For more than 50 years, indigenous communities have been caught in the crossfire of Colombia’s civil war between guerilla groups, paramilitaries, narcotics traffickers and government forces. Declarations of neutrality by indigenous groups like the Wayúu people have done little to protect them from the violence and human rights abuses.
Recognizing isolation and lack of representation as barriers to bringing abuses to light, in 2003 a group of Wayuu women created the Cabildo Wayúu Nóüna de Campamento (Wayúu Women's Power). The Cabildo note that while the Colombian government spends 67 percent of its budget on military operations to promote so-called “security,” it is either incapable or unwilling to stem the cycle of atrocities destroying indigenous communities.
Hundreds of indigenous leaders have been killed without consequence; massacres and displacements of entire communities are common occurrences. Therefore, the Cabildo advocate for the inclusion of indigenous people in the peace-building process, particularly war-affected women, who make up the majority of displaced people in Colombia. They also raise awareness about the impact of militarization on their communities. In its short history, the Cabildo has formed extensive alliances with other indigenous and women’s movements across Colombia to strengthen their collective call for reconciliation and justice.
A 2007 grant from the Global Fund made it possible for the Cabildo open the first-ever House for Wayúu Women, a community center where the testimonies of women affected by the conflict are heard. The group is currently documenting these cases of human rights violations to present before the Colombian Constitutional Court. The Cabildo believe that by recognizing their rights and negotiating capacity, the Colombian Government will be in a better position to negotiate a peace agreement with armed rebel groups.
In the past three years, the Global Fund has awarded the Cabildo $27,500, some of which they used to train Wayúu human rights defenders. Gaining strength from unity, the newly trained indigenous leaders are now involved in the National Indigenous Organization of Colombia (ONIC) and represented Colombia’s national indigenous movement at the UN Forum for Indigenous Peoples. By linking with local, regional and national movements and bringing their shared agendas to international human rights bodies, Wayúu women are giving hope to entire communities who have for too long endured cycles of violence and are eager to lend their voices to the struggle for peace.
Profile written by Kelly Mc Vicker, Development Officer at the Global Fund for Women.