For more than five decades, Colombian indigenous peoples resisted the power of warfare, refusing to abandon their land. When the peace agreement eventually passed in November 2016 many thought that the this would be the end of the violence. But two years later the threat to their lives and their culture hasn’t gone away.
This be could be read as the introduction to the history of the Siona People, who are found at the entrance of the Colombian Amazon, in the Buenavista and Santa Cruz de Piñuña Blanco shelters. Once the FARC troops left the area, the indigenous guard of the Siona people tried to exercise territorial control, as happened in many regions of the country, in an attempt to ease the pain felt in the community. But as a result of the clashes between armed legal and illegal group intervening on the territory boarding Colombian and Ecuador, the community has been unable to live without fear on their land.
In 2009, the Constitutional Court of Colombia recognised that the Siona people are at risk of disappearing. Since they are now facing new threats, the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights (IACHR) issued a precautionary measure in 2018 for the Colombian state to strengthen protections and safeguards.
But much of what has been developed up to this date has not been put in to place and instead been left on paper. There is still no progress in very basic demands such as the protection of the right to life. On the 8th August, for example, the Colombian state tried to agree on precautionary measures with the indigenous populations. However, the delegates of the state institutions that attended the meeting with the indigenous authorities had no decision-making power that would them to make the commitments based off the IACHR decision.
Meanwhile indigenous leaders have warned of a possible mass displacement given the presence of armed actors closed to their land. Forced recruitment, minefields in ancestral territories and the imposition of rules by armed groups continue to prevail.
Unfortunately, this lack of will to protect the Siona people can been in other ancestral communities throughout Colombia, who are dealing with what many are calling an “ethnocide”. The National Indigenous Organisation of Colombia revealed that since the signing of the peace agreement 159 indigenous people have been killed throughout the country. Just North of Cauca, the Nasa people, a neighbour of Siona, are experiencing systematic attacks from the authorities in charge of territorial control and justice. There have already been 36 people killed in this community, 14 of whom played a role within the community and its organisations. 7 of them were guards or part of ancestral authorities. The situation has worsened since Saturday 10th August, 24 hours after the celebration of international indigenous peoples day and is now at maximum alert.
According to the Colombian general attorney between January 1st, 2016 and June of this year 43 indigenous leaders have been killed in Colombia. From these cases there have been only 24 people sentenced for these murders, 4 of those were issued by the justice of the peace. There is nothing that suggests the criminal structures that is allowing these murders to take place is being properly investigated or that a strategy to protect indigenous communities that goes beyond militarisation and offers culturally appropriate measures is being put into place.
The situation with indigenous communities in Colombia allows to see that civil society, social groups and the state have to communicate in order to agree on the collective protection measures of these communities and create a sense of justice. Although the position of defenders has been documented, the particular risk of indigenous people’s face is becoming increasingly evident.
It is a matter of urgency that we prevent this violence and stop the disappearance of indigenous communities, who – beyond war – have survived the turmoil and changes of this continent and they represent an important part of Colombia’s cultural, natural and spiritual heritage.
A shortened version of this opinion article was previously published in the Colombian newspaperEl Tiempo.