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Johanna Rogers is a press officer at Christian Aid.

Indigenous Colombians resist toxic anti-drug spraying

An indigenous community in Northwest Colombia, subjected to aerial-spraying of illegal coca crops, is insisting that the government respect their rights, land and lives.

‘The local Embera community has reported that the spraying has contaminated their water and crops and is causing community members, including children, to fall sick,’ says Thomas Mortensen, of Christian Aid in Colombia.

The Embera community has reported that the aerial spraying has contaminated their water and crops and is causing community members, including children, to fall sick.

Christian Aid/ Matthew Gonzalez-Noda

The Colombian Constitution and ILO Convention 169 on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples both grant the right of prior consultation to indigenous people for activities on their land.

But this right has been violated by the government.

‘If these agreements had been upheld,’ says Mortensen, ‘the Colombian authorities could have worked with the indigenous community to manually eradicate the coca in the area and protect the Embera community from outsiders’.

Colombia is the only country in the world that permits aerial-spraying of drug producing crops

On 22 July the Colombian Air Force began a process of spraying the coca crops, used to make cocaine, in Alto Guayabal, in Chocó region, north-western Colombia. The aircraft sprayed herbicide indiscriminately, reportedly into areas where there were no illegal crops but only food crops.

The Embera do not oppose the eradication of coca, in fact, in 2012 they approached the government asking for help to eliminate it, while expressing total rejection of aerial-spraying.

Colombia has over 100 indigenous groups, many of whom are struggling to retain their traditional culture on territory that is legally theirs, in the face of outside threats.

Christian Aid/ Matthew Gonzalez-Noda

Colombia is the only country in the world that permits aerial-spraying of drug producing crops. The practice has been repeatedly condemned by human rights and environmental activists because of its effect on humans and local soil and water systems.

After the spraying, the community wrote to the Colombian authorities denouncing the events. In their letter they demanded respect for their rights and requested urgent health support, emergency food and clean water supplies.

The Embera are one of the 34 indigenous peoples in Colombia identified as at risk of physical or cultural extinction

Colombia has over 100 indigenous groups, many of whom are struggling to retain their traditional culture on territory that is legally theirs, in the face of outside threats.

The Embera are one of the 34 indigenous peoples in Colombia identified as at risk of physical or cultural extinction. Originally from Panama, they have lived in the forest for centuries, but now their very existence is threatened.

Colombia’s Constitution recognizes the rights of ethnic minorities like the Embera but mining companies and armed groups often disregard them.

The community demands clean water supplies from the Colombian government.

Christian Aid/ Matthew Gonzalez-Noda

However, the community has previously defended its territory, opposing a mining company that entered their land in 2009.

Twelve indigenous communities affected by the project stated that prior consultation was not adequately carried out, and rejected all mining in their territory.

Christian Aid partner organization, Inter-Church Commission for Justice and Peace, filed a lawsuit on behalf of these communities to stop the project and obtained a ruling in favour of the communities by the Colombian Constitutional Court.

This decision established a precedent regarding the right of indigenous and tribal communities to free, prior and informed consent as well as to carry out consultation processes using their own traditional mechanisms.

The Embera have defended their land before, opposing a mining company in 2009.

Christian Aid/ Matthew Gonzalez-Noda

Today marks the United Nations day of Indigenous Peoples – this year’s theme is ‘Indigenous peoples building alliances: Honoring treaties, agreements and other constructive arrangements.’

As the peace talks between the Colombian government and the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) guerrilla group continue in Havana, Cuba, Christian Aid is urging that the final peace agreement takes into account land issues and special protection of indigenous people.

Land rights victory for Indian marchers


A section of the march. All photos: Christian Aid/Simon Williams.

Tens of thousands of marchers converging on the Indian capital Delhi, in pursuit of land reform, called off their protest today following government agreement to their demands – a ‘victory’ for India’s landless poor.

Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh publicly signed an agreement in front of marchers as they gathered in Agra, Uttar Pradesh this morning.

The new deal gives statutory backing to the provision of agricultural land to the landless poor in the poorer districts. In addition, the government will urge states to protect the land rights of dalits, tribals and ‘all other weaker and marginalised sections of society’, and fast track land tribunals will be established to resolve land issues quickly.

Some 60,000 marchers, mainly socially marginalised dalits and tribal people, began the 200-mile Jan Satyagraha march from Gwalior in Madhya Pradesh to Delhi on 3 October. They were due to reach the capital later this month.

The march was organised by Christian Aid partner Ekta Parishad which mobilised some 2,000 civil society groups around the country to provide marchers.

‘This is a true example of people’s victory through peaceful negotiation,’ said Anand Kumar, Christian Aid’s country manager in India. ‘Congratulations to Ekta Parishad and the marchers.’

The march was the culmination of four years planning by Ekta Parishad which in recent months has held numerous talks with government as it pressed for the implementation of the previously agreed National Land Reforms Policy.



For the past year, Ekta Parishad, a non-violent social movement in India that works on land and forest rights, has travelled the country, drumming up support for the march on Delhi, connecting with grassroots organizations in each state it passed through. Those joining the trek are demanding that existing pro-poor policies are put into action.

PV Rajagopal, Gandhian activist and founder of Ekta Parishad explained his journey: ‘Over a year ago, I left Delhi carrying soil from Rajghat, the place where Gandhi is resting. In that time I have travelled through the country, I have travelled 80,000 km, through 24 states and 350 districts.

‘We met thousands of groups of people who have had similar struggles. We heard thousands of unique cases of land rights abuses, affecting hundreds of thousands of people.

‘In an increasingly globalized world where large companies are coming to India, Africa and other countries to buy land, the governments are forcing people to sell their holdings in the name of mining, wildlife protection, infrastructure development process and various other projects – it’s become very common. If we don’t act now, there will be nothing left for the poor.’

Kumar added: ‘This year’s march built on the successes of one held previously - Janadesh 2007 - when the National Land Reform Committee was established, but they never met to put an agenda in place.

‘This time these negotiations must continue between the government and organisations working with the landless poor. Institutional arrangements must be put in place and sufficient time and resources allocated to put this agreement into action.

‘Access to land is critical for the eradication of poverty. We hope that today’s success will give hope and inspire other land struggles in other parts of the world.’

A taskforce will meet on 17 October to start preparing a roadmap for land reform.