Colombia’s indigenous entitled to serve jail time in native communities

(Photo: Otus Colombia)

A decision by Colombia’s Constitutional Court will open the door for indigenous individuals convicted of crimes to serve their prison sentences within their respective communities and not in ordinary prison, local media reported Thursday.

The petition submitted to the court argued that members of indigenous communities who are held in common prisons are “victims of an attack on the fundamental rights of autonomy and cultural identity,” the Semana magazine reported.

The decision handed down by the three magistrates will reportedly allow an unnamed 26-year-old indigenous person belonging to the San Lorenzo Indigenous Reserve — in the central state of Caldas — to be transferred to his reserve, where he will remain to serve out a sentence for charges relating to sexual abuse.

The Court decided that his conviction had violated his fundamental rights by violating the jurisdiction of his native indigenous community and failing to inform the head of said community, the man the court deemed empowered to make decisions relevant to the case.

“For the Court there is a massive process of deculturation (or loss of culture), which affects the indigenous population that is currently deprived of liberty by a sentence or incarceration,” the decision reportedly read.

The Colombian Constitution grants various indigenous communities a certain degree of autonomy regarding local affairs. These communities live on constitutionally protected territories, and oversee their own civil administration and criminal justice system.

According to Caracol Radio, there are more than 900 indigenous people currently serving a sentence in ordinary Colombian detention centers who would be eligible to request a transfer and serve out their sentences in their respective communities.

MORE: Colombia to create ‘farm prisons’ for indigenous people

The ruling, however, would reportedly only be applied in cases where the local leaders have authorized a transfer and the community in question has adequate facilities to maintain the incarceration.


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