Dozens of Colombian tribes face extinction, says UN report

A report released by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has warned that at least 34 Colombian tribes face extinction due to continuing violence on their lands, Survival International said this week.

The report found that, “In spite of new efforts by the state…the risk of physical or cultural disappearance remains, and in some cases has risen,” the UK-based charity, which advocates for tribal peoples worldwide, said in a news release.

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The Nukak need “special attention” to survive, according to the United Nations report. © D Hill/ Survival

According to Survival:

An increase in murders, death threats, and the forced recruitment of indigenous youth into armed groups are just some of the dangers reportedly facing Colombia’s Indians.

Internal displacement is also cited as a major issue that disproportionately affects Colombia’s tribal peoples. Of the country’s four million internal refugees, Indians make up 15 percent of the total, despite the fact that they represent just 2 percent of the national population.

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Nukak children near the town of San José del Guaviare.jpg

Just two weeks before the report was released, leader Luis Socarrás Pimienta of the Wayúu tribe was shot dead by an alleged paramilitary outside his home in the northern Colombian province of la Guajira. According to the report, murders of indigenous Colombians rose by 63 percent between 2008 and 2009, and 33 members of Colombia’s Awa tribe were killed in 2009 alone.

More than half of the Nukak have been wiped out since the arrival of coca-growing colonists on their land. 

The Awa are mentioned alongside one of the Amazon’s last nomadic tribes, the Nukak, as requiring “special attention.” More than half of the Nukak have been wiped out since the arrival of coca-growing colonists on their land. The Nukak remain trapped in a cruel limbo between oppressive refugee shelters on the outskirts of a town and the violence-stricken forest.

Nukak woman, Cano Chua, Colombia.jpg

An earlier UN report cites a suspected program of “ethnic cleansing” in the country to make way for illicit crops or “to establish large-scale agro-business ventures, including palm oil plantations and beef cattle production.”

“We can move around less and less, even to hunt or collect food,” said a leader of the recently displaced Wounaan tribe, who blames the presence of armed groups and heightened violence on an influx of coca cultivation in Wounaan territory.

Nukak mother and child, Cano Chua.jpg

Survival International’s director, Stephen Corry, said” “Colombia’s former President lays claim to his successful campaign against violence, yet this report has again illustrated the country’s abysmal record of human rights abuses against its indigenous population. Juan Manuel Santos’ new government must act once and for all to protect its most vulnerable citizens from being wiped out, before it’s too late.”

Posted by David Braun from media material submitted by Survival International.

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More than forty years in U.S., UK, and South African media gives David Max Braun global perspective and experience across multiple storytelling platforms. His coverage of science, nature, politics, and technology has been published/broadcast by the BBC, CNN, NPR, AP, UPI, National Geographic, TechWeb, De Telegraaf, Travel World, and Argus South African Newspapers. He has published two books and won several journalism awards. In his 22-year career at National Geographic he was VP and editor in chief of National Geographic Digital Media, and the founding editor of the National Geographic Society blog, hosting a global discussion on issues resonating with the Society's mission and initiatives. He also directed the Society side of the Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellowship, awarded to Americans seeking the opportunity to spend nine months abroad, engaging local communities and sharing stories from the field with a global audience. A regular expert on National Geographic Expeditions, David also lectures on storytelling for impact. He has 120,000 followers on social media: Facebook  Twitter  LinkedIn