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UN expert urges Colombia to prioritise Indigenous Peoples’ rights to achieve ‘total peace’

15 March 2024

BOGOTA (15 March 2024) – Colombia’s Indigenous Peoples are at a critical juncture as the country grapples with decades of armed conflict, a UN expert said today.

“It is extremely urgent for Colombia to address historic grievances, especially as the country embarks on new negotiations aimed at achieving ‘total peace’,” said Francisco Calí Tzay, UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of Indigenous Peoples, in a statement at the end of a 10-day visit to the country.

Calí Tzay acknowledged positive legal advances and Government intentions to strengthen Indigenous Peoples’ rights, but deplored persistent challenges that threaten the very existence of many of them, putting them at imminent risk of physical and cultural extermination.

“The absence of capable state institutions in the territories of Indigenous Peoples, especially in rural areas and far from the Colombian capital, has allowed the progressive and tragic deterioration of their rights for generations,” the expert said.

The Special Rapporteur expressed alarm at the plight of Indigenous women and children, who face multiple forms of discrimination within and outside their communities. “The testimonies of forced recruitment and displacement, suicides, sexual violence and discrimination in access to health, education and food are devastating,” he said.

Calí Tzay spoke to Indigenous women who have spent more than a decade searching for their daughters, sons and partners who disappeared during the armed conflict, and who have not received an adequate response from authorities. One of them said: “We have always been here, but they treat us as invisible.”

The expert urged the Government to implement the recommendations of his predecessors, who visited Colombia in 2004 and 2009, and called for concrete measures to address the historical marginalisation of Indigenous Peoples.

“The report I will present to the Human Rights Council in September 2024 will include additional recommendations to settle the historical debt owed by the State towards Indigenous Peoples in Colombia,” he said.

The Special Rapporteur highlighted the invaluable contributions of Indigenous Peoples to the country’s cultural tapestry and environmental conservation, and emphasised their central role in combating climate change.

“True progress depends on genuine recognition and respect for the rights of Indigenous Peoples, starting with self-government, self-determination, land, territories and resources” Calí Tzay said. “Indigenous knowledge and ancestral wisdom are essential to achieving Colombia’s aspirations for lasting and true Total Peace, as well as environmental protection.”

Francisco Cali Tzay is the Special Rapporteur on the rights of Indigenous Peoples. He is a Mayan Kaqchikel from Guatemala, with experience in defending the rights of Indigenous Peoples, both in Guatemala and at the United Nations and the OAS levels. He was a member of the Presidential Commission against Discrimination and Racism against Indigenous Peoples in Guatemala (CODISRA) and was President of the Committee for the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination.

Special Rapporteurs and Working Groups are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN human rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms. Special Procedures mandate-holders are independent human rights experts appointed by the Human Rights Council to address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. They are not UN staff and are independent from any government or organisation. They serve in their individual capacity and do not receive a salary for their work.

See the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

UN Human Rights, Country Page - Colombia

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