During February 2009, 27 members of the Awá community were murdered in the south of Colombia and an unknown number of other indigenous Awá people, including several children, were taken hostage. It appears that the perpetrators of these crimes are members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), which accuses the Awá people of collaborating with the Colombian army. According to indigenous organisations, the army, for its part, has been conducting operations in the area since 1 February and has been threatening the indigenous populations in order to obtain information about FARC guerillas, thereby forcing the Awá to move.
The Awá people live in the department of Nariño, a region characterised by its great biodiversity. This land is of considerable economic interest owing to its large-scale plantations of rubber and above all African palms, which produce palm oil for export. It is also sought after for its resources of zinc, gold, copper, silver and platinum. The construction of a road across the Awá people’s land has rendered their situation even more explosive and precarious, and to make matters worse, the region is a corridor for drug trafficking.
On 10 August 2008, representatives of the Awá people described the threats facing their communities to several Colombian civil servants as well as delegates from the United Nations and human rights organisations. Since September 2008, 44 indigenous Awá have been murdered, 17 of them on 4 February this year and 10 on 11 February.
The indigenous people of Colombia are victims of all the armed groups involved in the Colombian conflict : the army, guerilla movements, paramilitaries, all of whom are trying to control their territories. All the parties in this conflict, which has been going on since the mid-1960s, attack primarily civilian populations in violation of international humanitarian law ; all have committed war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Although the number of civilian victims has fallen in recent years, tens of thousands have died since the beginning of the conflict, thousands have been abducted or have "disappeared" and between three and four million people are still displaced within the country, unable to return home due to violence and continued threats. The number of internally displaced continues to rise. In September 2007, nearly a thousand indigenous Awá, almost half of them children, were forced to leave the Inda Sabaleta reserve in the department of Nariño following clashes between the army and guerilla groups.
According to the National Indigenous Organisation of Colombia (ONIC), as at 13 February, 58 indigenous people had already been murdered in Colombia since the beginning of 2009.
Translation of the letter
Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture (ACAT) in Luxembourg has informed me of the murder in February this year of 27 indigenous Awá in the department of Nariño. According to the National Indigenous Organisation of Colombia (ONIC), the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) killed 17 Awá on 4 February and 10 more on 11 February. According to my information, an unknown number of indigenous Awá have also been abducted, including several minors.
This intentional murder of civilians constitutes a war crime and another tragic example of the large number of serious violations of international humanitarian law and of the human rights of the indigenous communities by all the parties involved (guerrilla groups, paramilitaries and security forces) in Colombia’s long-running armed conflict.
I would therefore urge the Colombian authorities to :
• do all in their power to obtain the release of the indigenous Awá who have been abducted, especially the children ;
• immediately launch an in-depth investigation into the murders in order to bring those responsible to justice ;
• guarantee the safety of the humanitarian committee tasked with verifying the facts on the ground ;
• take effective measures to compel all the parties in the conflict to respect the right to life of indigenous peoples and of civilian populations in general and ensure that they will not be dragged into the conflict against their will.
Thank you in advance for considering my appeal.
Yours sincerely and respectfully.