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What am I doing here anyway?

October 27, 2011

Warning: this post is more informative than entertaining.

Before I write anymore “experience” posts I decided to write a general post on what I am actually doing here since I have received that question several times since publishing my blog!

I am here in Bogota through the Canadian Bar Association’s Young Lawyers Abroad Programme.  Through this programme, the CBA, in conjunction with the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), sends a group of young lawyers abroad each year to gain international law experience.  These young lawyers are sent to human rights organizations, legal resource centres, legal clinics, etc. in
various countries in Africa, South America, and South-East Asia.  This year participants are working in South Africa, Namibia, Kenya, Tanzania, Guyana, and Colombia.

My posting is obviously in Colombia! This is the first year for my placement here at ONIC. During my seven months here I will be working
primarily with the Territorio section of ONIC, and will also work on projects with Avocats Sans Frontieres (ASF).

ONIC (Organizacion Nacional Indigena de Colombia) is a national non-profit organization that promotes the rights of indigenous persons
in Colombia.  They work specifically with the defense of the autonomy of indigenous persons, defending the history, traditions and culture of indigenous persons, defending territorial rights, and aiding in the control of natural resources situated on indigenous lands.  They work not only in the field of general human rights of the indigenous peoples but also specifically in relation to those affected by the armed conflict in Colombia.

My role is to assist with legal research and advocacy related to international humanitarian law and human rights law in the context
of indigenous persons. Much of my work will be specifically related to the effects of the ongoing non-international armed conflict here in Colombia.

To date, I have been participating in consultations on a new law aimed at assisting victims of the armed conflict (Ley de Victimas).  The Colombian government has the same Duty to Consult that the Canadian government has towards indigenous persons.  Basically this means that the Colombian government  must consult indigenous groups on new laws or other actions that will affect their rights (territorial rights, etc.). I arrived here at ONIC just as they were preparing to head out on countrywide consultations with the various indigenous groups.  My first two weeks were spent in meetings  here in Bogota with other members of ONIC, representatives of various indigenous groups, and government representatives. We were given intensive courses on the various aspects of the law and the methodology we would use to teach  it.  We then began travelling to do the consultations; I travelled to Cucuta (north-east on the border with Venezuela)  and Santa Marta (northern coast) and participated in consultations with four different indigenous groups (Bari, U’wa, Chimila, Mokana). There were approximately 130 indigenous representatives at each consultation, many had travelled on foot for days and were going to return to
their villages with the materials we provided to teach those that were unable to attend. Each of those consultations was two days long. My specific task was to take notes and record the discussions/important points/what was taught/etc. However, as part of the team we all participated generally in teaching the law and discussions and question and answer sessions with the indigenous representatives as well. After each consultation I returned to Bogota and spent 1-2 days preparing the required documentation to record what took place at the consultation.
We have a few more regional consultations to go, after which we begin the “Macros”(follow-up meetings from the regional meetings) and finally a national meeting at the end of November. I am on the team for one of the Macros next week and the following week I will participate in a special consultation with indigenous persons from various groups who have been displaced from their territories as a result of the armed conflict.

So that’s the big picture! It has been an amazing professional experience so far and as a bonus I have been able to see different regions of the country and learn about very distinct cultures in a very short time. It has been an extremely busy six weeks: my excuse for being behind in my blogging! However, now that we have the basics, I will fill you in on the specifics ASAP!

Thanks for reading!

Consultations in Cucuta

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