- Colombia and Ecuador are implementing a system designed to alert about risks of violence against residents who live near the border, many of whom are Awá Indigenous people.
- Since last August, thousands of Awá have been forcibly displaced or suffered threats, intimidation, torture or forced recruitment by organized crime groups participating in drug trafficking and illegal mining.
- Many Awá live in extremely biodiverse areas that serve as corridors to other parts of the Amazon. But they’ve struggled to protect their ancestral land.
Colombia and Ecuador are implementing a new joint alert system along their shared border in an effort to increase protections for Indigenous communities suffering violent attacks from organized crime groups.
The two countries announced a system designed to improve information-sharing and make alerts about risks of violence against residents who live near the border, many of whom are Awá Indigenous people.
“We’re hoping to alert the Colombian and Ecuadorian state about this string of rights violations so they’ll take the necessary and urgent measures, and prevent the continuing violation of human rights happening on both sides of the border,” Ecuador Ombudsman César Córdova Valverde said at a press conference in Bogotá.
There are around 29,000 Awá in the area, according to the Colombian Ombudsman office. Since last August, more than 10,000 of them have been forcibly displaced or suffered threats, intimidation, torture or forced recruitment, according to the Human Rights Observatory of the Awá People’s Indigenous Unit (Unipa). There were also 14 deaths.
Organized crime has run rampant along the Colombian-Ecuador border for years, with a weak or non-existent government presence making it easy for guerrilla and drug trafficking groups to move back and forth across the border as they cultivate coca and mine gold illegally. The activities have contributed to what the UN called “physical and cultural extermination” of the Awá.
Ombudsmen from both countries urged Colombia’s Ministry of the Interior and Ecuador’s Ministry of Women and Human Rights — as well as both foreign ministries — to do more to ensure the safety of Indigenous people in the area, including making use of the new alert system.
The National Liberation Army (ELN) — as well as dissident factions of the former Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) — have helped make the Colombian departments of Putumayo and Nariño some of the country’s leading areas for coca cultivation, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.
In Ecuador, illegal mining — much of it artisanal — started to pop up around 2017, according to officials, with thousands of people migrating from other parts of the country to participate in the gold rush. There was so little action by the government that the Awá have, in some instances, organized their own resistance movements against mining, often putting themselves in harm’s way.
The Awá are on the frontlines of a battle to protect some of the region’s most biodiverse provinces. Putumayo has more than a thousand species of birds — accounting for more than half of the bird species in Colombia — and the largest number of primate species, according to the Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development. The area is also important for connecting ecosystems to other parts of the Amazon and the Orinoquía.
Mining on Ecuador’s Punino River has resulted in 217 hectares (536 acres) of deforestation since November 2019, with a majority of it occurring last year, suggesting that the situation is getting worse, according to a February Amazon Conservation report.
“A porous border, with gaps in state presence, favors the interests of illegal groups working in coca, illegal mining, illegal logging of the forest and other illicit economies,” said Colombia Ombudsman Carlos Camargo Assis at the press conference.
Banner image: A joint announcement of the alert system was made in Bogota. Photo courtesy of the Defensoría del Pueblo de Colombia.
FEEDBACK: Use this form to send a message to the author of this post. If you want to post a public comment, you can do that at the bottom of the page.