Colombia: Indigenous rights violated by state forces

A declaration, made as part of the Second Mission in Support of the Kankuamo Indigenous People of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, condemns the repeated violations of international humanitarian laws by the Colombian ‘public forces’ (a term that envelopes the country’s army, navy, air force, and national police force) that have been proven to occur within the Kankuamo reserve. The Mission is particularly concerned by the militarization of the lands, an open violation of the Colombian Constitution which recognises the indigenous authorities as administrators of their territories.

Mission observers have confirmed that military bases can be found next to civilian buildings, placing at risk the physical, spiritual, cultural and psychological wellbeing of the Kankuamo communities of the zone. This situation sheds light on the disrespect of the autonomy of the indigenous people over their lands. The most serious case is one where a military base in the Guatapuri community is located right next to the only high school in the area, a place which is also a sacred site for the 4 indigenous communities (Kankuamos, Arhuacos, Kogis and Wiwa) of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta region. 

After visiting the Atanquez, Chemesquemena, Guatapurí and La Mina communities, and following meetings with local spiritual and institutional indigenous authorities, the Mission‘s observers express a strong condemnation for the evident violations of human rights persistently made against the Kankuamo indigenous people. After gathering direct testimonies from the families of men and women who have been unjustly imprisoned and threatened with violence, they demand the release of all of these prisoners.

As a result of a meeting between the Mission and the municipal authorities of Valledupar and the Cesar provinces, the following agreements were reached and taken on board by the Provincial Administration: the relocation of the troops situated on sacred sites and areas protected by international humanitarian laws, such as schools and medical centres; and to respect of the rights of the  indigenous authorities of the four Sierra Nevada communities to prior consultation and endorsement in the face of any intervention in their territories, especially with regard to the construction of the Besotes dam.

Additionally, there was a commitment made to advance arrangements with the municipal government to eliminate the Corregidurías of the Kankuamo reserve, as these interfere with the autonomy and strengthening of its own government; and to bring forward negotiations with the Colombian Institute of Family Wellbeing (Instituto Colombiano de Bienestar Familiar or ICBF) to adjust the evaluation and operation systems of the community children’s centres to traditional practices, as well as improving the economic conditions of the community centres’ women workers.

The secretary of the provincial government has also made a commitment to guarantee all the participants of the Mission, as well as their team of reporters, entry into the Valledupar Judicial Prison in order to investigate the situation of the Kankuamo men and women unlawfully, and in some cases arbitrarily, detained; victims of unjustified court orders.

The NGOs, and the political, social and unionist organisations participating in this Mission affirmed that they will strengthen their support for the Kankuamo people, primarily in relation to the unjust and arbitrary detentions, and also with regards to the carrying-out of large-scale projects within the reserve that may threaten the integrity and sacredness of their lands.

First published in

Translated by translator, Rachel Eckersley