With the signing of the Havana Peace Accord in 2016, Colombia emerged from more than five decades of internal armed conflict. Injustice over access to land and resources were major drivers behind the war, which killed more than 200,000 people, and displaced 7 million more. Today, the future of the peace process largely depends on how Colombia resolves longstanding grievances over land tenure and resource rights, particularly those of Afro-descendant and Indigenous Peoples.
Ongoing projects: 1
Indigenous Peoples in Colombia number more than 1.5 million, or 3.4% of the total population, based on the 2005 census. Many are struggling with forced displacement and landlessness as a result of conflict, as well as land-grabbing at the hands of extractive industries. Colombia also has the third largest concentration of Afro-descendant people in the Americas, after the USA and Brazil. According to Black Communities’ Process (PCN), they total 16 million, approximately one third of Colombia’s population. Together with Indigenous Peoples, Afro-descendants – women in particular – have experienced disproportionate levels of violence and displacement linked to conflict.
Colombia’s Afro-descendent and indigenous communities worked together during peace negotiations, to ensure that their territorial rights were protected. After forming the Ethnic Commission for Peace and Defense of Territorial Rights, they successfully ensured that the Peace Accord included an Ethnic Chapter, outlining safeguards, and guaranteeing respect for their collective territorial and political rights.
Colombia’s Afro-descendant people had previously achieved constitutional recognition of their collective tenure right in 1991, which was further strengthened by the passing of a new law two years later. In the subsequent two-and-a-half decades, the Colombian government recognized 5.5 million hectares of collective Afro-descendant territory. However, 95% of these lands were titled in a single area, the Pacific region, with Afro-descendant communities elsewhere in the country largely excluded from the process.
In 2016, PCN, Pontifical Javeriana University, and the Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI) began working together to reopen the path to recognition of Afro-Colombian collective land rights nationwide, reaching an agreement with the Government’s National Land Agency (ANT) to resolve the land claims of 271 Afro-descendent Community Councils.
In addition to advocating for Afro-Colombian land rights, the partners took several steps that set the stage for scaling Afro-descendent collective tenure across the country, ranging from the establishment of a geographical data system, to the creation of a technical Round Table, identifying priority claims. Among these priorities, several symbolically significant claims were earmarked, that could overcome legal obstacles and act as beacons of hope for the wider struggle for Afro-descendant land rights.
Since 2018, the Tenure Facility has funded an initiative to build on the work of this partnership, scaling up Afro-descendant collective land rights in Colombia. This initiative will contribute to the peace process in Colombia, focusing on projects in five regions: Caribbean, Inter-Andean Valleys, Choco, Antioquia, and Putumayo.
In addition to contributing to sustainable peace, the initiative will promote the role of women, improve livelihoods and help to meet the economic development objectives of the Peace Accord.
Colombia is one of the most biodiverse countries on earth. Collective ancestral territories are located in regions ranging from dry tropical forest, humid tropical forest, cloud forests, tropical savannah, wetlands and aquifer recharge zones, mangrove and swamp areas, coastal zones, and many other fragile ecosystems. These areas are also of vital importance for climate change mitigation, with huge potential as part of carbon reduction programs such as REDD+. Tenure Facility’s work in Colombia helps protect and restore degraded forests, offering major upsides both for the environment and the communities who live there.
For a timeline of land and forest rights in Colombia, click here.
For more information on our work in Colombia, click on the link below.