The United Nations (UN) representative in Colombia for Human Rights said 40 indigenous groups are at risk of disappearing, mainly due to mining operations, reported local media on Tuesday.
“What happens is that people who have lived within their native communities for many years are affected by these mining projects, and are moving to the city, where their culture and language is lost,” UN Representative Todd Howland was quoted as saying by Caracol Radio.
While a report from the Center for Autonomy and Rights of the Indigenous Peoples of Colombia noted that 34 indigenous people are at risk of extinction in Colombia, the UN considers the number to be higher.
Howland highlighted the richness and cultural diversity of the country, emphasizing that to protect these diverse communities mining companies need to change they way they operate in indigenous communities. He warned that “it is important for all Colombians take this problem seriously.”
Howland insisted that before exploiting natural resources in indigenous territories, “it is important that those who live in these areas are consulted, otherwise their culture may be affected.”
The UN representative also reminded the Colombian government of its responsibility to ensure the protection of these ancient communities, taking into account international treaties it has signed requiring the protection of the rights of indigenous peoples.
However, the government has yet to comply with its own constitutional indigenous rights policies, as demonstrated by the long-standing case with the U’wa tribe in the North of Santander. Non-withstanding previous constitutional court rulings in favor of the U’wa, oil companies have continued exploiting territory that the indigenous group claims is theirs, and protected by law.
Mining operations in Colombia have a notorious history when it comes to violence, displacement, and toxic exposure. In what became an internationally infamous case, the Cerrejón mine owned by Exxon-Mobil destroyed the entire village of Tabaco in 2001, and displaced all of its residents with the help of armed security forces, Tabaco’s lawyer Armando Pérez Araújo told Colombia Reports.
According to statistics released by the National Indigenous Organization of Colombia late last year, 62.7% of Colombia’s indigenous population is at risk of extinction.
- Minería causa de riesgo de extinción de pueblos indígenas en Colombia: ONU (Caracol Radio)
- Más de 40 pueblos indígenas en el país estan en riesgo de desaparecer, según la ONU(RCN Radio)
- Colombia Reports interview with Armando Pérez Araújo