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Rights of World's Indigenous People Continue to Be Violated

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 from Geneva.

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.

"It 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.

The 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 separate languages.

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.

"According 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 lands."

"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 ancestral lands.

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.