Thursday, November 11, 2010

“Sweet Words, Air of Life” The National Indigenous Organization of Colombia Launches its Campaign in the US to Support the 32 Indigenous Peoples at Risk of Extinction in Colombia

October 26, 2010

In March of this year, the National Indigenous Organization of Colombia (ONIC) launched its campaign "Sweet Words, Air of Life" in support of the indigenous peoples at risk of extinction in Colombia. We will be promoting this campaign throughout 2010 and 2011. The official launch of this campaign in the United States was Monday, October 25 at the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), 1666 Connecticut Ave, 4th floor.

The launch was a success and the participants took part in an open dialogue with ONIC representatives regarding the reality of the 102 indigenous peoples from Colombia, and especially 32 indigenous peoples that are of particular concern for the ONIC as they are at risk of extinction.

Click here to read the English version of the campaign report "Sweet Words, Air of Life" and "Palabras Dulces, Aire de Vida" in Spanish.
The Reason for this Campaign

The ONIC has publicly denounced on various occasions that "all indigenous peoples in Colombia are at risk of disappearing." Of the 102 indigenous peoples that live in the country, there are 32 indigenous peoples that are of particular concern for the organization, due to the fact that they count on a population of less that 500 people, the majority of which are centered in the Amazon and the Orinoquia regions of Colombia. Of these 32 peoples, 18 have a population below 200 people and 10 are composed of at least 100 individuals. This fragile demographic situation is coupled with other complex processes, Colombia's internal armed conflict, poverty, discrimination, and institutional abandonment puts them at great risk of physical and cultural extinction.

In this context, on January 26, 2009, the Constitutional Court of Colombia issued Decree 004 of 2009 behalf of the indigenous peoples, in which it was concluded that the indigenous peoples of Colombia 'are in danger of becoming physically and culturally extinct.' This decree orders the national government to create in six month terms a Program that Guarantees Human Rights for indigenous peoples of Colombia. In addition, it is to formulate and implement 34 Ethnic Safeguard Plans that assist the 34 indigenous peoples with specific actions.

It is of great concern that of the 32 indigenous people with a population of less than 500 individuals, only the Nukak Maku, are being assisted by the Decree ordered by Colombia's Constitutional Court  as they develop their Ethnic Safeguard Plan.

From statistics collected by the ONIC and the Constitutional Court, we can conclude that the total number of indigenous peoples at risk of extinction is 64, which is 62.7% of the 102 that exist. Nevertheless, since the Court ruling, many indigenous peoples (not mentioned in either of the two listings) have requested their participation in the Ethnic Safeguard Plans. Informally, the Constitutional Court has expressed that the Decree is not exhaustive as it only includes indigenous peoples for which sufficient information was compiled, which would allow for the ruling.

On many occasions, the ONIC has demanded that the Colombian State construct an Integral Protection Plan using the Life Plans of the indigenous peoples in situations of extreme vulnerability as the base. However, the Colombian Government has not shown the political will to guarantee the fulfillment of the rights of indigenous peoples.

The report of the campaign

The "Sweet Words, Air of Life" campaign report identifies those responsible for the violation of the collective rights of Colombia's indigenous peoples in danger of extinction. It is our intention that the report will contribute and be a tool to direct standards and urgent actions for their protection at a national and international level at all times developed in coordination, consultation and concretization with the ONIC and with the indigenous peoples of this report. Finally, the ONIC presents a series of recommendations and requests that, according to the indigenous peoples, are necessary, pertinent and urgent, in order to halt the risk to physical and cultural extinction of the indigenous peoples of Colombia.

We would like to thank those who have supported the ONIC and the Campaign and we encourage you to continue to support the topic of indigenous peoples at risk of extinction. If you have any questions of if you or your organization would like to receive more information about ways in which you can support the campaign, please contact us by email at: