in on the cocoa boom (Research conducted by the Human Genetics Institute at the University of Bogotá). 

The limited recognition provided by the Constitution and the indigenous peoples’ right to legal jurisdiction over their own social behaviour falls short of the right of self-determination for which they have been fighting for (Juanita Chaves, 1999). In conclusion, it can be argued that the Constitution of Colombia has granted the recognition of the rights of indigenous peoples solely to the extent where these communities have their own criminal justice systems. More reforms and efforts are needed  by the Colombian government and, most importantly, the youth of Colombia should raise its voice for the protection of indigenous rights in order to secure these vulnerable populations equal and fair opportunities.


  1. Digis Mak. (2021, August 31). The Siona and the Kofan: The resistance of the indigenous guards | Future Planet.  Retrieved from

  2. Gakemotho Tikhwebe Satau (2020, March) We Were Forcefully Evicted: Gakemotho Tikhwebe Satau. Retrieved from

  3. IWGIA (n.d.) Indigenous peoples in Colombia. Retrieved  from

  4. Minority Rights Group International. (n.d.). Retrieved  from

  5. Risk of extinction of indigenous peoples of Colombia is evidenced before the IACHR (2018, 10 May). Retrieved from

  6. The Amazon Conservation team  (n.d) .Legalization of Indigenous Territories in Colombia. Retrieved from

  7. The Guardian (2012) Colombia’s Nukak Maku tribe faces extinction. Retrieved from

  8. This is Colombia (n.d). Colombia’s indigenous groups. Retrieved from

  9. Thale Jenssen (2018, 9 August) Displaced in their own country.Retrieved from

  10. Wirspa,Lisa Mondragon and Hector (1988) Resettlement of Nukak Indians, Colombia.

  11. YL Fundraiser. (n.d.). FOR THE AMAZON: TAITA QUERUBIN. Retrieved from

  12. (1999). 4(23). IndigenousLaw Bulletin August/September 1999, volume 4, issues 



Inga people are the indigenous ethnic group that live in the south-west region of Colombia. These people speak their own language known as “Inga Kichwa”. However, most of them are bilingual in Inga and Spanish languages.More information can be found at

The Kamentsa is another indigenous group, who are residing in the Sibundoy Valley in the south of Colombia. They are known for their carved wooden masks that are worn during ceremonies and festivals. More information can be found at

The Siona and Kofan communities reside in the portion of the Amazon between Colombia and Ecuador. They have their own army, with guards that serve to protect them in any armed conflict. More information can be found at

 Taitas are the most respected elders, spiritual leaders of their groups and are also known as the “medicine men”. They travel around the globe to create awareness on their traditional medicine and their healing activities.

 The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.

The Nasa, also known as the Paez people, are native Americans who live in southwestern Colombia, in the Cauca and Caqueta Departments, both in the Amazonian region.More information can be found at

The Colombian Conflict is the longest running civil-war between the different guerrilla movements and the government of Colombia. It started in 1948 due to the assisination of a liberal political leader, Jorge Gaitan. More information can be found at

Embera is the third largest indigenous group in Colombia, with a population of around 71,000. They are nomadic, but the majority of the population lives in the coastal pacific region of the Choco department. More information can be found at

National Liberation Army

The “Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia”, also known as the Gulf Clan

The Constitution of Colombia was passed by the government in 1991


Coordinator - Tibet Team

Mandakini graduated with honours from the Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights. Her team analyses the human rights violations faced by Tibetans through a legal lens.

Kenza Mena
Team Coordinator -China

Kenza Mena has expertise in international criminal law since she is currently pursuing a last-year Master’s degree in International Criminal Justice at Paris II Panthéon-Assas and obtained with honors cum laude an LLM in International and Transnational Criminal Law from the University of Amsterdam. She also holds a Bachelor’s degree in French and Anglo-American law. 

Since September 2021, she has been the coordinator of Team China at GHRD, a country where violations of human rights, even international crimes, are frequently perpetrated by representatives of the State. Within Team China, awareness is also raised on discrimination that Chinese women and minorities in the country and, more generally, Chinese people around the world are facing.

Kenza believes that the primary key step to tackle atrocities perpetrated around the world is advocacy and promotion of human rights.

Aimilina Sarafi
Pakistan Coordinator

Aimilina Sarafi holds a Bachelor’s degree cum laude in International Relations and Organisations from Leiden University and is currently pursuing a Double Legal Master’s degree (LLM) in Public International Law and International Criminal Law at the University of Amsterdam.
She is an active advocate for the human rights of all peoples in her community and is passionate about creating a better world for future generations. Aimilina is the coordinator for the GHRD team of Pakistan, in which human rights violations of minority communities in Pakistan are investigated and legally evaluated based on international human rights legal standards.
Her team is working on raising awareness on the plight of minority communities such as women, children, religious and ethnic minorities within Pakistan.

Lukas Mitidieri
Coordinator & Head Researcher- Bangladesh

Lucas Mitidieri is currently pursuing his bachelor’s degree in International Relations at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ). As the GHRD Bangladesh Team Coordinator, he advocates for human rights and monitors violations across all minorities and marginalized groups in Bangladesh. Lucas believes that the fight for International Human Rights is the key to a world with better social justice and greater equality.

Nicole Hutchinson
Editorial Team Lead

Nicole has an MSc in International Development Studies with a focus on migration. She is passionate about promoting human rights and fighting poverty through advocacy and empowering human choice. Nicole believes that even the simplest social justice efforts, when properly nurtured, can bring about radical and positive change worldwide.

Gabriela Johannen
Coordinator & Head Researcher – India

Gabriela Johannen is a lawyer admitted to the German bar and holds extensive knowledge in the fields of human rights, refugee law, and international law. After working for various courts and law firms in her home country, she decided to obtain an LL.M. degree from Utrecht University where she studied Public International Law with a special focus on Human Rights. Additionally, while working as a pro-bono legal advisor for refugees, she expanded her knowledge in the fields of refugee law and migration.

Gabriela is the coordinator and head researcher for GHRD India, a country, she has had a personal connection with since childhood. Her primary focus is to raise awareness for the severe human rights violations against minorities and marginalized groups that continue to occur on a daily basis in India. By emphasizing the happenings and educating the general public, she hopes to create a better world for future generations.

João Victor
Coordinator & Head Researcher – International Justice

João Victor is a young Brazilian lawyer who leads our team of International Justice and Human Rights. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in Law from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and possesses over 5 years of experience in dealing with Human Rights and International Law issues both in Brazil and internationally, including the protection of refugees’ rights and the strengthening of accountability measures against torture crimes.

João has an extensive research engagement with subjects related to International Justice in general, and more specifically with the study of the jurisprudence of Human Rights Courts regarding the rise of populist and anti-terrorist measures taken by national governments. He is also interested in the different impacts that new technologies may provoke on the maintenance of Human Rights online, and how enforcing the due diligence rules among private technology companies might secure these rights against gross Human Rights violations.

Célinne Bodinger
Environment and Human Rights Coordinator

As the Environment and Human Rights Coordinator, Célinne is passionate about the health of our planet and every life on it.

Angela Roncetti
Team Coordinator and Head Researcher- South America

Angela holds a Bachelor of Laws (LL.B) from Vitória Law School (FDV) in Brazil. Her research combines more than five years of experience conducting debates and studies on the rights of homeless people, the elderly, children, and refugees. Besides that, she also volunteers in a social project called Sou Diferente (I am Different in English), where she coordinates and takes part in actions aimed at the assistance and the emancipation of vulnerable groups in the cities of the metropolitan area of Espírito Santo state (Brazil).

Lina Borchardt
Team Head (Promotions)

She is currently heading the Promotions Team and University Chapter of Global Human Rights Defence. Her background is the one of European and International Law, which I am studying in The Hague. She has previously gained experience at Women´s Rights organizations in Germany, the Netherlands and Turkey over the past years.
She has been working for Global Human Rights Defence in the Netherlands since 2020. Her focus now is concentrated on the Human Rights and Minorities Film Festival and the cooperation of GHRD with students across the country.

Pedro Ivo Oliveira
Team Coordinator and Researcher

Pedro holds an extensive background in Human Rights, especially in Global Health, LGBTQ+ issues, and HIV and AIDS. He is currently finishing his Bachelor’s Degree in International Relations and Affairs at the Pontifical Catholic University of Minas Gerais, Brazil. Moreover, he successfully attended the Bilingual Summer School in Human Rights Education promoted by the Federal University of Minas Gerais and the Association of Universities of the Montevideo Group. Besides, Pedro Ivo has a diversified professional background, collecting experiences in many NGOs and projects.

With outstanding leadership abilities, in 2021, Pedro Ivo was the Secretary-General of the 22nd edition of the biggest UN Model in Latin America: the MINIONU. Fluent in Portuguese, English, and Spanish, Pedro Ivo is the Team Coordinator and Head Researcher of the Team Africa at Global Human Rights Defence. Hence, his focus is to empower his team from many parts of the world about the Human Rights Situation in the African continent, meanwhile having a humanized approach.

Alessandro Cosmo
GHRD Youth Ambassador
(European Union)

Alessandro Cosmo obtained his B.A. with Honors from Leiden University College where he studied International Law with a minor in Social and Business Entrepreneurship. He is currently pursuing an LL.M. in Public International Law at Utrecht University with a specialization in Conflict and Security. 
As GHRD’s E.U. Youth Ambassador, Alessandro’s two main focuses are to broaden the Defence’s reach within E.U. institutions and political parties, as well as mediate relations between human rights organizations abroad seeking European funding. 
Alessandro believes that human rights advocacy requires grass-roots initiatives where victims’ voices are amplified and not paraphrased or spoken for. He will therefore act on this agenda when representing Global Human Rights Defence domestically and abroad

Veronica Delgado
Team Coordinator and Researcher- Japan, Sri Lanka & Tibet

Veronica is a Colombian lawyer who leads our team of Japan, Sri Lanka and Tibet. She holds a master’s degree in Public International Law from Utrecht University. She has experience in Colombian law firms. Here she represented clients before constitutional courts. She also outlined legal concepts to state entities such as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ombudsman’s Office on international law issues.

Veronica has an extensive research background with subjects related to public international law. She worked as an assistant researcher for more than two years for the Externado University of Colombia. Here she undertook in-depth research on constitutional, business, and human rights law issues. She was involved with consultancy services with the Colombian Army regarding transitional justice. 

Wiktoria Walczyk
Coordinator & Head Researcher (Nepal & Indonesia)

Wiktoria Walczyk has joined GHRD in June 2020 as a legal intern. She is currently coordinator and head researcher of Team Nepal and Indonesia. She has an extensive legal knowledge concerning international human rights and is passionate about children’s and minorities’ rights. Wiktoria has obtained her LL.B. in International & European Law and she specialised in Public International Law & Human Rights at The Hague University of Applied Sciences in the Netherlands. Moreover, she is pursuing her LL.M. in International & European Law and focusing on Modern Human Rights Law specialisation at the University of Wroclaw in Poland. In order to gain an essential legal experience, Wiktoria has also joined Credit Suisse’s 2021 General Counsel Graduate First Program where she is conducting her legal training and discovering the banking world. She would like to make a significant impact when it comes to the protection of fundamental human rights around the world, especially with regard to child labour. 

Fairuz Sewbaks
Coordinator and Head Researcher

Fairuz Sewbaks holds extensive legal knowledge regarding international human rights, with a specific focus on human rights dealings taking place in continental Africa. She holds a bachelor’s degree from The Hague University in public international law and international human rights and successfully followed advanced human rights courses at the Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria. She furthermore participated in the Istanbul Summer School where she was educated about the role of epidemics and pandemics in light of human rights.


Fairuz is the coordinator and head researcher for GHRD Africa. Her primary focus is to establish and coordinate long-term research projects regarding the differentiating human rights dealings of vulnerable and marginalized groups in continental Africa, as well as conducting individual research projects.

Priya Lachmansingh
Coordinator and Head Researcher, Political Advisor
(Asia & America)

Priya Lachmansingh is currently pursuing her bachelor’s degree in International & European
Law at the Hague University of Applied Science.
As GHRD’s Asia & America human rights coordinator and GHRD Political Advisor, Priya’s
prominent focus is to highlight human rights violations targeted against minority and
marginalized groups in Asia and America and to broaden GHRD reach within Dutch political
parties and as well seek domestic funding.

Jasmann Chatwal
Team Coordinator & Head Coordinator: North America

Jasmann is a political science student at Leiden University who joined GHRD in May 2021 as an intern in team Pakistan. Now, she is the team coordinator for North America and is responsible for coordinating the documentation of human rights violations in USA, Canada, and America.