Call for action to prevent the annihilation of Indigenous peoples in Colombia – We must listen!
by Kathy Price, Amnesty International Canada's campaigner on Latin America
Maria Patricia Tobón Yagarí, of the National Indigenous Organization of Colombia (ONIC), sat alone but with enormous dignity and strength of purpose as she spoke out about the ongoing violence and denial of human rights which threaten the very survival of Indigenous peoples in Colombia.
The situation is so desperate that an increasing number of suicides by Indigenous women are being reported, testified Ms. Tobón, underscoring the risks posed by a lethal mix of armed conflict and the imposition of resource extraction on Indigenous lands.
On the other side of the room was a phalanx of government officials, representing different ministries of the South American country that is now Canada’s free trade partner. Each official repeated eloquent commitments to the human rights of Indigenous peoples. Yet the Colombian government, despite public promises and all the resources of the state, has so far failed to implement the safeguards ordered by its own highest court in order to protect endangered Indigenous peoples.
In 2009, the Constitutional Court of Colombia issued a landmark ruling, identifying 34 Indigenous peoples at risk of physical and cultural extermination amidst the devastating consequences of armed conflict and forced displacement from resource-rich territory. It called for action without delay to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe. Yet Indigenous peoples remain under attack and without protection of their rights.
Ms Tobón appealed, amongst other measures, for an international verification mission and for the suspension of mining and exploration activities in Indigenous territory, echoing an unprecedented court order in Chocó earlier this year to protect the rights of Embera Katío inhabitants of Alto Andágueda.
Pressure from Canada, in support of the rights of Indigenous peoples in Colombia, would make a significant difference, particularly given the special relationship our government has with Colombia’s government.
The government of Stephen Harper has invested enormous energy over the past 5 years to achieve a free trade agreement with Colombia, and asserted repeatedly that this would give Canada more influence to press for human rights.
It is crucial that Canada delivers on that promise, particularly as Canadian companies move in to Colombia to exploit natural resources there.
We must insist that Canada is part of the solution not the problem. We must show the deep concern of Canadians for the survival of Indigenous peoples in Colombia. We must demand effective action, without delay!
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Top Photo: Maria Patricia Tobón Yagarí, of the National Indigenous Organization of Colombia (ONIC). Middle Photo: The government delegation. Credit: Inter-American Commission on Human Rights