Defending the Human Rights of Indigenous Groups in Colombia
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 , Kamentsa, Siona, and Kofan 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 , 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 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 . 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  FARC, the government, the industrial sector and mining companies. Many natives of the Embera community 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  and AGC. 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 . 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.
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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 https://amp.en.buy-com.ru/4364990/1/indigenous-peoples-in-colombia.html
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 https://unboundedworld.com/tribe/kamentsa/
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 https://www.amazonfrontlines.org/chronicles/wisuya/
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 https://www.everyculture.com/wc/Brazil-to-Congo-Republic-of/P-ez.html
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 https://www.c-r.org/accord/colombia/colombian-conflict-historical-perspective
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 https://minorityrights.org/minorities/embera/
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