Anger at crop-spraying

23 August 2013

CHRISTIAN AID/MATTHEW GONZALEZ-NODA

Protesters: Embera indigenous women from Alto Guayabal, Colombia

Protesters: Embera indigenous women from Alto Guayabal, Colombia

AN INDIGENOUS community in north-west Colombia is protesting against the aerial spraying of coca crops on its lands, which, they say, has caused contamination and sickness.

On 22 July, the Colombian air force began spraying illicit crops in Alto Guayabal, in the Chocó region. Colombia is the only country in the world that permits aerial spraying of drug-producing crops. The method is opposed by activists, who express concerns about its effects on people and the environment.

The local Embera community has asked the government for help to eradicate coca (used in the manufacture of cocaine), but opposes aerial spraying.

The Christian Aid country manager for Colombia, Thomas Mortensen, said on Friday that the community had reported that the spraying was causing community members to fall ill.

Both the Colombian Constitution and the International Labour Organisation Convention 169 on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples, to which Colombia is a signatory, state that indigenous people must be consulted before activities take place on their land.

"If these agreements were upheld, 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," Mr Mortensen said.

The Embera community has written to the Colombian authorities demanding respect for their rights, health support, and emergency food and clean-water supplies.

In 2009, the same community opposed a mining company, on the grounds that it had not carried out consultation. The Inter-Church Commission for Justice and Peace, a Christian Aid partner, filed a lawsuit on the community's behalf, and secured a ruling in favour of it by the Colombian Constitutional Court.

Colombia is home to 1.4 million indigenous people. In 2009, the Constitutional Court identified 34 indigenous groups at risk of "physical or cultural extinction".

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