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Colombia's Constitutional Court upholds Yukpa Peoples' rights: UvA students' contributions acknowledged

Published on 13-11-2023 12:00
Colombia's Constitutional Court ruled in favour of the Yukpa Indigenous Peoples with regards to their right to prior consultation in cases involving mining projects that directly affect their community. The Court's decision, aligned with the arguments put forth by students from the Business and Human Rights Clinic. Students Giorgos and Paula talk about their part.
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Student of the Business and Human Rights Clinic were asked to prepare an amicus curiae brief in collobaration with the Legal clinic of the Universidad Javeriana in Bogotá. Giorgos and Paula were two of these students. They share their insights after working on this case during an Amsterdam Law Clinic. But first some background information about the case.

The Yukpa Indigenous Peoples, recognized as nomadic and semi-nomadic groups in Colombia, have been directly impacted by mining activities conducted by companies like Drummond and Prodeco in the Cesar region. These companies began operating in the area without seeking the Yukpa's opinion, even though the land is considered by the Yukpa as ancestral territory.

Yukpa representatives filed an acción de tutela against the state institutions and the two mining companies. Acción de tutela is a legal action in Colombia that allows individuals to seek protection in court when they believe their fundamental rights are being violated by public or private entities.

About the Amicus brief

The Amicus brief the students were asked to prepare aimed to analyze whether the decisions made in the lower courts adhered to the international legal framework regarding the protection of territories belonging to nomadic and semi-nomadic peoples.

The amicus brief argued that:

  1. The Yukpa people are recognized as nomadic and semi-nomadic peoples and as indigenous peoples, which implies that they benefit from the special protection extended to indigenous people in the international and regional legal framework.
  2. The State has the obligation to protect the Yukpa people’s right to use the lands they have traditionally occupied and used, including those used to perform their ancestral cultural activities.
  3. The Yukpa people have the right to reparations if their right to prior consultation and Free, Prior, and Informed Consent (FPIC) is violated. Conducting a consultation is the effective way to address this, according to the standards set by the Constitutional Court of Colombia. Download the English version of the amicus curiae brief (pdf). (pdf)

As a result of the 25 September 2023 Court's decision, the mining companies and state authorities were ordered to start the consultation process, which they had failed to do before starting the projects. The Court explicitly considered the students' arguments in its ruling. 

On the clinical experience, Giorgos Porfyridis said: ‘While pursuing a career in finance law, the work in the clinics helped me think outside the complex regulatory landscape and reminded me of the value and responsibility of legal professionals in upholding social justice.’ Paula Álvarez Vidal added: ‘This project demonstrated to me the significance and impact that students, and young people in general, can have when they are empowered and provided with opportunities. I am deeply grateful for having received this opportunity and for being able to contribute to a meaningful cause.’