- For the first time, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) will decide on the Colombian State’s responsibility for violating the territorial and cultural rights of the Indigenous people in Colombia.
- The hearing will take place on April 25 and 26, during the 157th session period, in Santiago, Chile.
Bogota-Cubará, Colombia, March 23, 2023 .– After waiting more than 25 years, the U’wa Indigenous Nation will finally be heard by an international tribunal to expose the repeated rights violations they have been victims of. The U’wa Nation inhabits their ancestral territories in the Colombian departments of Arauca, Santander, Casanare, Norte de Santander, and Boyacá.
After decades of seeking justice, the hearing before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) will take place on April 25 and 26, a historic event for the U’wa Nation, which will join a large delegation that will travel to Santiago de Chile to present its case for the first time.
As stated by Heber Tegría, a member of the Uw’a Nation, “this is a decisive moment, not only for the U’wa Nation but also for the other Indigenous peoples of Colombia, because this will be a hearing in which they can be heard in their own voice and through the legitimate exercise of defending their right to life, territory, and cultural integrity, to demand that the Colombian State effectively guarantee their protection as ancestral peoples.”
After appealing to national courts and receiving no response, the U’wa Nation filed its claim before the Inter-American System in 1997. Its participation in a hearing before the IACHR is a milestone considering that the Uw’a are the first Indigenous people to reach the IACHR in a lawsuit against the Colombian State for the violation of their territorial and cultural rights.
In the words of Juliana Bravo Valencia, director of EarthRights’s Amazon team, “the U’wa Nation has been seeking justice for decades for their territory, their autonomy, and their culture to be respected, which is why it is so important that the Inter-American Court listen to them and establish reparation measures that guarantee their survival. This will be the first time that the State of Colombia will respond before an international court for centuries of discrimination and abandonment of Indigenous peoples, as well as for the appropriation and exploitation of the natural resources of their territories. In the midst of the climate crisis afflicting the planet, it is essential that Indigenous peoples be heard and the important work they do in protecting the environment be fully recognized”.
“This is an opportunity for the Colombian State to develop its stated policy of transforming Colombia into a world power of life, and to comprehensively repair a Nation whose rights have been violated for centuries. The U’wa Nation has defended good living, culture, and ancestral territory in the midst of prolonged violence, a consequence of an imposed extractivist development model that conceives the Territory only as an accumulation of resources to be exploited,” said Alejandra Escobar Cortázar, coordinator of the international litigation team of CAJAR.
The reparations sought by the U’wa Nation before the international justice system revolves around four components: restitution measures, measures of satisfaction, guarantees of non-repetition, and compensation measures.
The National Indigenous Organization of Colombia (ONIC) said, “at stake is the recognition of the collective ownership of the ancestral territory that the U’wa have inhabited for centuries and their right to make decisions about it following their worldview. From ONIC, we will continue to accompany their struggle with the objective that the control that extractive companies have exercised in their territory ceases. In this case, we hope the decision will strengthen the rights of all peoples and native nations of Colombia.”
The U’wa hope that the IACHR will rule in their favor and that their case will contribute to the vindication of the rights of ethnic peoples, as this would represent the recognition of the U’wa Nation’s resistance and struggle and their role as guardians of Mother Earth. Furthermore, a favorable ruling could become a precedent for other ancestral peoples in Colombia and the rest of Latin America.
Learn more about the U’wa Nation’s case here:
English language contact:
Kate Fried, EarthRights International
Spanish language contact:
Rosa Arista Zerga, EarthRights International