The UN representative for indigenous rights, James Anaya, encouraged the Colombian government Thursday to advance in dialogues with an indigenous movement in the southwestern Cauca department that has been calling for the military to leave the territory, report local media.
Relations between the government and the indigenous movement have been especially strained in recent months, with the former demanding all armed actors exit the territory– Colombian security forces and left-wing FARC rebels alike– arguing that the constant fighting has put community members’ lives at risk.
In mid-July, two civilians were killed and dozens injured as indigenous groups tried to forcibly remove Colombian Army soldiers and FARC rebels from their land in the northeastern part of Cauca.
In a message commemorating the International Day of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Anaya highlighted “the rights of property and autonomy the indigenous peoples have over their own traditional territories,” while stressing that the Colombian state needed to consult the indigenous movements before establishing military presence on their territories.
Colombian Interior Minister Federico Renjifo arrived in the Cauca department on Thursday to try to facilitate dialogue between the two parties, following indigenous leaders’ demands for the minister’s to be present. Talks were suspended in late July when both Renjifo and Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzon failed to attend a scheduled meeting.
The UN representative stated any dialogue would have to “advance within a spirit of good faith and in search of solutions following the human rights,” while saying “security forces and the indigenous authorities should act to “assure the lives […] personal security and right to free association and expression of the inhabitants in the indigenous areas.”
Anaya concluded by saying, “the presence of the army should not contribute to putting the indigenous in danger.”