Awas Massacred: The Civil Population and the Indigenous Territories are Attacked
[ 03/05/2009] [ Source: COMUNIDAD INJUSTICIAS ] [ Authors: Gloria Patricia Lopera Mesa and Nicolas Ceballos Bedoya]
With the same energy with which we condemn the extermination and displacement of indigenous and campesino populations by the army and the paramilitaries, we must raise our voices when this violence is perpetrated by the guerillas.
It’s not the first time that the guerillas strike the indigenous population. That’s a fact. Cases of FARC homicides of indigenous people in Cauca, as well as ELN murders of U’was in Catatumbo back in 2004 are well known. And to that, we can add the kidnapping of three Awas in 2008 and the planting of mines in the lands of this tribe in Narino.
As denounced by ACIN, the massacre of Awas is part of a strategy of terror, this time used by those who claim to be the “people’s army.” But the strategy has been part and parcel of all the actors in the conflict and of some mining multinationals. It is meant to ensure control over strategic areas, in this case, the land of the Awa people, a privileged region blessed with the natural wealth of the Amazonian hillsides and, in turn, close to the Pacific basin.
As has been the case with other deplorable cases in which the guerrillas have remained silent or have even openly denied committing acts which have later been demonstrated to have been perpetrated by them —as was the case of the massacre of the former representatives of the Valle departmental assembly— at least in this case, they have acknowledged their involvement in some of the deaths. However, their justification is totally unacceptable. They state that they did not kill them because they were indigenous people, but rather, because they were army collaborators. Even in this, the Farc are no different from the armed actors on the other side of the conflict, and who have used the exact same excuse here and in other areas of the country for the assassination of indigenous people and campesinos, accusing them of being guerrilla collaborators.
It may seem obvious, but due to the special sensitivities that the massacre of the Awa has stirred up, it should be remembered that the reason for condemning these deaths is not that the victims were indigenous persons. The key reason for condemning the Farc massacre is that it was an attack against the civilian population, caught in the middle of two armies which claim to defend civilians but whose presence, instead of being a mechanism for their protection, has become a permanent threat. The Farc’s justification is neither ethical nor legally admissible, since it involves the murder of persons who were neither in combat nor in equality of arms with those they face, a clear violation of the rules of international humanitarian law as embodied in the expanded Geneva protocol.
Furthermore, in addition to being an attack against the civilian population, the Awa massacre bears evidence of violating the duty to respect indigenous territories, which binds all actors involved in the armed conflict. Regarding the latter, article 18 of the ILO’s 169 Agreement forbids any unauthorized incursion into indigenous territories and, even more vehemently, article 30 of the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, prohibits carrying out military activities in indigenous territories without previously consulting with the peoples affected. Although the latter instrument has not been signed by the Colombian government, citing precisely the rejection of the obligation to consult all incursions into indigenous territories, the Declaration contains a set of demands that ought to be respected by all of the actors in the conflict, particularly by those who have taken up arms to challenge the legitimacy of the Colombian State. For this reason, they should submit to more exacting ethical standards in order to truly differentiate themselves from the institutions whose legitimacy they question. And, as regards the State, respect for the territorial autonomy of the indigenous people is to be brought into line with the constitutional duty to protect all Colombians, in such a way as to ensure that the latter does not serve as a reason for the public armed forces to enter into indigenous territories without consultation, but rather, that it be understood as the duty to support the authorities of the indigenous peoples to ensure security within their territories only when so requested.
The clear intent of the indigenous organizations and of the Awa leaders, as expressed in their statements, is that they do not wish to be involved in the conflict, and in their statements they demand that all of the armed actors withdraw from their territories. This position, which is consistent with what the indigenous peoples in southern Colombia have stated for decades, contradicts the Farc’s explanations and removes all legitimacy from the Minister of Defense’s criticisms of the Farc’s silence.
The commitment by the armed actors to respect the indigenous population shall only gain credibility when all fighting within their territories ceases. To the extent that any party breaches this obligation, they will place the population living in these territories at risk, since by being there the opposing side would also show up. Respect for the autonomy of the indigenous territories, as well as for the life, integrity and freedom of the civilian population that lives in and outside of these territories, thus represents the first step that the Farc, and, in fact, all armed groups need to take in order to humanize the civil war that our country is suffering and, hopefully, some day, will end.