Screen capture from the trailer of “The River That They Stole,” a documentary by Colombian investigative journalist Gonzalo Guillen.

Prevent More Deaths of Indigenous Children, Colombia Court Orders

Rick Kearns

The Colombian Government must allow the waters of the Rancheria River to return to the Indigenous Wayuu community according to rulings from two of the country's highest courts, noting the reports of the deaths of 5,000 Indigenous children in the last eight years caused by the lack of water.

RELATED: Indigenous Wayuu Children Dying From Corruption and a Stolen River in Colombia

In late July the Supreme Court of Colombia along with the Superior Court of Bogota upheld the orders made by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) in December 2015. The IACHR mandated precautionary measures aimed at returning the water to the community and provide other services.

"On December 11, 2015, the IACHR requested that precautionary measures be adopted for children and adolescents of the communities of Uribía, Manaure, Riohacha and Maicao of the Wayuu people, in the department of the Guajira, Colombia. The request for precautionary measures alleges that the beneficiaries are at risk because of the alleged lack of access to drinking water and of malnutrition among children of the community," according to the IACHR press statement.

Two months later, in February of this year, the Administration of President Juan Manuel Santos sought to cancel the orders for precautionary measures and offered the alternative proposal of building 98 wells instead of opening up the gates of the Cercada Dam which would return the Rancheria River water to the Wayuu community.

Colombia's high courts recent decisions have denied the government's proposal and insisted that the gates of the Cercada Dam be opened immediately. One Wayuu advocate quickly supported the rulings.

Attorney Carolina Sachicha Moreno represented the Wayuu before the Colombian courts and was part of the team that represented the Wayuu before the IACHR last year.

"This decision protects the rights of Wayuu children and adolescents and it puts a special emphasis on the issues of drinkable water," Sachicha Moreno stated on July 31.

In regards to the order to open the Cercada Dam, Sachica Moreno said, “It is proper for the community and the region... The region does have a natural water resource that is the Rancheria River.”

In an article she wrote in the week before the rulings Sachica Moreno mentioned the report by the Colombian Public Defender which stated that, at that point in 2014, there had already been 37,000 documented cases of Wayuu children suffering from malnutrition.

“This report also emphasized how the Indigenous children were dying from totally avoidable causes,” she continued. “...and the report provided evidence of social abandonment, lack of drinkable water, hunger, food insecurity, deplorable hygiene conditions and lack of even basic health care.”

As of press time the Colombian government had not publicly responded to the high court’s rulings.

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