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Indigenous group recovers territory
Latinamerica Press
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Court orders restitution of 50,0000 hectares to indigenous community from mining concessions.

In what is viewed as a historic ruling, the Civil Chamber Specialized in Land Restitution of the Medellin Superior Court ordered on Sept. 23 the restitution of land rights to the Embera Katio people of the Andágueda River reserve in the municipality of Bagadó, in the western department of Chocó.

The decision benefits 1,454 indigenous families and 7,270 people who were compelled to abandon their lands because of mining activities, forced recruitment and threats from armed groups.

“This is the first time in the country and in the world that an indigenous community threatened with extinction due to the physical and cultural impact of the armed conflict and the factors that are underlying and linked to it, achieved through a court decision the recognition of the fundamental rights to territory, self-government and self-determination, among others, which were being violated as a result of abandonment, confinement and dispossession from ancestral lands for the Embera Katio community,” said a statement by the Special Administrative Unit for Land Restitution (URT) of the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development.

Court proceedings began last February when the URT filed the lawsuit; it ended with the ruling that removes 11 gold mining companies from that area of the country.

The Colombian Institute for Agrarian Reform (INCORA) established the Andágueda River reserve in December 1979. Nevertheless, starting in 2008 the administration under former president Álvaro Uribe (2002-2010) began an intense campaign of granting mining concessions in areas that overlapped with the reserve, ultimately handing over 62 percent of the 55,000 hectares of indigenous territory.

Prior consultation
“It´s a landmark ruling in the country’s history because these communities have been victimized for many years and unfortunately did not have a mechanism with which they could protect their land,” said URT Director Ricardo Sabogal. “This ruling is the first where a judge of the Republic ordered restitution of land to an ethnic community that has suffered greatly.”

Sabogal added that, “in this area, all the world´s ills came together to impact this community: violence displaced them, then the criminal illegal mining arrived and forced them off their territory. Thanks to this court decision, they will be able to return to their lands.”

The URT Director states that any mining activity on the land must be done legally.

“If [the companies] are going to act, they will have to conduct a prior consultation with the community so they can participate in the decisions that affect their land. The time has come to take rights seriously, the rights of indigenous communities. Their territory must be respected and for that there is the restorative policy of the Unit for Land Restitution.”

Moreover, the ruling orders that national, departmental, and municipal courts guarantee the return of the displaced community, and that the mining and environmental authorities, develop diagnostics for each of the projects that exploit natural resources within the reserve. It also voids any title deeds within the indigenous territory, and rejects applications for new mining concessions. —Latinamerica Press.

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