Any views expressed in this article are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.
An indigenous community in Northwest Colombia, subjected to controversial aerial-spraying of coca crops, is demanding that the government respect their rights, land and their lives.
Thomas Mortensen, Christian Aid Country Manager of Christian Aid in Colombia, said, "The local Embera community has reported that the aerial spraying has contaminated their water and crops and is causing community members, including children, to fall sick. This is a clear violation of their rights."
Mr. Mortensen said the Colombian government must respect indigenous people’s rights and abide by Colombian Constitution and ILO Convention 169 on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples, which both grant the right of prior consultation to indigenous people for activities on their land.
"If these agreements were upheld, the Colombian authorities could have worked with the indigenous community to manually eradicate the coca in the area and protect the Embera community from outsiders," he said.
On 22 July the Colombian Air force began a process of spraying of illicit crops in Alto Guayabal, in Chocó region, north-western Colombia. The aircraft sprayed herbicide indiscriminately, reportedly into areas where there were no illicit crops but only food crops.
The Embera do not oppose the eradication of coca, indeed in 2012 they approached the government asking for help to eradicate it, whilst expressing total rejection of aerial-spraying.
Colombia is the only country in the world that permits aerial-spraying of drug producing crops. The practice has been repeatedly condemned by human rights and environmental activists because of its effect on humans and local soil and water systems.
After the spraying the community wrote to the Colombian authorities denouncing the events. In their letter they demanded respect for their rights and requested urgent health support, emergency food and clean water supplies.
Colombia has over 100 indigenous groups, many of whom are struggling to retain their traditional culture on territory that is legally theirs, in the face of outside threats.
The Embera are one of the 34 indigenous peoples in Colombia identified as at risk of physical or cultural extinction. Originally from Panama, they have lived in the forest for centuries, but now their very existence is threatened.
Colombia’s Constitution recognises the rights of ethnic minorities like the Embera but mining companies and armed groups often disregard them.
However, the Embera community of Alto Guayabal have previously defended their territory, opposing a mining company who entered their land in 2009.
Twelve indigenous communities affected by the project stated that prior consultation was not adequately carried out, and rejected all mining in their territory.
Christian Aid partner organisation, Inter-Church Commission for Justice and Peace filed a lawsuit on behalf of these communities to stop the project and obtained a ruling in favour of the communities by the Colombian Constitutional Court.
This decision established a precedent regarding the right of indigenous and tribal communities to free, prior and informed consent as well as to carry out consultation processes using their own traditional mechanisms.
Today marks the United Nations day of Indigenous peoples – this year’s theme is “Indigenous peoples building alliances: Honoring treaties, agreements and other constructive arrangements.”
As the peace talks between the Colombia government and the FARC guerrilla group continue in Havana, Christian Aid urge that the final peace agreement takes into account land issues and special protection of indigenous people.
Any views expressed in the article are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.