Colombia: Crimes against humanity against indigenous people in Sierra Nevada must be punished

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(Paris, Bogota) 25 October 2021 - On the occasion of the visit to Colombia of the new Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), Mr. Karim Khan, to continue the ICC’s monitoring of the preliminary examination of the situation in Colombia, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the José Alvear Restrepo Lawyers’ Collective (Cajar) call on the ICC to maintain the preliminary examination, to assess the relevance and authenticity of judicial proceedings into those most responsible for crimes against humanity and, if no significant progress is found, to move on to the investigation stage.

They present a report on crimes against humanity against the indigenous peoples of Sierra Nevada of Santa Marta

As part of an effort to document international crimes and impunity, FIDH and Cajar will be submitting today the report "The wound in the heart of the world: Crimes against humanity committed against indigenous peoples of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, Colombia". In doing so, they call the Office of the Prosecutor of the ICC to prioritise the monitoring of cases where victims belong to indigenous groups and call on the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP) to open a macro-case that considers the impact of mass killings against indigenous people and the role of Colombian security forces in the expansion of paramilitary groups.

As revealed by the report FIDH and CAJAR publish today, 180 members of indigenous groups of the Sierra Nevada of Santa Marta, Colombia were victims of crimes against humanity perpetrated between 2002 and 2009, by the Colombian army and by paramilitary groups.

These crimes were perpetrated as part of a systematic attack against the civilian population of the Sierra Nevada, putting at serious risk the physical and spiritual survival of the Wiwa, Kankuamo, Arhuaco and Kogui indigenous people, guardians of the heart of the world, the Sierra Nevada of Santa Marta.

The report identifies the existence of two patterns: murders committed against indigenous people by members of the army in the form of “false positives” and murders committed directly by paramilitary groups, with the support, tolerance, or acquiescence of the State. These facts involve the line of command of the Second Brigade, the Tenth Brigade, and the First Division of the Colombian National Army. The investigation is based on information obtained through documentation workshops, documentation provided by indigenous groups themselves, collective litigation on these crimes, and an FIDH fact-finding mission.

The selection of members of indigenous communities as victims of “false positives” by the military reveals that these crimes have a racist and stigmatising dimension. The report also details that, of the 180 murders, 46 correspond to “false positives” and 134 to murders by paramilitaries. These 134 murders have gone almost entirely unpunished due to the extradition of paramilitary leaders responsible for them, their non-cooperation with the Justice and Peace tribunals and the lack of investigation about the state actors that tolerated or supported those crimes. While the JEP has proceeded with the investigation of some murders of indigenous peoples of the Sierra Nevada of Santa Marta directly attributable to state agents as “false positives”, to date there have been no prosecutions or sentences incriminating the high-level leaders of the Colombian armed forces responsible, by action or omission, for these crimes.

The end of impunity and access to the truth about the crimes against humanity described in this report constitute an essential guarantee for the non-repetition of these murders. The current situation in the Sierra Nevada continues to present severe risks for the survival of its indigenous peoples.

Today, a reconfiguration of forces is taking place in the area, at the hands of armed groups that control the main licit and illicit activities in the Sierra in search of greater territorial control, some of which maintain links with former paramilitary groups. The current reconfiguration has caused the destruction of cultural property, killings of community supporters, control of mobility, forced recruitment of minors, and forced displacement of the population. It is important to remember that in 2020, 47 indigenous leaders were assassinated, adding to the 262 indigenous leaders assassinated since the signing of the peace agreements.

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