Colombia: UN agency calls for investigation into murder of 5 indigenous people

11 August 2006

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is calling for a thorough investigation into the murders of five Awá indigenous people in Colombia on Wednesday – a attack which directly followed the agency’s appeal to warring parties to leave those groups out of their conflict.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is calling for a thorough investigation into the murders of five Awá indigenous people in Colombia on Wednesday – a attack which directly followed the agency’s appeal to warring parties to leave those groups out of their conflict.

UNHCR is saddened at the killings and especially shocked that the murders occurred on World Indigenous Day, when we were drawing attention to the plight of indigenous people in Colombia,” said agency spokesperson Jennifer Pagonis, calling on the Colombian Government to fulfil its duty to protect its citizens.

“We are especially concerned at the tragic death of five people who were registered as displaced and in clear need of state protection,” she added.

The killings occurred just in the village of Altaquer in the south-eastern department of Nariño and followed warnings by UNHCR that same day that Colombia's indigenous people were facing terrible consequences of the conflict.

The murdered five – three men and two women – were registered as forcibly displaced and were part of a group of some 1,700 Awá who fled their territory last month to escape fighting between the military and an irregular armed group. One of those killed was a former governor, or leader, of the Awá people, and one of the women killed was a teacher who left behind four orphaned children, Ms. Pagonis said.

According to eyewitnesses, nine armed men conducted a house-to-house search shortly before dawn, took the five people and shot them. “The men also went to the house of the current leader of the Awá people who was in Bogota with her husband and four-year-old daughter to take part in events organised by UNHCR and other humanitarian agencies on the occasion of World Indigenous Day,” Ms. Pagonis told reporters at a press briefing in Geneva.

A UNHCR staff member is currently in Altaquer to support the displaced community following the killings.

On the day the killings occurred, UNHCR had called on all armed groups in Colombia to leave the indigenous population out of the armed conflict.

“These latest murders add to the urgency of this appeal,” said Ms. Pagonis, noting that indigenous people have increasingly been the victims of Colombia’s violence in recent years.

“To make matters worst, when they are forced to displace, they often come under suspicion of collaborating with the very armed groups they have tried to escape. More than ever, UNHCR is calling for this persecution of innocent people, which threatens the very survival of entire groups, to stop.”

 

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