This year's International Day of the World's Indigenous People, is the
first to take place following the landmark adoption of the UN
Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples by the General Assembly
in September 2007. To mark this event, the U.N. refugee agency is
drawing attention to the plight of indigenous groups at risk of
violence and forced displacement in Colombia. Lisa Schlein reports
There are about 370 million indigenous or native
peoples around the world, many of whom continue to live on the margins
of society and suffer abuse and discrimination.
UN Human Rights Spokesman, Rupert Colville, calls the Declaration on Indigenous Rights a very important document.
lays down minimum standards essentially for the survival and well-being
of the world's indigenous people," he said. "It attempts also to tackle
some of the historical injustices they faced, particularly in areas
like land rights, which is very often a big issue for indigenous
people. They get their land taken away from them and have trouble
getting it back."
It took more than two decades for the
Declaration to be drafted and adopted. While the document recognizes
the problems faced by indigenous peoples, the United Nations says many
States continue to systematically violate their human rights.
UN refugee agency highlights the tragic situation of native peoples in
Colombia. The country harbors around one million indigenous people,
belonging to more than 80 different Indian-American groups with over 60
UNHCR spokesman Ron Redmond says nearly
all of these groups have been victims of forced displacement or are
threatened by it as a result of the internal armed conflict in Colombia.
to the country's national indigenous association, ONIC, 18 of the
smaller indigenous groups are at risk of disappearing altogether," he
said. "Every year, an average of 10,000 to 20,000 indigenous people are
registered by national authorities after being forced to flee their
"ONIC estimates the numbers could be far greater,
since many indigenous people do not have access to registration either
because of the remoteness of their ancestral lands or because they do
not speak Spanish and are not familiar with the national registration
system," he continued.
Redmond says the figures give only a
partial glimpse of the devastating impact forced displacement is having
on Colombia's indigenous communities. He says their economic, social
and cultural survival depends on their very strong links with their
In many cases, he says the very survival of
indigenous peoples is threatened when they lose their land and are
forced to move into urban areas.