Tuesday, February 17, 2009

FARC Accept responsibility for Massacre of Awa indians

The ongoing attacks against Colombia's indigenous communities should be condemned regardless of who the actors are perpetrating these atrocities, and regardless of the justification given by those same actors. When an army unit shot and killed the husband of the Chief Counsel of the Regional Indigenous Council of Cauca, CRIC, in mid-December, was it acceptable to us the claim given by the Defense Minister that he did not stop at a military roadblock, hence why the vehicle he was driving was shot at 19 times?

Over the weekend, FARC commanders accepted responsibility for the brutal massacre of eight (8) Awa Indians in the southern department of Nariño, saying the victims were collaborators with the Armed Forces. A total of 21 Awa people were killed in early February, so the FARC are not saying anything about the other 13 victims.

The situation in Nariño, as in other parts of Colombia, is very complex, and involves various armed actors operating on indigenous territory, leading to a constant state of emergency for the people in the region, not to mention a process of almost permanent displacement.

Here is a translation of the declaration released earlier this week by the UNIPA and the National Indigenous Organization of Colombia (ONIC) related to the most recent massacre:

UNIPA and ONIC Denounce Massacre Committed by the FARC Against Members of the Tortugaña Telembi Indigenous Reserve in Barbacoas - Nariño.

  • We call on an integral humanitarian Minga [joining of forces] to enter the massacre site.
  • A humanitarian plan consulted with the participation of the Awá authorities.
  • That the state, the government and the FARC Secratariat make clear their positions.

The Awá People’s Indigenous Unity UNIPA and the ONIC make clear that the serious situation of violations of human rights, of IHL and of the Nariño Awá people’s collective rights is not new; evidence of that are the following facts:

The social, cultural and organizational dynamic of the Awá people was altered with the insurgent armed groups’ [guerrillas'] arrival at the end of the 1990s, when in their haste to impose their armed political project they have committed various violations of our political and territorial autonomy and against human rights. This situation became much more serious with the appearance of paramilitary groups and their actions in favor of economic interests.

It is important to highlight that the growing militarization of our territories in the development of the Democratic Security policy has also made the communities’ situation complex, since the illegal armed groups accuse them [the communities] of being the facilitators of the military’s entry into the territories, and because members of the Army commit human rights violations and IHL infractions, violations of ILO Convention 169, and the directives of the Ministry of Defense.

In the last 10 years, as a consequence of the armed conflict, there have been 5 massive displacements, continuous individual displacements into and out of our territory, cross-border migration, 4 massacres, approximately 200 murders, 50 affected by landmines, kidnappings, arbitrary detentions, accusations of helping armed groups, threats, forced recruitment, blockades of food and medicine, utilization of civilian facilities for military purposes, and pressure on civilians to serve as informants.

All of this has been the subject of permanent denunciation at the national and international level, to such an extent that in 2008 the Ombudsman’s Office [Defensoría del Pueblo] issued Defensorial Resolution 53 demonstrating the seriousness of the Awá people’s situation and proposing a series of recommendations for the State to guarantee this people’s protection, but to date effective measures have not been taken.

Starting in 2008, paramilitary groups’ presence was reactivated in the region, the insurgency’s actions radicalized, and the state’s militarization increased, bringing as a consequence an increase in human rights violations and a deepening of the humanitarian crisis in all of the Awá territory.

With regard to the acts that are the subject of this denunciation, we highlight:

Starting on February 1, the presence of the Army (Cabal [cavalry?] Group, “Mártires de Puerres” Battalion of the 29th Brigade, part of the 3rd Division) was registered in the rural villages of Volteadero and Bravo in the Tortugaña Telembí Reserve (Barbacoas municipality). They abusively entered people’s homes and, through various mistreatments, obligated members of the community to give information about the location of the FARC-EP guerrillas, exposing the community to a situation of powerlessness and fear.

On February 4, armed men with FARC insignia rounded up 20 people (men, women and children), who were tied up and led away to a stream called El Hojal, in the El Bravo community, and they were observed killing some people with knives. Acording to information from the community, these same men returned the next day for the children who remained in the houses, and we don’t know what became of them. Members of the communities inform us that this FARC action was taken in retaliation for soldiers having occupied the indigenous people’s houses, and because they offered collaboration [information about the guerrillas' activities and location].

According to information from the reservation’s communities, on February 5 at 4:00 in the afternoon there was combat between the guerrillas and the Army, during which the latter carried out a bombing between Bravo and the Sabaleta hill, generating great fear in the communities.

On February 6 at 5:00 PM, there was more combat between the Army and the FARC, which began again on the 7th. As a result of all of this, several families have displaced into the interior of the territory and towards Samaniego, Buenavista (Barbacoas), and Planadas Telembí, despite the presence of anti-personnel mines planted by the guerrillas along the different access roads. Meanwhile about 1,300 people are in a situation of confinement, suffering hunger and sickness with a serious impact on the population of children.


We demand that all armed groups respect the lives and rights of Colombia’s indigenous people and that they let us live in peace like before, that they don’t involve us in a war that is not ours and which we don’t support.

That the FARC Secretariat, the commanders of the 29th Front and the Mariscal Sucre column pronounce, before the national and international community, about their resonsibility for these crimes, that they respect the territorial and political autonomy of the Awá people, that they stop mining our territories and that they stop involving indigenous communities in a war that does not belong to them.

That the FARC, if it is holding people, release them immediately and unconditionally.

That the Ministry of Interior and Justice take the measures necessary to clarify what happened as soon as possible.

That the national government, the state and all its institutions recognize the vulnerability of the Awá people as expressed in Defensorial Resolution 53 of June 5, 2008, and that they completely follow each one of its recommendations.

That the Presidency’s Office of Social Action and the Ministry of Interior implement an ethnic safeguard plan for the Awá indigenous nation, respecting the right to prior consultation in accord with finding 004 of the Constitutional Court.

That the National Army, in the development of its operations, observe strict compliance with human rights and IHL norms, as well as the Defense Ministry’s directives with regard to intervention in indigenous territories.

We call on the United Nations, human rights organizations, social organizations, state institutions, international NGOs, oversight bodies and indigenous organizations to accompany us in the development of an INTEGRAL HUMANITARIAN MINGA [joining of forces] to verify what occurred, and to save the lives of our indigenous brothers at risk.

That the Inspector-General of the Nation [Procuraduría] follow up with each institution to ensure that they are fulfilling the responsibilities that correspond to them.


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