IACHR Press Office
Washington, D.C. – The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) is concerned about persistent structural challenges to consolidate peace in the territories of ethnic peoples in Colombia. The Commission therefore calls on the State to take urgent measures to ensure the survival of these peoples and communities and to protect the lives and personal integrity of their members.
During 2021, the IACHR specifically monitored the situation of human rights in Colombia's ethnic peoples and communities, particularly concerning the implementation of the Ethnic Chapter of the country's Peace Agreement. In this context, the Commission conducted several activities, including a series of seven virtual meetings over the period February–April 2021 with more than 70 organizations representing indigenous peoples and black, Afro-Colombian, Raizal, and Palenquero communities.
These meetings sought to find out these peoples' and communities' impressions of progress and challenges in the implementation of the Ethnic Chapter of Colombia's Peace Agreement. Participants told the IACHR that they were concerned about the impact of violence on their land and about the inequitable progress made toward full implementation of the Peace Agreement. They further expressed their concern about violence which—they noted—seeks to silence the voice of indigenous peoples and ethnic communities in order to take their territories.
The Commission heard statements about increasing violence due to the occupation of land by armed groups, illicit crop cultivation and drug trafficking, firearms, and unauthorized individuals, and deforestation and illegal mining. According to the information that was submitted to the IACHR, disputes among several external actors over these territories have led to an increasing number of murders, massacres, threats against life and integrity, and harassment affecting members of the relevant peoples and ethnic communities, and particularly their leaders, as well as to instances of confinement and mass displacement. According to these reports, this violence is particularly rife in areas of the country with limited State presence and impacts indigenous and Afro-descendant women, girls and adolescents, and female leaders more severely.
The IACHR was also told of the challenges concerning several aspects of the Ethnic Chapter, including allegations of low levels of collective titling for ethnic peoples and communities; insufficient budget allocation for processes to formalize ethnic territories; slow progress in development programs with territorial perspectives; the pending inclusion of candidates from indigenous peoples and ethnic communities in Special Territorial Districts for Peace; dissatisfaction with the implementation of the illicit crop substitution program; and the need to consolidate the coordination and recognition of indigenous peoples and ethnic communities as political subjects with their own justice systems, their demands for truth, and their searches for missing persons. The organizations who took part in these meetings also expressed their concern about State initiatives regarding regulation of the right to prior consultation, where the affected peoples had not been consulted in advance.
The IACHR notes the information provided by Instituto Kroc concerning the state of implementation of the Peace Agreement, noting that 30 per cent of the Agreement's 578 provisos have been completed and 18 per cent have reached an intermediate implementation level. This report says, however, that only 13 per cent of all commitments with an ethnic perspective have been completed, with a further 13 per cent at an intermediate implementation level. Issues that have not been implemented at all or where only minimal implementation has been attained concern Comprehensive Land Reform and Political Participation, both major fields that address structural problems like access to land.
The IACHR acknowledges State efforts concerning the Ethnic Chapter and also understands that implementing it is one of the main challenges to consolidate the right to peace of indigenous peoples and ethnic communities in the context of Colombia's Peace Agreement. The Commission therefore calls on the State to step up institutional and budgetary efforts to attain an adequate, effective implementation of this Ethnic Chapter, in order to preserve the integrity of the affected peoples and communities and to ensure their survival. This includes further efforts to hand land titles to ethnic peoples and communities, ensuring respect for and effective protection of their land, territories, and natural resources in compliance with inter-American standards.
The Commission urges the State to strengthen efforts to ensure timely and effective institutional action, with an intercultural and collective perspective, to implement differentiated measures concerning the specific contexts of ethnic peoples and communities and the particular risks they face, among other things by strengthening self-protection mechanisms like the Indigenous Cimarrona Guard (Guardia Indígena y Cimarrona).
The IACHR calls for an effective implementation of the National Comprehensive Substitution Program (PNIS) which is part of the Peace Agreement, among others through illicit crop substitution agreements with ethnic peoples and communities as collective subjects—whether at the level of the relevant peoples, safeguards, or organizations—and ensuring that all measures adopted to comply with the Peace Agreement are culturally appropriate.
Finally, the Commission stresses the importance of ensuring the free, prior, and informed consent of all indigenous peoples and ethnic communities concerning all the administrative and legislative initiatives that might affect their rights. This includes all State initiatives to regulate these rights. The suggestions made by these peoples and communities need to be taken into consideration and effectively implemented.
The IACHR thanks the following organizations for their support in these virtual meetings with ethnic peoples and communities: Organización Nacional de los Pueblos Indígenas de la Amazonía Colombiana (OPIAC), Organización Nacional Indígena de Colombia (ONIC), Gobierno Mayor, CRIC Nacional, Consejo Nacional de Paz Afrocolombiano (CONPA), Instancia Especial de Alto Nivel de los Pueblos Étnicos (IANPE), and International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs (IWGIA).
A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for and to defend human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.