What are the Lungs of the Earth without the Heart?

PRESS RELEASE                 

UK Lawyers Submit Amicus Briefs in Support of Indigenous Peoples in Colombia

Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta: Heart of the World

15 July 2020

ABColombia and UK lawyers support the Kankuamo, Koguí, Wiwa and Arhuaco Indigenous tribes to defend their territory – Sierra Nevada – for future generations by submitting Amicus Briefs to the Colombian Supreme Administrative Court (Consejo de Estado) on 15 July 2020.

According to the Indigenous worldview (“cosmovision”) the location of the Sierra Nevada as one of the world’s highest coastal ranges and with its 348 sacred sites, surrounded by what the indigenous communities call La Linea Negra (the Black Line), make it the “Heart of the Earth”. The traditional ceremonial activities that the four tribes conduct in this area are essential to preserve their spiritual and cultural identity and their management and preservation of natural resources in the area are vital for the ecological balance of the world.

This was recognised by the Colombian government in 2016, when the then president Santos, signed Decree 1500: the Linea Negra (Black Line). Decree 1500 recognised that everything within the area of Linea Negra, in the Indigenous ancestral territory, was of special spiritual and environmental significance, as an ‘interconnected and living being whose various natural elements (water, forest, animals) have rights protected under law’. It is of cultural and ecological importance for the life of the planet.

Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta Credit: CINEP

“By enacting Decree 1500, the Republic of Colombia reversed an historical injustice affecting the Arhuaco, Wiwa, Koguí and Kankuamo Indigenous Peoples in danger of physical and cultural extinction. Ancestral guardians of pristine mountains, tropical rain forests, cloud forests, grasslands, shrublands, biodiversity, and sacred spaces of the natural world concentrated in Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, encircled by La Línea Negra.   This natural space they call, The Heart of the World, is one of the last spaces that like the Amazon, preserves wild fauna (including 44 endemic species), flora and DNA of invaluable importance for humanity. In the context of climate change, humanity can simply not afford its destruction.” Says Monica Feria Tinta

The Linea Negra or Black Line encircles a ring of 348 sacred sites in ancestral territory and contains wetlands, mangroves, tropical rainforest, dry forests, high mountain forests, moors and glaciers, 7000 bird species, and 3000 plant species. Key ecosystems have been recognised since 1979 by UNESCO as a Biosphere Reserve that areessential to preserving the planet’s biodiversity.

Arhuaco Community Amado photo Credit: Arhuaco

The natural mineral resources that are of economic significance in the Sierra Nevada have led to efforts by some to try to get the Decree 1500, La Linea Negra, declared null and void. Therefore, ABColombia and the Colombian Caravana of UK Lawyers instructed Monica Feria Tinta of Twenty Essex, a highly experienced and well-respected Barrister specialising in international law, and requested the Law Society of England and Wales (assisted by its member firm Leigh Day) to write Amicus Curiae briefs to assist the Colombian court as it considers this important case that will have repercussions beyond Colombia. For more information on this emblematic case: Sierra Nevada https://www.abcolombia.org.uk/sierra-nevada-de-santa-marta/

For press interviews in English and Spanish: Contact: Louise Winstanley ABColombia Programme and Advocacy Manager on mobile number 07920886874

For press interviews in English and Spanish

  • Monica Feria Tinta Barrister, Twenty Essex
  • Dr. Marina Brilman, international human rights adviser, Law Society of England and Wales

For press interviews in Spanish (ABColombia can provide interpretation).

  • Indigenous Leader Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta

For press interviews in English:

  • Louise Winstanley, ABColombia’s Programme and Advocacy Manager

We also have photos of the region and indigenous tribes if you would like them.

Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta Credit: CINEP


Monica Feria Tinta is a barrister at Twenty Essex, specialist in public international law. She is featured in The Lawyer Hot 100 2020 as amongst “the most daring, innovative and creative lawyers” in the United Kingdom. Her practice also covers private international law, international arbitration and public law, with an emphasis on human and environmental rights. More information here: https://twentyessex.com/people/monica-feria-tinta/

Dr. Marina Brilman is the international human rights adviser of the Law Society of England and Wales and leads its Lawyers at Risk programme. The programme focuses on members of the legal profession who are at risk because of the cases they work on or the clients they represent, as well as on human rights defenders. More information on the programme: https://communities.lawsociety.org.uk/international/international-rule-of-law/lawyers-at-risk.  

Indigenous Peoples of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta have suffered from recurrent, systematic and massive violations of their fundamental individual and collective rights. In 2009 the Colombian Constitutional Court in Auto 004 de 2009 declared 34 indigenous Peoples at risk of physical and cultural extinction these included the Kogui, Arhuaco, Wiwa and Kankuamo.  The Court stated they “are in danger of being exterminated culturally or physically because of the internal armed conflict and have been victims of grave violations of their fundamental individual and collective rights and of violations of International Humanitarian Law, all of which has resulted in individual or group forced displacement

Louise Winstanley is ABColombia Programme and Advocacy Manager. She has worked on Colombia for the last 17 years, initially in-country with PBI and latterly for ABColombia. ABColombia is the advocacy project of a group of five leading UK and Irish organisations with programmes in Colombia: CAFOD, Christian Aid UKI, Oxfam GB, SCIAF and Trócaire. Amnesty International and PBI are observers. ABColombia members have over 100 partner organisations in Colombia. Since 1997, ABColombia has been working on promoting the voice of the most marginalised grass-roots groups in Colombia, mainly, Afro-Colombian, Indigenous, Peasant Farmers and women to the attention of the UK and Irish Governments and the European Union. We have accompanied our Colombian partners through some of the most intense moments of the conflict.