Rights in the Territory: The Raizal Community 

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The Rights in the Territory initiative — “Derechos en el Territorio” in Spanish — has as its objective the effective dialogue of Colombia’s Constitutional court with ethnic communities in the country. The initiative is aimed at the promotion, dissemination and cultural and linguistic adaptation of the most significant decisions of the court benefiting these communities. 

Colombia’s Constitutional Court is charged with protecting the integrity of Colombia’s 1991 constitution as well as the fundamental rights of the Colombian people. As such, the court’s nine magistrates have the final word regarding the protection of fundamental rights, such as guaranteeing the protection of life, liberty, and human dignity. 

To date, the Rights in the Territory initiative has produced adaptations of 26 constitutional court rulings benefitting over 30 indigenous, Afro-Colombian, Raizal and Palenquero communities from across Colombia. 

View of the sea from the island of Providencia 

On July 21, 2023, members of the initiative made a historic visit to the island of Providencia to launch the initiative’s second phase alongside the Raizal people. The Raizal people, who have their origin in the archipelago of San Andrés, Providencia and Santa Catalina, share a social and cultural history with anglophone Afro-descendant communities of the Caribbean. Within the turquoise sea of the archipelago that surrounds the islands of Providencia and San Andres thrives the largest open-ocean coral reef in the Caribbean, supporting significant levels of marine biodiversity. 

“The visit of the Constitutional Court is one of the most important judicial events in the history of the Caribbean island of Providencia,” said Josefina Huffington, a Raizal leader, upon the launch of the initiative’s second phase on the island of Providencia. “The arrival of the Court’s president and her team makes us feel recognized as people, because not all departments or ethnic groups may have the opportunity to have the Court visit their territory.”  

Participants in the event included members of the Raizal community; mediators from communities across Colombia that had previously participated in the initiative; the Constitutional Court’s former president, Diana Fajardo Rivera, and her team; and coordinators of the initiative from our Northwest Amazon team. 

With respect to the launch event, which focused on the inauguration of a digital platform that includes four significant sentences from the court regarding the Raizal community, Penn Dale Humphries, an educator from the Raizal community, said, “The fact that this event is in our native tongue, and that the court is here today, strengthens our community’s understanding that the Raizal person is a part of a national geography.” He continued: “We continue our fight, continuing our use of the constitution as an instrument to guarantee our rights.” 

The four rulings encompassing the Raizal community that were adapted for the Rights in the Territory initiative are the following:  

Arelys Howard, a Raizal leader, sheds light on the importance of the digital platform, which includes adapted and translated rulings: “We have the opportunity for our community to understand the context of the laws, to understand how they can benefit us in our own language as the Raizal people.” 

Traveling from their territories across Colombia, three mediators who had previously participated in the Rights in the Territory initiative joined the inauguration in representation of their communities.  

Leidy Carolina Salazar, an indigenous U’wa leader who travelled from the U’wa territory in Arauca, Colombia to the island of Providencia to share the experience of the U’wa community with the initiative as a mediator, said, “To come here and become familiar with the other processes, to learn how they are continuing, is a great opportunity to be able to provide feedback within the territories, and to see how the Rights in the Territory initiative is developing within other ethnic communities.” 

From left to right: Luz Enith Mosquera, a guardian of the Atrato River and Afro-Colombian mediator; Moises Perez Casseres, a lawyer and Palenquero mediator; and Leidy Carolina Salazar, an U’wa mediator 

Shanelle Kay, a Raizal law student, declared that “the presence of the President of the Court in Providencia, with a willingness to speak with the inhabitants of the territory, is an unprecedented opportunity.” She described the event as providing the Raizal community with a fresh breath of air to overcome obstacles in defense of the community’s fundamental rights. Continuing, she said:  

“I applaud the presence of the mediators who have come from across other territories of the country precisely for that reason, because I think that sometimes it is very difficult for us to realize that other communities across the country, other ethnic minorities, have struggles that are similar to ours, and not necessarily due to the same situations, but I am referring to fundamental rights.”  

For more information about the Rights in the Territory initiative, visit the following site: https://derechosenelterritorio.com/ 

Providencia’s northern coast  

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