Legal Victories for Ethnic Rights Clouded by Reality

Yesterday the Black Communities Process (PCN) issued an early warning alert indicating that excavators had entered the territory of the community council of La Toma, Suarez municipality (Cauca). This is happening in blatant disregard to rulings by the Colombian Constitutional Court issued in early May. In the case of La Toma, the Court decreed that mining exploration titles granted to outsiders in the collective territories or areas inhabited ancestrally by Afro-Colombians in the municipality of Suarez (Cauca) should be revoked because they were granted to third parties without a previous consultation process with the local inhabitants. On Wednesday, May 10, the Constitutional Court also struck down the new mining code introduced last year by the Colombian Congress and President to promote industry and government control over territories. The Court ruled that the new mining code was unconstitutional because Afro-Colombians and Indigenous communities were not previously consulted on this legislation.

This same Court also recently ruled in favor the Embera indigenous communities of Chimida Tolo and Pescadito (Chocó) by upholding their Constitutional right to be previously consulted in the construction of a highway that will traverse their collective territories. The ruling was in response to a legal claim placed on behalf of the Embera peoples in 2009. In its sentence, the Court argues that previous consultation must take place before,  during and after such large scale economic projects are implemented in collective ethnic territories.

These are major legal battles won by Afro-Colombian and indigenous groups, concerning their collective ethnic rights.

The rulings are significant in the context of an advancing Free Trade Agreement between Colombia and the U.S. The 1991 Colombian Constitution requires that the governing bodies of the communities (Afro-Colombian community councils and indigenous cabildos) must be consulted in a free and informed manner on all economic projects to be implemented in their territories before such projects advance. However, the Colombian government did not follow a previous consultation mechanism with ethnic groups during the negotiation of this FTA.

ACSN calls upon Vice President Angelino Garzon and his special advisors on Afro-Colombian and indigenous communities, Oscar Gamboa and Gabriel Muyuy, to guarantee that these Constitutional Court rulings are fully implemented, the right to previous consultation is adhered to, illegal mining activities are suspended and that leaders of these communities’ lives are respected. U.S. policymakers are strongly asked to halt advancement of the FTA until bold steps are taken to guarantee the human rights and collective land rights of the Afro-Colombian and Indigenous communities.

For further information please contact Gimena Sánchez-Garzoli, WOLA at (202) 797-2171 orgsanchez@wola.org or Charo Mina Rojas, PCN International at (434) 760-0663 or charo@io.com

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