Colombia: ONIC launches COVID-19 monitoring and humanitarian collective action

When it comes to resilience, indigenous people in Colombia are truly of admiration as they have been forced to take swift action to protect their people, particularly in times of crisis.

Vulnerable communities are living multiple challenges in Colombia around targeted violence, extractive policies, access to food and water, exarcebated now by the coronavirus health crisis. However, indigenous leaders are also taking the opportunity to make use of every tool available to make their demands heard.

Demand for a ceasefire 

Despite a national quarantine called by the state, attacks on indigenous communities by armed groups have not stopped. There were two incendiary attacks on the cultural center and greenhouse of the Kankuamo and Minalkalwa communities, respectively, and two indigenous leaders of the Embera pueblo in Cauca were murdered inside their home while in self-isolation. To protect their people “indigenous guards” (unarmed people trained to safeguard their communities through vast communication networks) have closed access to their territories to keep strangers away during the COVID-19 quarantine.

In an interview with El Espectador, the council leader of the National Indigenous Organization of Colombia (ONIC), Luis Fernando Arias, called for an immediate ceasefire from all armed groups in Colombia during the health emergency. He also called for the state to immediately guarantee the indigenous people safety and attend their health and food needs during this critical time.

Such call has been echoed by the Organization of American States’ (OAS) Mission in Support of Peace in Colombia condemning recent human rights violations against civilians.

Vast communications networks

Indigenous people in Colombia are amongst the most vulnerable populations, after decades of endless local warfare between armed groups and targeted killings. The need  for survival, resistance, and resilience has led them to develop a super efficient network of internal and external communications so that no attack goes unreported. Often their only defense against targeted killings is making those human rights violations visible.

The network’s efficiency has come to light during the coronavirus health crisis, as ONIC has committed to present a daily report of cases in indigenous communities throughout the nation. This includes large organized communities as well as smaller, more vulnerable communities in red zones such as the country’s borders and Valle del Cauca. We transcribe below part of their press release:

Source:ONIC, as of March 27, 2020


The National Indigenous Government Authority, ONIC, prepares this bulletin to contribute to the timely and pertinent decision-making of the traditional authorities, who are acting in Proper Law, for the protection of the territories and communities as well as of social organizations, entities of cooperation and government institutions, seeking to join efforts to guarantee the survival and integrity of the 115 indigenous peoples and nations in the face of the pandemic identified as COVID 19. 

The gathering of information, from territorial links, guarantees day-to-day monitoring of the progress of the risk and the effectiveness of the measures that are being taken at the local, regional and national levels, given that the high vulnerability of the original peoples obliges the State and society as a whole to act forcefully. 

The survival of indigenous peoples is an ethical imperative and a necessity for all of society, as they are guardians of the nation’s historical memory and guarantors of the protection of the common natural resources of all and all Colombians.

ONIC is also collecting funds to provide much needed food and health supplies to many of the 115 indigenous groups that make up Colombia’s rich plurinational social base, but often feel left  out from state policies.

Similar requests and other local communiqués can be found on ONIC’s website.