Coordinator of Indigenous Guard killed in Chocó

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https://www.abcolombia.org.uk/eleazar-tequia-vitucay/

 

On 26 January 2018, Eleázar Tequia Vitucay, the coordinator of the Indigenous Guard (Guardia Indígena) of the Embera Katío people in Chocó, was killed allegedly by members of the Colombian armed forces. Two other members of the Guardia Indígena were injured in the incident. For more than ten years, Tequia Vitucay was an Indigenous Guard (Guardia Mayor) in Choco. Tequia Vitucay leaves behind a wife and five young children.

The killing of an Indigenous Guard [1] constitutes a serious violation of indigenous autonomy. General Mauricio Moreno and the Governor of Chocó issued a public apology for the killing of Tequia Vitucay. However, in light of continuing violence against community leaders and ethnic minorities in Chocó, structural changes are needed to protect their physical and cultural integrity and the right to life of Indigenous People.

When we take away the weapons of the armed forces or of any armed actor, we do this in self-defence and to avoid harm.

– Eleazar Tequia Vitucay (5 August 1976 – 26 January 2018), Indigenous Guard Mayor of the Embera Katío People

The National Indigenous Organisation of Colombia (ONIC) reported that on 26 January 2018, members of the Colombian armed forces shot and killed indigenous leader Eleazar Tequia Vitucay while he was travelling home on the road that connects Quibdó and Medellín. Tequia Vitucay was the coordinator of the Indigenous Guard, an unarmed indigenous authority in charge of protecting the cultural and spiritual integrity of the indigenous community and its ancestral lands.

“[As indigenous guards] our responsibility is to protect our territory and make sure no armed actors enter our Resguardo.

– Eleazar Tequia Vitucay

The death of Tequia Vitucay constitutes a severe infringement of indigenous autonomy because of the level of authority Tequia Vitucay represented in his community as Guardia Mayor. The seriousness of the offence of killing an Indigenous Guard is culturally comparable with the killing of a person authorised by the State to protect the lives of others. At the same time – if put into the context of historical and systemic discrimination against ethnic minorities – this is evidence of the deficient human rights protection for Indigenous People in Colombia. It is all the more concerning that this was not an isolated incident: The ONIC reported that Tequia Vitucay  was one of three indigenous people who were killed by the Armed Forces in one week.

The danger of being involved in social protest in Colombia

The death of Tequia Vitucay is a consequence of systemic discrimination against Indigenous People coupled with the increasing criminalisation of social protest in Colombia.

Tequia Vitucay was killed in the context of a peaceful protest of the Indigenous Peoples, during which members of the Embera Katío people were blocking a key road between Medellín and Quibdó, demanding access to education for their children. According to the indigenous authorities, 21,000 indigenous children currently do not have access to education in Chocó.

The systemic marginalisation of ethnic minorities in Chocó led to this social protest on important motorways, which is a tool of direct action used by indigenous communities. During demonstrations and blockades, the Indigenous Guards to which Tequia Vitucay belonged, ensured that indigenous protestors remained peaceful.

Protests (Mingas) are often the only means open for indigenous communities to peacefully demand the fulfilment of their basic human rights. However, these social protests are considered a threat by the state and are increasingly addressed with excessive repression and violence from Security Forces.

When there is a blockade, our task is to defend the protesters on site. We coordinate the protection, to protect them from armed confrontations. Sometimes gangs come to abuse the protesters. That’s why we are there, to provide protection.

– Eleazar Tequia Vitucay

Shooting at peaceful protesters must be condemned as an excessive use of force; it is also a severe violation of the fundamental right to protest and freedom of association. Therefore, ABColombia calls for the Colombian Government to fully investigate and bring to justice those members of the Armed Forces responsible for the death of Eleazar Tequia Vitucay.

Public Apology

The indigenous community demanded a public apology for the killing of their leader. On 31 January, the Governor of Chocó, Jhoany Carlos Alberto Palacios Mosquera, and Army General Mauricio Moreno publicly apologised for the death of Eleazar Tequia Vitucay. The General further indicated that Tequia Vitucay’s family would receive compensation.

Even though this apology must be welcomed as gesture of respect for the indigenous community and Tequia Vitucay’s family, structural changes are urgently needed to prevent similar incidents from happening in the future. A first step must be to improve access to basic human rights for indigenous and afro-Colombian communities in Chocó, including the right to peaceful protest and education.

In times of heightened insecurity and continued presence of the ELN and paramilitaries [2] in afro-Colombian and indigenous territories [3], violent acts by the State threaten to undermine the faith of communities in the peace process. Without mutual trust, respect and support between communities and Security Forces, it is hard to see how the Government can ensure the full implementation of the Peace Accord [4], enhance security and to work towards sustainable peace in the regions.

ABColombia calls for the Colombian Government to

  • fully investigate and prosecute those in the Armed Forces responsible for the death of Tequia Vitucay.
  • take immediate measures to address the needs of the communities and individuals affected by the violence of 26 January 2018, in accordance the Victims Law 4633 of 2011.
  • guarantee the protection of the members of the unarmed Guardia Indigena of the Embera Katío and support their work in providing security for indigenous communities.
  • ensure that the Ministry of the Interior adopts all necessary measures to guarantee the right to life of indigenous leaders and communities.
  • Fully implement the Planes de Salvaguardia of the Indigenous Groups at risk of physical and cultural extinction and guarantee the personal integrity of their leaders throughout the peace process.
  • guarantee full access to public services and cultural, social and economic rights for communities in Chocó, including the right to education.
  • ensure the constitutional right to peaceful protest is respected at all times.

Notes:

[1] The Indigenous Guard is an indigenous self-protection mechanism based on traditional teachings aimed at abstaining from violence whilst asserting the community’s rights. The community appoints women, men and young people committed to defending the rights of the community without the use of firearms, even at the expense of their own lives. They assert their neutrality, patrol their territories and demand that armed actors leave the territory.

[2] Armed actors in Chocó: Following the departure of the FARC-EP from Chocó territories, the dynamics of the conflict between the illegal armed groups, paramilitary successors, FARC dissidents and the National Liberation Army (ELN) have changed, due to increased dispute for territorial control. With a lack of effective State presence in the region, confrontations continue to cause breaches of International Humanitarian Law. Civil society activists and ethnic-territorial and social organisations in Chocó have put forward a proposed humanitarian agreement directed at the national Government and the ELN following continued human rights violations.

[3] Violence against Indigenous People in Chocó: In 2017, many indigenous communities in Chocó were being forced to displace due to combats between the ELN and neo-paramilitary group the Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia (AGC). ABColombia has also expressed concerns about recent escalations of violence against Indigenous People in other departments, such as Northern Cauca.

[4] Peace Accord: Following the initial signing of the Peace Accord on 26 September 2016 between the Government of Colombia and the FARC, the Accord was put to a referendum on 2 October 2016. By a very narrow majority of less than 0.5 per cent the “No” vote rejecting the Peace Accord won. On 24 November 2016, the Government and the FARC reached a final revised agreement, which was then ratified by the Colombian Congress.