Stories articles Policy

Indigenous peoples and police stand in front of a crowd with signs in Loreto, calling for attention to their demands.

Mobilization of the Indigenous communities of Loreto who are calling for attention to their demands. Credit: ORPIO | AIDESEP.

July 10, 2023

Militarization of Indigenous Lands Threatens Indigenous Guardianship

The eyes of the world turned toward the Colombian Amazon when in June 2023 four missing children were found alive after 40 days. After their plane crashed in the Amazon, killing all adults on board including their mother, the Indigenous children survived using their generational knowledge of the rainforest. The Colombian military, along with local volunteers from Indigenous groups, found the children and brought them to safety.

Although this interaction between Indigenous Peoples and military personnel has a happy ending, it doesn’t always happen that way. In the quest for Indigenous rights around the world, clashes between Indigenous guardians and military are a common occurrence.

Two recent reports highlight how harmful it is for Indigenous Peoples to cross paths with military forces occupying their lands: One is published by Nia Tero’s Indigenous partners - Inter-Ethnic Association for the Development of the Peruvian Jungle (AIDESEP) and the Organization of Indigenous Peoples of the Colombian Amazon (OPIAC). And the other is an Inter-American Committee on Human Rights report.

AIDESEP, OPIAC and Nia Tero Report on Militarization of Indigenous Lands

The report – titled “The Impact of Militarization on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples” – is presented by AIDESEP and OPIAC in partnership with Nia Tero. It will be presented in July 2023 in advance of the UN Human Rights Council’s 54th session, slated for September 2023. It is presented will be discussed July 17, 2023 at the 16th session ofto the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (EMRIP), which provides the United Nations Human Rights Council with expertise and advice on the rights of Indigenous Peoples and assists Member States in achieving the goals of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

The report offers an analysis and conclusions regarding the realities that Amazonian Indigenous Peoples face in Colombia and Peru.

They denounce the effects of the presence of military bases in the territories of Amazonian Indigenous Peoples in Colombia, such as:

  • Violation of the rights to life and personal integrity,
  • Violating and restricting individual, collective and territorial rights,
  • Confinement or mobility restrictions,
  • Forced displacement,
  • Violation of the right to free, prior, and informed consent,
  • Armed confrontations between illegal armed groups and the Public Force, among others.

This is the situation in the communities of “La Samaritana” (Puerto Leguízamo -Putumayo), impacting the Murui Nation and, in the community “Vegas de Santana” (Puerto Asís -Putumayo), affecting the Zio Bain (Siona) Nation.

Additionally, there are the violations of specific rights faced by Indigenous women, youth and girls who experience different forms of violence, as:

  • Forced prostitution,
  • Sexual violence,
  • Forced servitude.

AIDESEP warns about the promulgation, violating the right to consultation and free, prior and informed consent of Law No. 31494 through which the "self-defense and rural development committees" are recognized, incorporating them into the structures of Indigenous Peoples. It also alerts about the presence of military contingents in Indigenous communities in response to the social protests and termination/halt of oil activities led by Indigenous communities in... in the “Lote 95” in the District of Puinahua (Loreto).

IACHR Report on Protests in Peru

On May 3, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) issued the "Situation of Human Rights in Peru in the Context of Social Protests" report presenting findings from a working visit held January 11 to 13, 2023.

The IACHR report notes:

  • There has been a widespread deterioration of public debate, with major stigma based on ethnic-racial grounds.
  • The protests (...) reflected demands pressed by (...) Indigenous Peoples, and the State needs to address these demands for equal access to rights without discrimination, and with greater political representation, prior consultation concerning extractive projects, and a fair distribution of the wealth generated by these projects."
  • The response of State forces (...) have included some serious instances involving an excessive use of force.
  • [In specific cases] killings perpetrated by officers of the State may amount to extrajudicial killings [and] they might also amount to a massacre."

Meanwhile, in Colombia, since March 17, 2023, OPIAC declared itself in a permanent assembly due to the "systematic and widespread non-compliance of the current National Government with respect to the agreements signed to date."

This is in addition to the call made to the government to comply with the agreements signed in the consultative process carried out for the National Development Plan 2022 - 2026 and the denouncement of serious and systematic violations of the human rights of Indigenous Peoples. There are more than 500,000 Indigenous victims since the signing of Colombia’s famed Havana Peace Agreement signed in 2016 which sought to address Colombia’s long armed conflict.

A Common Thread

Both reports highlight the criminalization of Indigenous Peoples and their allies to silence their voices and limit their processes of claiming rights.

They also denounce high levels of impunity in the cases of human rights and International Humanitarian Law against Indigenous Peoples violations, which is aggravated in instances of Military Criminal Justice. Indigenous organizations have maintained it is unfeasible to obtain real and effective justice through access to information, effective participation of victims and security guarantees for Indigenous Peoples.

For more information and the latest updates, follow:

Download the report in Spanish below: