Concern over death of indigenous leader by the army in Colombia

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Aída Quilcué, leader of the Indigenous Regional Council of Cauca. Photo Semana.com

The husband of Aida Quilcué, the Colombian indigenous leader, was killed last 16th December in Totoró, State of Cauca, south-west of Colombia, when the army shot several times to the car he himself was driving, according to reports of national media and  official and human rights organizations sources.  Edwin Legarda, 28 y.o., was the husband of the top leader of the Indigenous Regional Council of Cauca (CRIC). Few days ago, Aida Quilcué had done a report to the United Nations Human Rights Council of Geneva, denouncing the killing of several indigenous leaders in Colombia due theft of their lands. The news has caused concern to different human rights watch organizations about the safety and protection of indigenous peoples, while the government promised investigation to this incident that have different versions.

Organizations condemned the act and said that it has links to the denounces of Quilcué in the National Palace of Geneva, said Julie Gromellon of the International Federation of Human Rights.

For Eric Sottas, General Secretary of the World Organization Against Torture, it is a common event in Colombia when there are denounces of violation of human rights and he said that it shows the indifference of the Colombian government on what the international community is asking to this country related to human rights protection.

The leaders of international organizations, linked the death of indigenous leader Edwin Legarda to the exam that Colombia faced in human rights in Geneva days ago. For most of them, it was a kind of retaliation to the statements of Aida Quilcué.

The Colombian government says that it is impacted for these things, but everything continues the same“, said Sottas to AFP and adds that the same happened when the Colombian lawyer Eduardo Umaña Mendoza spoke a decade ago in a session of the Human Rights Commission of the United Nations: he was killed in Colombia short after that. Sottas said that it is the evidence that in Colombia killings are selective and that the country seems unable to stop the violation of human rights.

Other human rights NGOs asked that the Colombian government should follow a full investigation on the matter and reminded that Colombia promised protection and prevention of selective killings of indigenous and Afro-Colombian community leaders.

Aida Quilcué, the top leader of the Indigenous Regional Council of the State of Cauca, south-west of Colombia, said that it was a premeditate plan to kill her and she made the government responsable for the death of her husband. Quilcué dennounced recently in Geneva the killing of several indigenous activists and the impunity, because illegal armed groups want the lands of the indigenous communities. She said that even if the car did not obbey a possible order to stop made by the army, it was not also a reason to open fired, because officially there is not a death penalty in Colombia. She said that it is the duty of the goverment to protect the life of the Colombians.

Soldiers of the Colombian army opened fire against a Toyota SUV at about 4:00, no far from the indigenous reserve of Legarda, according to the reports of Vicente Otero, spokesman of the Cauca Regional Indigenous Council. The official report said that Legarda did not obey the order of the authorities to stop the car and that the army had an information that the car was load with guns, then the soldiers did shot.

President Álvaro Uribe said in his statement, following military reports, that the car did not stop in two of the military roadblocks and it made the soldiers suspicious. He said that the Commander of the 3rd Division of the Colombian Army got an information that the car was bringing guns. However, President Uribe admitted that there were irregularities in the technical requirements of the military roadblocks and that he ordered strict investigations on the matter. He asked the Department of Prosecution of Colombia, the National Attorney and the High Commission for Human Rights of the United Nations, to investigate and that the government will act accordingly with their results. He asked also objectivity and said that it is necessary not to proceed against the possible innocence of the soldiers. President Uribe manifested his condolences to leader Aida Quilcué for the dead of her husband and to the indigenous communities.

By its part, the National Indigenous Organization of Colombia (ONIC), made a strong statement accusing that the incident was premeditated. ONIC declared that the soldiers shot 17 times against the car when it was going to the city of Popayán. The car was bringing medical personnel that work in a help team in Inzá municipality. Edwin Legarda, who was driving the car, got three shots and one of them in his chest. He was brought to San José Hospital in the city of Popayán, but he died there.

ONIC said that it is not true that the car did not obey orders to stop twice, as official sources stated. The cars has not impacts of shots at its back, but it has impacts in the front and in both sides, said the indigenous organization. ONIC cited also that some witnesses claimed that there were not two military roadblocks. “Anyway, even if he did not obey the order to stop, the reaction of open fire is exaggerate and it does not belong to protocols and norms and even worst when it is about a car that is protected by the Ministry of Domestic Affairs and Justice“, said ONIC in its Website. It said also that Legarda was doing humanitarian activities and it makes its death a more serious case.

ONIC made the Colombian government responsible of the death of Legarda and said that in several times President Uribe has referred to the pacific mobilizations of the indigenous communities as terrorists.

The indigenous population in Colombia is the most vulnerable to the violation of the human rights, stated ONIC, because there is ambition toward their lands. The Organization said that the death of the indigenous leader can be also a consequence of racism against the communities and the systematic elimination of their leaders.

ONIC required an immediate investigation by the national authorities to make the event clear and make justice. They asked the withdrawal of the army from the indigenous territories, because the army is not protecting the people but being a cause of fear.

A first report of the United Nations said that the death of the indigenous leader was because the military roadblock was not fully identified and the shots were indiscriminate. According to the first investigations of official of the UN among the population in the region, there were not fully identified military roadblocks and the shots were made out of what is contemplated in the rules of the Army, said the UN press release.

The UN expressed also concern that this event is one more of the numberless attacks against the life of activists of the Indigenous National Organization of Colombia, ONIC (by its acronym in Spanish.) UN asked also that this incident should not stop the current dialogue among government and indigenous leaders.

Edwin Legarda was the husband of Aida Quilcue, the representative of the Indigenous State of Cauca Council. She is one of the leaders of the marches that began last October asking justice for the killing of indigenous activists. According to the reports of the indigenous organizations, the killings are made by illegal armed groups when the indigenous claimed the lands that were stolen from them. Indigenous groups are demanding that the government return to them about 2 million hectares (4.9 million acres) of land that they claim was misappropriated, mostly by right-wing militias in the service of large landholders.

References

Associated Press: Soldiers at roadblock kill husband of Colombian indigenous leader. 16th December 2008.

AFP – Yahoo Noticias: Muerte a balazos de esposo de líder indígena genera indignación en Ginebra. 17th December 2008.

ONIC: Orewa rechaza ataque a la minga!!! Comunicado a la opinión pública. 16th December 2008.

Caracol Radio: Presidente Uribe responde por la muerte de un indígena a manos del Ejército. 17th December 2008.

Caracol Radio: ONU revela informes sobre la muerte del indígena. 17th December 2008.

Semana.com: El gobierno es el responsable de esta muerte”: Aída Quilcué.

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