Colombia: U’wa Nation land rights case advances

The U'wa Nation claimed a victory Oct. 15 as it received an admissibility report by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) allowing its case against Colombia to move forward, recognizing that the indigenous group can seek the Commission's help in defending its traditional territory. Although the U'wa have successfully defeated multiple oil and gas projects in the nearly two decades since they first filed their complaint with the Commission, the report recognizes that winning these battles does not end the overall complaint with the Colombian government, which does not fully recognize the U'wa people's rights to their territory. In a statement released after the decision, the U'wa organization Asou'wa said: "Our U'wa Nation has been heard by the natural law, our ancestors and gods that guide and govern our thinking to safeguard, protect and care for our mother earth; while there are U'wa people, we will continue resisting in defense of our ancient rights."

Asou'wa, supported by the National Indigenous Organization of Colombia (ONIC), first filed the complaint in 1997. At the time, US-based Occidental Petroleum (Oxy) was threatening to drill for oil in U'wa lands. The U'wa, supported by a global campaign led by groups such as Amazon Watch and the Rainforest Action Network, secured Oxy's withdrawal in 2001. More recently, Colombia's Ecopetrol tried to move forward with a gas project on U'wa land, but pulled out earlier this year. However, U'wa title to their ancestral lands has never been recognized.

"With this decision, the Commission recognized that even though Oxy and Ecopetrol pulled out, the U'wa remain threatened by the failure to fully protect their homeland," said Camila Mariño, a Colombian lawyer and legal fellow with EarthRights International. "We are proud to stand with the U'wa."

In the decision, dated July 22 but only released this week, the Commission formally accepts the U'wa petition as "admissible." Following this decision, the case will move to the "merits" stage, in which the Commission will rule on the rights violations at issue. (EarthRights International, Oct. 16)