Monday, November 21, 2011

Mandate of Umunukunu: Message from the Elder Brothers

Presented to the 7th Inter-American Dialogue on Water Management
Medellin, Colombia
November 13-19, 2011

In Nabusímake, on February 13, 2010, at the General Assembly of the Pueblo Arhuaco, with our authorities and Mamos and fully gathered, decide to endorse and adopt as a position statement the text of the document titled "MANDATE OF SÉYNIMIN KA'DUKWU (GWI'GAKA) CONCERNING THE CARE AND USE OF THE WATERS OF THE SIERRA NEVADA OF SANTA MARTA " presented by the Mamos of the Eastern Zone of the Reservation, for the care and use of the waters of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, whose contents is as follows:

In Kunkurwa of Gwi'gaka (Séynimin), one of the four main centers of learning and spirituality of Arhuaco territory, the Mamos of the Eastern Zone, accompanied by the authorities of each region and in analysis of the situation presented in our ancestral territory of the Sierra Nevada, in relation to the care and use of waters, the following positions which originate from the Kaku Jina, who are the elders of our spiritual world that defend the Arhuaco and the natural laws that govern the territory.

This position is the Mandate that our authorities must enforce and Younger Brother must respect, for they apply to our territory and therefore should be recognized by law enforcement institutions from local to regional and national levels, especially those that are part of the state and thus realize the obligation to recognize and protect the culture of all ethnicities in all manifestations, by virtue of constitutional mandate.


The waters are the lifeblood of Mother Earth.  Water functions to avoid heating, cooling the earth and its environment, balancing the actions of the fire element.  Water is a Life Force that emanates from our Mother, from our spiritual origin.  Is the Mother that gives instructions on how to care for and make use of water, so that it is not depleted and may have always have the conditions to live.
But the Younger Brother now has invented laws for the management of the waters, and is trying to enforce them also in our territory.  We understand your concerns and share these, but this is not the way to protect the waters, at least in our territory.  Applying these standards would be one more act of aggression against our environment and an insult to the Spiritual Mother, which could lead to an increased scarcity of water and the occurrence of cyclones and hurricanes.

Although the adverse situation under which we have lived due to the Younger Brother's actions, has not allowed us to fully comply with the mandate of the Spiritual Mother, we have been persisted and the effect can be seen in the normal flow of water and rainfall patterns in our territory, not so in the territory of the younger brother, where the river waters flood and rainfall are in short supply. 

This is due to the mismanagement of the natural environment and especially waters, which interrupt the cycle of currents flowing from the Sierra Nevada and dying on the journey before reaching the sea, where they must complete their function of balance, of cooling and re-nutrition.  Thus, the seawater tends to warm and the ice pack of the Sierra Nevada tends to disappear.  For the same reason of the effect of heat, earthquakes and hurricanes ensue, and we have the disappearance of many species.  More damaging still is the construction of dams or reservoirs, something we cannot permit, at least within not within our ancestral territories.  No dams or reservoirs that disrupt the normal flow of water should be built, as this would force the renunciation of our reason for being on the planet and we would become complicit in the rapid deterioration and violation of the natural conditions for the life of all species. Today, many animal and plant species of both land and water are disappearing.

The construction project of the dam of in Los Bezotes is a threat to the life of all beings Guatapurí river basin in the territory of the Sierra Nevada and the surrounding plains.  If it should materialize, the negative effects would appear slowly and later would be irreversible.

The Indigenous Peoples of the Sierra Nevada and all those who love nature and life must unite to stop the Bezotes Reservoir project which is an assault on the natural world.  The Mamos Arhuaco offer their support and spiritual protection for the protection of the gifts of nature given by the Creator.

Help us comply with this mandate of the spiritual fathers (Kaku Jina) for the good of all peoples, the future generations and all life on the planet.
For the record: Signed in Gwi'gaka (Séynimin) Sierra Nevada, the first day of November 2009. (Original signed by Mamos and authorities of the Eastern Zone).

The position here taken against water management plans, in terms of the construction of reservoirs and dams and the arguments set forth in the above text are given with the full support of the other Mamos and authorities of the Arhuaco territory, having found that the foundations of our traditional knowledge outlined here, apply not only regarding the concerns of the Guatapurí River basin, but this position serves as valid for the entire ancestral territory of the Pueblo Arhuaco, and therefore we officialize this text as General Position Statement of the Arhuaco to serve as guideline in analogous situations in any location of our ancestral territory.

For the record, signed in Nabusímake, Resguardo Arhuaco on the thirteenth day of February, two thousand ten.

Inter American Commission of Human Rights
2010 Report

160.  The indigenous peoples of Colombia have complained before various international instances that among the risk factors that currently threaten their physical and cultural existence are the infrastructural and economic exploitation projects that are being planned and implemented within their territories, without due respect for their individual and collective rights, and in certain cases accompanied by violence by armed groups.

161.  As the Constitutional Court has explained, the development of infrastructure megaprojects or large-scale exploitation of the natural resources has been linked, in various cases, to the violence committed against the indigenous communities by armed groups participating in the conflict.   In this sense, the Court has described the development of economic activities on indigenous territories as one of the socio-economic and territorial processes connected with the armed conflict that have a disproportionate impact on the indigenous population; and explained in this respect that in various cases, the armed actors interested in the development of economic exploitation or infrastructural megaprojects on indigenous lands have employed violence strategically against the indigenous peoples, in order to silence their opposition and seize their lands.   In August 2010, the United Nations System in Colombia requested the State "to adopt special precautionary measures to protect the integrity and right to life of the indigenous leaders participating in consultations on economic projects and defending the indigenous territory in consultation processes held in municipalities identified by the Ombudsman’s Early Warning System (SAT) as facing an elevated risk of violence."   The State informed the IACHR that regarding previous consultations on projects with communities in municipalities with early warning systems, "the previous consultation group of the Ministry of the Interior and Justice has identified the projects with a view to fulfilling the role of guarantor of the fundamental right of prior consultation and through the same channel coordinate the inter-institutional guarantee and protection of the rights to life, liberty, security, and integrity of the ethnic groups that inhabit those areas.”

162.  As concerns the infrastructure projects, it is known that Colombia plans to construct or has started the construction work on a number of large-scale ventures, such as hydroelectric dams, ports or irrigation zones.  In addition, it has become involved in infrastructural integration processes in Latin America, such as the Integration Initiative of the South American Regional Infrastructure (IIRSA).*  Multiple far-reaching infrastructure projects will be built on indigenous territories, or will impact on them directly; such is the case, for example, of the Los Bezotes Dam, the Río Ranchería Reservoir and the Brisa Multipurpose Port, which will profoundly affect the lands of the indigenous Arhuaco, Kogui, Wiwa and Kankuamo peoples of the Sierra Nevada of Santa Marta, and the Wayúu, of la Guajira.

163.  The exploration initiatives and mineral  and hydrocarbon  mining operations adopted by the National Government have also caused great concern among the indigenous peoples, since they will affect many ancestral lands.  Among the foreseeable effects of these projects are profound ecological degradation, damage to or destruction of sacred sites, the influx of non-indigenous actors onto the territories, and the impact on the social organization structures of the respective peoples .

164.  One of the areas of greatest concern for the indigenous peoples of the country has been the prior consultation procedures.  Even though Colombia has a relatively sophisticated regulatory framework in this area , according to the ONIC, "consultation has been turned into a constant political and cultural struggle for some peoples, and the main cause of conflict and divisions within the organizations."  Indigenous peoples have often reiterated and made public their complaints that the Government merely views prior consultations as formal procedures to be exhausted in order to push through investment and development projects or mining concessions within ancestral lands, without giving substantive consideration to the positions of the peoples and communities affected, even when the latter demonstrate their opposition to the project under consultation.  In addition, Colombian indigenous peoples have complained that during the prior consultation processes, the concessionaries or the companies hoping to obtain a concession exert themselves in order to gain the goodwill of community members by offering small handouts or material inducements, therefore taking advantage of their basic needs and the neglect by the State.

165.  In 2010, the Constitutional Court decided to suspend operations on the Mandé Norte mining project that would have affected an area of great spiritual significance for the Embera people, affecting more than eleven communities of the Río Murindó and Uradá Jiguamiandó reserves, since there had been no prior consultation processes in accordance with the State of Colombia's international and constitutional obligations.   The IACHR was informed that the Government contested the validity of this decision before the full Court, and a decision on this appeal is pending .  The IACHR recalls that under the Inter-American Human Rights instruments, investment or development plans or projects or concessions for mining natural resources on indigenous land that (i) are large-scale and (ii) might cause a profound impact on the living conditions of the communities or peoples affected, not only require prior consultation in good faith, in an informed and culturally adequate way, but also require the consent of the respective indigenous peoples.

166.  In terms of the right to land, continued and worsening territorial disputes have also been reported between indigenous peoples and communities and settlers or other non-indigenous individuals interested in seizing their ancestral lands.  The State has failed to respond actively and to protect the indigenous peoples from acts of violence aimed at driving them off their lands.  Thus, for example, there was a complaint about a skirmish occurring between various settlers and indigenous people on October 9, 2010, on the Yukpa people's Iroka Reserve, in the Serranía del Perijá, Cesar Department.  As a consequence of this, the Yukpa leader, Isaías Montes, was killed with a machete and the indigenous Omar Franco and Juan García, among others, were seriously injured.   The IACHR emphasizes that indigenous peoples have the right to be protected by the State from attack by third parties, especially when these attacks occur in the context of conflicts for ancestral lands.   In cases such as this, the State authorities have the duty to (i) prevent these conflicts from occurring, (ii) protect the indigenous communities from violent attack, and (iii) effectively investigate and punish the perpetrators.

167.  The protection of the right to property over land under Article 21 of the American Convention, has particular importance for indigenous peoples, since the guarantee of the right to territorial property is a fundamental platform for the development of the indigenous communities' culture, spiritual life, integrity and economic survival.   It constitutes a prerequisite for the rights to live in conditions of dignity, to food, to water, to health,  to honor and dignity, and to free movement and residence.

For the IACHR "the protection of the right to property of indigenous peoples over their ancestral lands is a matter of special importance, since its effective enjoyment involves not only protecting an economic entity but the protection of the human rights of a collective who bases its economic, social and cultural development in relation to its land."

The Inter-American Court, in turn, has underlined the fact that territorial rights of indigenous peoples are related to "the collective right to survival as an organized people, controlling their environment as a necessary condition for their cultural growth, for their own development and for realizing their life goals."   The IACHR calls upon the State of Colombia to redouble its efforts to protect the effective enjoyment of indigenous peoples of their right to land, as a first step to ensure their fundamental rights in the context of the internal armed conflict.

 *  Criticism of the South American Regional Infrastructure Project
According to Conservation International scientist Tim Killeen, who conducted a study on the IIRSA, the current plans could lead to the destruction of the Amazon rainforest and have profound and far-reaching consequences.

The study shows that cutting and burning of the forests could seriously imperil the multibillion-dollar agriculture industry of the Rio Plata basin, as well as destroy the ecosystems that are home to indigenous people. According to the study, the IIRSA would also wipe out some of Earth’s richest storehouses of terrestrial and freshwater life and would negatively affect climate change by releasing into the atmosphere the huge quantities of carbon dioxide stored in the biomass of the tropical forest—estimated at about twenty times the world’s total annual greenhouse gas emissions.

According to Killeen, the IIRSA does not have to be destructive: "A visionary initiative such as IIRSA should be visionary in all of its dimensions, and should incorporate measures to ensure that the region’s renewable natural resources are conserved and its traditional communities strengthened."