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Protected indigenous reserves
Latinamerica Press
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Constitutional Court faults government officials for ignoring years of pleas from the indigenous community to define its borders

After 14 years, Colombia’s Constitutional Court (CC) has ordered the Ministry of Agriculture and the Colombian Rural Development Institute (INCODER) to delineate and assign the lands to create the indigenous reserve of Marimba Tuparro for the Sikuani and Mapayerry communities in the eastern department of Vichada.

According to the Aug. 27 ruling by the CC, the proceedings to form the reserve “have taken an unreasonable amount of time as 14 years have passed since the request was first made to INCODER, without any visit to the territory or socio-economic study. This oversight by the state authorities has put the cultural and ethnic identity of the community at risk,” and also “have profoundly ignored their freedom to self-determination and government.”

According to the Colombian constitution, the indigenous resguardos, or reserves, are a legal and sociopolitical institution of colonial origin that belong to the communities and have an inalienable and imprescriptible character.  
They are not subject to seizures, and are made up of one or more indigenous communities that, with a community property title, possess a territory for their management. They govern themselves with their own norms and cultural traditions. There are 642 indigenous resguardos in the country.

INCODER’s failure to act violates the fundamental right to due process by not addressing the case in a reasonable timeframe, and as a result, “infringes on the fundamental right to a life of dignity, cultural identity, self-determination of indigenous peoples, the collective territory of the indigenous community, and to be beneficiaries of resources to ensure their population´s health and education rights,” the CC added.

In Jan. 1999, Sikuani leaders began the process with the Colombian Institute for Agrarian Reform (INCORA, which in 2002 was replaced by INCODER) to create the reserves of Marimba Tuparro and Arizon Cupepe. In October 2000, INCORA requested information on the location of the proposed reserves, the communities that lives in the reserves, map of the territory, and areas with presence of non-indigenous settlers. The indigenous communities turned over the documents, and in 2004 they repeated their request for recognition after receiving no response from the government.

In 2007, there was a massive invasion in Marimba Tuparro by coca growers fleeing aerial spraying in nearby villages. The Mapayerry destroyed the coca crops and the settlers’ laboratories, after which the community was threatened and forced to move. They returned to their lands two years later even though the coca growers were still there.

Order of protection
On Oct. 17, 2013, the indigenous population of Marimba Tuparro requested an order of protection from the CC in which it stated that the unjustified inaction in their cases with INCORA and INCODER, “has turned the indigenous territory into a conflict zone between indigenous communities, coca growers, and illegal armed groups who believe they can intervene and decide. As a result, the indigenous population is being threatened by the armed actors, has been partially displaced by them, and their natural resources, food sources, and sacred sites are being destroyed.”

The CC stated in its ruling that the state is obligated to “guarantee the access to these lands, their borders and deeds, in accordance with the standards of due process, within a reasonable time. A contrary action by the corresponding state authorities creates a threat to the fundamental rights and exposes the applicant´s indigenous community to increased vulnerability by the absence of a duly recognized territory and protection by a collective deed in which to exercise their culture and worldview.”

“For the indigenous communities, the historically occupied territory and its natural resources don’t have a commercial purpose; the indigenous communities’ lands are not — as a general rule — used for production, nor are they an object on which dominance or mere economic exploitation is exercised; for indigenous peoples the territory has a deeper meaning, it is the space in which they perform their vital activities and with which they interact, and thus is closely linked to their existence and survival as culturally distinct groups, from the religious, political, social and economic perspective. For that reason, the recognition of the rights to property, possession, and use of the lands and territories occupied ancestrally in a collective manner is fundamental for their continuance and survival,” the CC ruled.

In addition to ordering INCODER to take preventative and protective actions it considers necessary to “avoid that the territories in dispute are occupied by third parties” while the reserves are established, the CC demanded that the Office of the Ombudsman and the Attorney General’s Office advise, accompany and monitor the process.
—Latinamerica Press

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