Indigenous communities at serious risk from paramilitaries

Indigenous communities in Colombia remain at high risk of violence that could cause their demise, despite the signing of the 2016 peace agreement.

Last week, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) granted protective measures in the case of the Siona population in Putumayo who face a major threat to their existence. The primary factor in this, according to the IACHR, is the presence of armed groups in their territories.

‘Despite the signing of the Peace Accords, peace has yet to materialise for many indigenous leaders. Moreover, as experienced by multiple other groups in Colombia, the situation of risk remains critical’, said Francisco Quintana of the Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL).

Among the threats to indigenous populations posed by paramilitaries and other armed groups are forced subscription of youths, forced displacement of communities and attacks on those who resist them. There are also high numbers of landmines on Siona land which were planted during the armed conflict.

The IACHR measures require the Colombian authorities to provide guarantees over cultural and territorial protection for the Siona population and ensure security for its leaders. ‘It is imperative for these measures to be implemented fully and immediately. If the State acts quickly and together with us, we will be able to protect our lives and our territory’, said Siona governor Mario Erazo Yaiguaje.



The Siona population of Colombia is very small, with just over 2,500 members who live in the Putumayo River zone in southern Colombia. They are among the 36 indigenous groups which Colombia’s Consitutional Court in 2009 identified as at risk from armed conflict.

The IACHR move to increase protection of the Siona population comes as indigenous communities in the western region of Chocó remain at grave risk from high paramilitary activity. Leaders of the Urada Jiguamiandó reserve said that on 21 July more than 40 armed paramilitaries entered their territory and not allowed residents to leave. Owing to the zone’s isolation, there has been little update on the situation since Saturday 22 July. Chocó is among the regions most affected by political violence in Colombia, with several indigenous leaders murdered there since the peace agreement was signed.