Colombia court erases indigenous land rights

Seven of Colombia’s indigenous peoples are set to appeal a court decision aimed at protecting their lands from development and to also study the effects of mining.

In 2010, the Northern Cauca indigenous land and five of its chief chiefs petitioned the court to be granted legal guardianship of all Indigenous land in the region. At the time, the plaintiffs said it was their duty to protect and develop the small territories the tribes held.

Meanwhile, the court granted the rights and put the issue of development at the disposal of the communities. But on June 10, a judge vacated the ruling and on Tuesday, the head of the Indigenous councils who signed the petition, Delia Talamanca – and two other indigenous leaders – were removed from their position.

Environmental groups, however, are delighted that the court’s move comes at a time when environmental concerns are so prominent.

“It is not a bad thing to protect the environment,” Igor Marulanda, executive director of the Colombian Ecological Federation told Televisa.

“Sometimes you can be naughty and do what you should. The right to have territories and to be left to live in peace, in peace and in equality, that has been recognized and we believe is important,” he added.

The plaintiffs have called the court decision “irrational” and said they plan to appeal the decision to Colombia’s highest administrative court.

But land rights groups are also questioning the motives behind the effort.

“[Colombia’s] Constitutional Court has become an instrument to dismantle the Indigenous rights, and there is this strange court that seems like it is run by officials of the private sector and doesn’t really represent people,” Claudia Pinto, an attorney from the Center for Human Rights and Justice told CNN.

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The original petition, signed by the five Cauca chiefs in August 2011 said it was important to study the effects of illegal mining and development in order to “prioritize the indigenous rights and not to sacrifice our territories, our animals and our environment,” according to The Guardian.

According to the Environmentalist website, the majority of Colombia’s land mass contains the Native forests. Most of this land is located in the northern part of the country.

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