A report released by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has warned that at least 34 Colombian tribes face extinction due to continuing violence on their lands.
The report found that, “In spite of new efforts by the state… the risk of physical or cultural disappearance remains, and in some cases has risen”.
An increase in murders, death threats, and the forced recruitment of indigenous youth into armed groups are just some of the dangers reportedly facing Colombia’s Indians.
Internal displacement is also cited as a major issue that disproportionately affects Colombia’s tribal peoples. Of the country’s four million internal refugees, Indians make up 15 per cent of the total, despite the fact that they represent just two per cent of the national population.
Just two weeks before the report was released, leader Luis Socarrás Pimienta of the Wayúu tribe was shot dead by an alleged paramilitary outside his home in the northern Colombian province of la Guajira.
According to the report, murders of indigenous Colombians rose by 63 per cent between 2008 and 2009, and 33 members of Colombia’s Awa tribe were killed in 2009 alone.
The Awa are mentioned alongside one of the Amazon’s last nomadic tribes, the Nukak, as requiring “special attention”. More than half of the Nukak have been wiped out since the arrival of coca-growing colonists on their land. The Nukak are said to be trapped in a cruel limbo between oppressive refugee shelters on the outskirts of a town and the violence-stricken forest.
An earlier UN report cites a suspected programme of “ethnic cleansing” in the country to make way for illicit crops or “to establish large-scale agro-business ventures, including palm oil plantations and beef cattle production”.
“We can move around less and less, even to hunt or collect food,” said a leader of the recently displaced Wounaan tribe, who blames the presence of armed groups and heightened violence on an influx of coca cultivation in Wounaan territory.
“Colombia’s former President lays claim to his successful campaign against violence, yet this report has again illustrated the country’s abysmal record of human rights abuses against its indigenous population,” said Stephen Corry of Survival International yesterday (7 September).
He added, “Juan Manuel Santos’ new government must act once and for all to protect its most vulnerable citizens from being wiped out, before it’s too late”.