On paper, Colombia has one of the most advanced legal systems in the world for the protection of indigenous peoples’ human rights. Sadly, the reality is different. The wealth of natural resources found on the lands of indigenous peoples leads to the violation of their fundamental rights by the State, illegal armed actors and private companies in search of profit.
This study attempts to give a brief introduction to the legal framework for indigenous peoples’ rights to territories and resources. This is not only an issue of property rights – in the case of indigenous peoples a wide range of fundamental rights are inextricably linked to the concept of territory. Among them are the rights to life, health and to ethnic, social and cultural integrity.
The study examines the development of indigenous peoples’ rights in the jurisprudence of the Constitutional Court from 1991 to the present, as well as in international human rights law. It goes on to look at the current wave of new legislation regulating land administration and the exploitation of natural resources and its implications for indigenous peoples.
The findings are alarming: Recent legal reforms undermine the sovereignty of indigenous peoples over their traditional territories and favour the economic interests of investors and commercial companies over those of communities who depend on the land for their physical and cultural survival. Some of these laws are clearly both unconstitutional and in conflict with international human rights law.
Understanding the legal basis for the protection of indigenous peoples’ rights is necessary in order to protect their ancestral lands and resources from exploitation. The aim of this study is to contribute to this process of empowerment.
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