Press Release

IACHR Grants Precautionary Measures in Favor of Authorities and Members of Siona Indigenous Reservations in Colombian Department of Putumayo

July 27, 2018

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Washington, D.C. – On July 14, 2018, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) granted precautionary measures in favor of the authorities and members of the Siona indigenous people´s reservations Gonzaya (Buenavista) and Po Piyuya (Santa Cruz de Piñuña Blanco), in the Colombian department of Putumayo.

To make this decision, the Commission considered that the Siona people are in “imminent danger of being exterminated,” according to the request for precautionary measures. The IACHR took into account the protection measures the State said it had adopted, and valued such measures. However, the Commission noted that the people who requested precautionary measures reported many dangerous events that occurred until earlier this year, including alleged threats, acts of intimidation, illegal occupations of homes, clashes involving firearms, restrictions on the free movement of Siona persons and the alleged presence of armed agents who seek to consolidate their activities within the reservations.

The Commission said that, according to the people who requested these precautionary measures, there are anti-personnel landmines and other explosive devices in the area, and armed agents prevent members of the reservations from carrying out their activities at certain times and make it impossible for them to hold cultural activities and to freely obtain various subsistence items including food. The Commission considered the special, intrinsic relationship between indigenous people and their land as the fundamental basis for their cultures, their spiritual life, their integrity and their survival, and the way the alleged lack of free access to certain areas of an indigenous people’s land may expose them to precarious living conditions or increase their vulnerability. The situation has a particularly significant impact on Siona authorities, who are allegedly unable to fulfil the mandate they received from their people, according to their own rules, and are exposed to various dangers based on their leadership and visibility. The people who requested these precautionary measures further alleged that young indigenous people are being recruited into armed structures with different cultural references. The Commission noted that this could put the Siona indigenous people at a particular risk, given their exposure to acts of violence, which could lead to the dissolution of the Siona people after being deprived of an important portion of their population of a single generation vital to recreate and transmit their values, rules and culture.  

Consequently, in keeping with Article 25 of the IACHR’s Rules of Procedure, the Commission asked the Colombian State to adopt any measures necessary to preserve the life and the personal integrity of the Siona authorities who have been identified and of families in the Siona reservations Gonzaya and Po Piyuya; and adopt culturally appropriate protection measures so that the Siona authorities who have been identified and families in the Siona reservations Gonzaya and Po Piyuya can live safely within their territory, without being subjected to violence, threats or harassment. Such measures should be combined with more thorough efforts by the country’s security forces and with the adoption of more comprehensive, coordinated measures that might include: enabling safe passage for the Siona people’s cultural and subsistence activities; removing explosives present in their territory or disproving their existence; preventing the recruitment of young people and making it impossible; strengthening communication mechanisms to respond to emergency situations; adopting culturally appropriate measures to protect the lives and integrity of the Siona authorities who have been identified and enabling them to fulfil their mandates safely and in accordance with their own rules and government system; agreeing with beneficiaries and/or their representatives on the measures that need to be adopted, in keeping with the Siona people’s own decision-making mechanisms and self-government system; and reporting on the actions the State has implemented to ensure the investigation of the alleged events that led to this precautionary measure, in order to prevent them from happening again in the future.

The fact that this precautionary measure has been granted and its adoption by the State do not entail a prejudgment on a potential petition that may be filed before the Inter-American system to allege violations of rights protected by the American Convention on Human Rights and other applicable instruments.

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.

No. 166/18