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
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".