Denying Education is Denying Survival: the Case of the Nasa People

Guest Contributor - 30th July 2013

Colombia has a modern constitutional system that recognizes and protects the ethnic and cultural diversity that characterizes the country. This protection is enhanced through integration into the constitution of human rights treaties that Colombia has ratified, and that can be invoked in domestic judicial proceedings. However, the human rights situation of indigenous peoples is worrying; in this text we will refer to the case of Nasa people living in the northeastern region of Cauca.

The Nasa people face daily violence caused by the internal armed conflict between guerrillas and the army and security problems arising from drug trafficking in the region. This situation is compounded by geographic isolation, lack of infrastructure, roads or bridges, and basic services like electricity and water, which is not paradoxical if one considers that the region operates a hydroelectric largest in the country. In this difficult context, Nasa struggle to preserve their customs, their language, their beliefs and to maintain peace in the shelter, as the territory is called the Constitution recognized and allocated to indigenous communities.

After more than twenty years of fruitless struggle for their rights, Nasa decided to prioritize the enforcement of the fundamental right to education as a means to preserve their culture. They believe that education will facilitate the transmission of traditional knowledge, language and identity to the younger generations. To achieve its goal initiated legal action against the State; the first step of this strategy included several requests at different levels of government but spent more than ten years without that achieved a satisfactory answer. Under these conditions, the community decided to file a writ of protection, which is an informal and celera constitutional action that seeks to protect the fundamental rights of any person in Colombia.

The four main arguments in demand are: (1) the Colombian State violated the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights to the charging school fees in primary education. (2) The State has not promoted or supported the ethnic education through building schools, hiring teachers and appropriate, provision of textbooks in the language of the community. (3) The Colombian government does not guarantee the access of children to schools by roads, transportation and minimum security. (4) The conduct of the Colombian State condemns to extinction and the Indian community which denies the possibility of transmitting traditional knowledge to new generations.

Both courts ruled that rejected the demand on the grounds that the community did not use other regular legal remedies to enforce their rights before going to the tutela, as required by law. However, the plaintiffs argued that the lower courts ignored all previous legal actions and never addressed the main legal problem: the right to education of indigenous peoples as a survival mechanism. In April the Constitutional Court selected the case for review in extraordinary ways, and now his decision is expected; the Court must determine whether the Colombian state violated the constitution by failing in its duty to prevent and remedy the violation of the right to education of the Nasa people, and with it, their right to survive.

Ethel Camilo Castellanos-Morales and Castillo-Sánchez are PhD students and Counsel NASA community.

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