Colombia's long history of internal conflict between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) continued in 2013, impacting disproportionately on minorities. A 2013 study by the organization Consultoría para los Derechos Humanos y el Desplazamiento (CODHES) reported that there were approximately 52,000 Afro-Colombians displaced during the previous year, amounting to more than 20 per cent of the total number of displaced in the country in 2012.

Afro-Colombians have experienced long-standing poverty and marginalization in the country. Average incomes are just a third of those earned by white Colombians, for example, while as many as 60 per cent of Afro-Colombians do not have access to basic health care. This makes them especially vulnerable in a context of protracted insecurity.

Activists who have advocated for basic rights or political participation for their communities have regularly been targeted. Demetrio López Cardenas, an Afro-Colombian political leader in La Caucana, who had received death threats when he ran for a position on the community council, was assassinated in February 2013. He had reported his case to the Attorney's Office in August 2012, and the prosecutor immediately asked for a risk assessment and for protective measures to be put in place. However, no steps had been taken to implement this request by the time he was shot. Like López, many other Afro-Colombian activists have been assassinated for their involvement in rights issues.

The country's indigenous population, comprising 3.4 per cent of the national population, were also excluded from basic rights and access to ancestral lands during the year. Like many Afro-Colombian communities, indigenous groups have frequently been targeted due to their location in areas with valuable natural resources. In March, the Colombia National Indigenous Organization (ONIC) and the Andean Coordinating Body of Indigenous Organizations presented a report to the Inter-American Human Rights Commission (IACHR) highlighting the vulnerability and marginalization of indigenous peoples in the country, with 65 out of 102 communities at risk of cultural or physical extinction. Many smaller groups have also been displaced as a result of the conflict. These included, in March, the reported displacement of 227 people among the Awá community in southern Colombia as a result of military operations. Two Awá community leaders were also assassinated during the same period. Other indigenous groups, such as the Nasa Sath Tama Kiwe de Caldono community, reported rights abuses and violence as a result of increasing militarization in their area. In October, Amnesty International reported that large numbers of indigenous protesters had been injured by security forces during demonstrations and that there had also been threats of 'social cleansing' from paramilitary forces.

In 2013, Colombia's Constitutional Court set an important precedent, which has had regional repercussions (for example, it has already been referred to Peru's Ombudsman). It gave an emphatic warning to a university in Bogotá because one of its professors had used racist language towards an Afro-descendant student. The student had submitted a complaint, arguing that his right to equality, dignity and education had been violated repeatedly. The professor used expressions of common parlance that equate Afro-descendants with slaves, sometimes even as he watched the student with mocking laughter (the young man was the only Afro-descendant in his class). The Court determined that no such expression could be used in Colombian classrooms, and ordered the university to avoid the repetition of these actions and to organize an event to celebrate Afro-Colombian culture and its contribution to the country. The Court asserted that educators using such language are 'acting cruelly', and that they are also violating the constitutional rights to education and to equality. Furthermore the Court considered that such expressions reinforce racist stereotypes, whereas education should be central to preventing and combating racism and xenophobia.

Colombia's national Law 1482, better known as the Anti-Discrimination Law, specifically criminalizes acts of discrimination based on characteristics including ethnicity and xenophobia. It also establishes the legal basis on which hate speech and hate crime are combated, protecting the rights of those subjected to racist or ethnic discrimination. Enacted in 2011, it has met with strong resistance from conservative groups and two lawsuits claiming it violates constitutional rights. In 2013, the Constitutional Court struck down one of these lawsuits, which disputed the constitutionality of the Anti-Discrimination Law on the grounds that indigenous and Afro-descendant groups had not been consulted sufficiently. The Court ruled that, in this case, prior consultation with marginalized communities was not required because the law is intended to protect society as a whole. The other lawsuit attacked the regulation from a different angle, pointing out that it is unconstitutional to incarcerate people for expressing their ideological, religious or moral opinions. This motion against the Anti-Discrimination Law was supported by Colombia's Inspector General, who requested the Court to repeal the law because of its violation of the rights to free expression and religious freedom. In this second case, the Court declined to issue a definitive ruling.

A number of cases involving Law 1482 occurred during 2013 in Cartagena – one of the few large cities with an Afro-descendant majority in Colombia – in the courts. This included, in August, an official from the city's government being charged following accusations of hate speech for posting denigrating comments on his Twitter account. The case has received considerable media coverage and is being led in the courts by black community leaders. Other court cases involved incidents earlier in the year concerning verbal abuse and physical aggression against a black community activist at the airport, and a researcher belonging to the national university in a supermarket. However, at least one commentator has argued that a major reason these cases reached this level was because of the public profile of the victims or the attacker, meaning that they represented only a small portion of actual incidents.

In the context of Colombia's current insecurity and weak rule of law, systematic political and social reform is needed to provide the country's minorities and indigenous communities with protection from violence and rights abuses. This means addressing the root causes of the displacement and assassinations that Afro-Colombians and indigenous peoples continue to experience. Despite the ongoing challenges, there were some signs of progress during the year in strengthening the rights of these groups. In February, for example, a judge suspended mining operations in approximately 50,000 acres of indigenous lands due to the company's insufficient consultation with local communities. The same month, a controversial eco-tourism project was put on hold following a court ruling on similar grounds. In May, Colombia also recognized 'the national and cultural interest' of indigenous sacred land – an important step in protecting customary territories from development such as mining. These measures, if extended and successfully enforced, could play an important role in preventing future violence against minorities and indigenous groups.

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