South American indigenous leaders bring evidence of human rights violations to the Inter-American Commission


Contact: Leonardo A. Crippa, Staff Attorney
(202) 547 2800 ext. 105;

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Within the framework of the 134th Ordinary Session of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) held in Washington DC, the Indian Law Resource Center and Andean indigenous organizations made presentations regarding different situations which systematically violate the human rights of indigenous peoples. 

On March 20th 2009, the Andean Coordinator of Indigenous Organizations (CAOI), National Authority of Indigenous Governments in Colombia (ONIC), National Confederation of Peruvian Communities Affected by Mining (CONACAMI), Confederation of Kichua Peoples of Ecuador (ECUARUNARI) and the Center presented a thematic hearing on "The criminalization of indigenous peoples' defense of their rights in Colombia, Peru, Chile and Ecuador."

Given the lack of effective state protection for indigenous peoples' rights to land, territory and natural resources, the petitioning organizations explained the orchestrated responses of all branches of government in these four countries to indigenous peoples' efforts to vindicate those rights.  "In defense of our mother earth, we indigenous peoples have, as political actors, begun to peacefully demand the respect of our rights.  In response, states have expanded the definition of certain crimes to include the actions our leaders take as public servants to our peoples and communities; increased the penalties for certain crimes; and declared that the military and police cannot be prosecuted for causing death or injury in the context of any collective action to vindicate our rights.  All of this is done with the aim of undermining our movements through the persecution of our leaders; and dissolving our spiritual and cultural bonds through forced relocation from our territories and sacred sites," explained Miguel Palacin Quispe, President of CAOI.   

On March 23, 2009, ONIC and the Center lead a thematic hearing on "The situation of indigenous peoples' human rights in Colombia".  Ana Manuela Ochoa Arias, one of ONIC's lawyers, stated: "the internal armed conflict has accentuated the harmful effects that structural poverty and discrimination produce in detriment of the indigenous peoples of Colombia.  To this is added the lack of effective protection of our fundamental rights by the Colombian government, which has laid the foundation for the genocide that indigenous peoples are now facing in Colombia." Along these lines, leaders of the Awa and Embera Siapidaara People pointed out the neutrality of indigenous peoples in the ongoing armed conflict which bears no relation to their political aspirations or activities, and testified regarding the recent massacres and forced relocation of indigenous peoples by various armed actors.  The Commission's Special Rapporteur, Victor Abramovich, expressed concern at the state representatives' opening accolades for the creation of a new so-called indigenous organization, which indigenous peoples consider nothing more than a tool for the Colombian governments' continuing efforts to undermine their representative organizations. 

Finally, the petitioning organizations requested that the Commission carry out an in situ visit to Colombia in order to verify the situation of indigenous peoples in the context of the armed conflict.  The organizations also requested that the Commission compare the compatibility of 11 Peruvian legislative decrees adopted in July of 2007 - meant to criminalize the defense of indigenous rights - and the relevant provisions of the American Convention on Human Rights; as well as the inclusion of a special chapter on criminalization in their Report on Prior Consultation with Indigenous Peoples, which is now being written.  All of these requests were welcomed and will be taken into serious consideration by the Commission. 

For more information and to see a video of the hearings, please look for each hearing under its respective date at: