Rights of indigenous communities and their legal protection

Derechos de las comunidades indígenas

According to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights: “According to official figures, there are nearly 600,000 indigenous people in Colombia, whom the State considers invaluable national heritage as cultural and social wealth. They are organized into 81 groups, speak 75 different languages and inhabit 25% of the national territory.”

Thus, in Colombia, indigenous communities enjoy specific rights recognized in the Constitution and national legislation, in order to protect their cultural identity, territories and traditional ways of life. Some of the main rights of indigenous communities in Colombia are:

  1. Right to Autonomy and Self-Determination: Indigenous communities have the right to preserve and develop their own institutions, systems of government and ways of life in accordance with their traditions and cultures.
  2. Right to Prior Consultation: Before any legislative or administrative measure that may directly affect indigenous communities and their territories, the State must carry out a free, prior and informed consultation with the affected communities to obtain their consent.
  3. Right to Land and Territories: Indigenous communities have the right to collective ownership of their ancestral lands and territories, recognized by the State and protected against third parties.
  4. Right to Culture and Education: Indigenous communities have the right to maintain and develop their culture, language, religion and traditions. In addition, they have the right to receive bilingual and intercultural education.
  5. Right to Health and Social Services: Indigenous communities have the right to receive adequate and culturally appropriate health services, as well as other social services that respect their practices and worldview.
  6. Right to Political Participation: Indigenous communities have the right to participate in decision-making on matters that affect them, both locally and nationally.
  7. Right to state intervention for conflict resolution: Indigenous communities have the right to the preservation of multiculturalism; therefore, in the event of conflict between groups, the State may intervene by carrying out a prior consultation in which all indigenous people have the opportunity to participate in order to resolve the conflict.

The protection of the rights of indigenous communities in Colombia is supported by the Political Constitution of 1991 and the Law for the Development of Indigenous Peoples (Law 21 of 1991). In addition, Colombia ratified Convention 169 of the International Labor Organization (ILO) on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples, which reinforces the State’s obligation to protect and respect the rights of indigenous communities.

In order to guarantee the legal protection of the rights of indigenous communities in the country, several measures have been established, among them:

  1. Legal and Territorial Recognition: The State legally recognizes and protects the ancestral territories of indigenous communities, granting them collective property rights and the possibility of administering and protecting these territories in accordance with their own norms and systems.
  2. Prior Consultation: Before carrying out projects or measures that may directly affect indigenous communities and their territories, prior consultation is carried out with the affected communities, respecting their autonomy and right to decide on matters that concern them.
  3. Specific Institutions: Specific governmental entities and mechanisms have been created to attend to and work with indigenous communities, promoting their participation and representation in matters of interest to them.
  4. Specific Programs and Policies: Specific public programs and policies have been developed to improve the social, economic, cultural and health conditions of indigenous communities, with an intercultural approach.
  5. Specialized Judicial System: Colombia has specialized judges and courts to hear conflicts and cases related to the rights of indigenous communities, ensuring an appropriate and respectful approach to their culture and worldview.

Despite these efforts, indigenous communities in Colombia still face significant challenges in the protection of their rights, including violence, forced displacement, exploitation of their natural resources and lack of effective implementation of protection measures. It is essential that the State and society continue to work together to ensure that the rights of these valuable and diverse communities are fully respected and protected.