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The history of exploitation of the U’wa territory is a massive violation to human rights and Indigenous sovereignty.

The U’wa are an Indigenous people living in northeast Colombia. As the “Guardians of Mother Earth,” their sacred duty is to protect and preserve the environment.

For decades, they’ve had to fight to protect their territory from extractive companies like Occidental Petroleum and Ecopetrol threatening to extract oil and gas from their ancestral territory. With the U’wa’s free, prior, and informed consent, the Colombian government has signed deals with powerful corporations to extract oil from the subsoil of the U’wa’s land, violating their territorial and cultural rights.

Not only does the continued exploitation of fossil fuels destroy our climate, but it is also a direct assault on the culture of the U’wa. For the U’wa, oil, gas, coal, and other minerals are sacred. The U’wa believe that as “Guardians of Mother Earth and Life,” they must maintain the balance between the sky, earth, and subsoil, all of which are incredibly sacred. The U’wa’s culture and spirituality are interlinked with the sky, land, and subsoil. Extracting those sacred minerals will poison their water, rupture their ecosystems, unravel their culture, and lead to species extinction, including humans.

Earlier this year, supported by EarthRights, the U’wa took their case against the Colombian State to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights – the highest court in Latin America.

After decades of the Colombian government ignoring and disrespecting their rights, the U’wa have turned to the international community for help securing justice and reparations for years of dispossession and violence.

Seeking Justice

In 1997, the case was brought before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. EarthRights joined as a co-petitioner along with AsoU’wa, supporting the U’wa Nation in its quest for justice. 

After more than 25 years, the case was finally heard before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in a public hearing in Chile in April 2023.