In a historic hearing before the IACHR, indigenous and afro-descendant leaders will denounce the serious situation of murders and aggressions against ethnic leaders in Colombia.


Sucre, Bolivia, February 14th, 2019.- Tomorrow, Friday, February 15, indigenous and afro-descendant leaders from Colombia will denounce in a historic hearing before the IACHR the serious situation of homicide, aggressions and threats in which they find themselves.

The Hearing has been requested jointly by the National Indigenous Organization of Colombia (ONIC), the National Association of Displaced Afro-descendants (AFRODES), the Consultancy for Human Rights (CODHES), the Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL) and the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA). The organizations believe that there is an urgent need to implement measures to protect ethnic leaders.

According to the figures of CODHES, in 2018, 58 leaders of ethnic communities were murdered in Colombia, including 34 murders against indigenous and 24 against afro-descendants leaders. 52 of the homicides were directed at men and 6 at women.

The most affected departments with the highest threat for the ethnic leaders are:  Cauca, Valle del Cauca, Chocó, La Guajira, Nariño, Antioquia and Putumayo.

Regarding the aggressions, in 2018 have been recorded 347 aggressions against social leaders throughout the country, of which 149 were against ethnic leaders (21 percent against afro-descendants and 19 percent against indigenous leaders).

Why are ethnic leaders being attacked?

Michel Forst, United Nations Human Rights Rapporteur, warned in his official report on the situation of leaders in Colombia during his visit in 2018 that "In most cases, the threats faced by indigenous peoples are intrinsically related to the defense of their lands and the protection of the environment." The UN Rapporteur has urged the Colombian government to provide state protection and guarantees of non-recurrence with special measures for people of African and Indigenous descent or other ethnic groups.

Marino Córdoba, the leader of AFRODES, says that "Ethnic leaders in Colombia are more exposed to threats because of the work to protect our natural resources and our territories. The history of humanity is linked to territory and ethnic people have a very close relationship with their territory. That is why we resist and work in our communities despite the murders and threats to leaders."

Oscar Montero, leader of ONIC, agrees with Córdoba: "Since the signing of the peace agreement, 100 indigenous leaders have been murdered, 4,000 indigenous people have been confined, we've seen 300 threats towards indigenous and 5,000 displaced indigenous people in Colombia. These leaders defended the territory and their own government, not allowing drug trafficking and the exploitation of natural resources."

2019: situation of social leaders in Colombia worsens

So far this year, 54 politically active people with public and community visibility have been assaulted. 22 of them belonged to ethnic communities: 14 threats, 7 homicides and 1 injury directed at leaders of indigenous people.

The big disproportionate impact on the population is beyond doubt, considering that in Colombia, the ethnic population represents less than 20 percent of the general population.