Thursday, March 19, 2009

Indigenous Issues: Colombia's indigenous must be protected

The United Nations refugee agency has voiced concern over the ongoing displacement of indigenous communities in Colombia and called for investigations into credible reports of abuses.

In the latest incident, some 2,000 indigenous Embera people have been displaced this month from their collective territories in different areas along the Baudó River in the Colombian department of Chocó as a result of threats and conflict between two illegal armed groups, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

In addition, more than 1,000 Embera have been displaced this month in the Upper Baudó region in southern Choco, along Colombia’s Pacific coast.

“They fled from 15 communities after some 200 members of an illegal armed group entered their territory in the first week of March, threatened the Embera and tried to force them to collaborate in attacks against a rival illegal force,” UNHCR spokesperson Ron Redmond told reporters in Geneva.

In the Lower Baudó, nine communities of some 1,000 Embera are now empty due to fighting between the same two illegal armed groups. A total of 86 people arrived in the town of Pizarro, and the situation of the rest of them remains unknown, says UNHCR.

In the Middle Baudó, 35 Embera from the community of Indicina on the Ancozó River are now displaced in the town of Puerto Meluk, fleeing from what they say are various illegal armed groups operating in their territory.

While local and national authorities, as well as international organizations, have responded by providing assistance to these communities, UNHCR remains concerned about their protection.

“There were three mass displacements in the Upper Baudó, two in the Middle Baudó and five in the Lower Baudó in 2008 alone,” said Mr. Redmond. “There are credible reports of abuses that must be investigated, including the reported murder of an indigenous woman and the rape of another two in the community of La Vaca in the Lower Baudó.”

He added that indigenous people throughout the region are under constant pressure from illegal armed groups and are facing increasing restrictions on their ability to hunt or fish in their traditional homelands.

According to UNHCR, at least 27 different indigenous groups are considered to be at risk of extinction in Colombia, largely as a result of armed conflict and forced displacement. Their survival depends greatly on being able to remain on their traditional lands.

The UN agency is involved in protection efforts in Colombia, including through regular monitoring and advocacy on behalf of those facing threats and mass displacement, and support to national and local authorities responsible for protecting and assisting indigenous people, among others.
Published by Mike Hitchen, Mike Hitchen Consulting
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