The UN has launched a campaign to protect Colombian indigenous tribes that are in danger of being wiped out by conflict, drug production and agro-business.
The campaign, called “If they disappear, a part of you disappears,” aims to highlight the plight of 35 tribes the Constitutional Court has declared are on the edge of extinction.
Francesca Fontanini from the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), which is organizing the campaign, told Colombia Reports, “we have chosen to expand our work because [the communities] are in more and more danger because of displacement from their lands, arms, illegal mining and sexual abuse.”
According to Fontanini, there are less than 100 people left in some of the endangered tribes.
Campaigners have been using videos, websites, radio shows and publicity campaigns to raise awareness of the history and cultures of the individual tribes as well as the danger they are in.
A UNHCR article in 2010 documented how in recent years indigenous communities in conflict zones have seen an increase in murders, death threats and forced recruitment of youths. According to the report, indigenous communities are also among the worst hit by forced displacement – making up 15% of Colombia’s four million internal refugees even though they are only 2% of the population.
An earlier UN report detailed a suspected program of “ethnic cleansing” to make way for drug plantations or “to establish large-scale agro-business ventures, including palm oil plantations and beef cattle production.”
In a statement coinciding with the launch of the UN campaign, the National Organization of Indigenous Peoples of Colombia (ONIC) said, “the confinement, the overcrowding, the displacement, the terror and the death that surrounds us are facts that are besieging… all the indigenous people of Colombia in the current context of physical and cultural extermination that we are living.”
Rebecca Spooner, a Campaigner with Survival International, which works extensively with the Nukak tribe in central Colombia, told Colombia Reports, “the campaign will let lots of people around the world know what is happening in Colombia and the problems the tribes face… But it is up to the government themselves to act to protect [Colombia’s] most vulnerable inhabitants.
Spooner added that to save the tribes it was necessary to provide healthcare, secure land rights and protect their territories from armed groups and illegal colonizers.