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Indigenous & Afro-Descendant Laws & Rights

Working with communities to develop their own laws and policies

to defend their territories and rights

as a critical step towards self-determination. 

New Project -
Revitalization of Indigenous and Afro-Descendant Laws in Colombia

The principal objective of this three-year action research project (in development) is to revitalize Indigenous and Afro-Descendant legal traditions and justice systems in Colombia with a focus on two emblematic cases—the case of the Embera Chamí People of the Resguardo Indígena de Orígen Colonial Cañamomo Lomaprieta and the Black Communities of the Palenke Alto Cauca. We will do this through methodological innovations and alliances that enable:


  • Stewarding the land, the water, the forest cover and all territorial relations in keeping with Indigenous and Afro-Descendant principles for justice, self-governance, self-determination and life-projects;

  • Rebuilding and strengthening community members’ knowledge of, support for, access to and use of their own legal and justice systems with a view to harmonious intra-community relations, strengthened self-governance and greater cultural and territorial integrity;

  • Relationship-building with state agencies and representatives towards stronger possibilities for state recognition and protection of Indigenous and Afro-Descendant legal traditions and justice systems, and the development of more equitable ‘interlegal’ mechanisms and tools for coordination among jurisdictions, paving the way forward for peace built from the territories;

  • Strengthening alliances among Indigenous and Afro-Descendant Peoples in Colombia and internationally, together with academic and non-academic allies;

  • Future replications and adaptations of this revitalization methodology and inter-jurisdictional coordination process beyond the participating communities.


The key research questions underpinning the project include: What can be learned from the adaptation of revitalization methodologies as they ‘travel’ among specific socio-legal, political, and cultural contexts, including across distinct peoples and national borders? And: What is the potential for ‘cross-pollination’—the mutual enriching of methodologies in conversation—in this dynamic trans-peoples, transnational context?


Free, Prior and Informed Consent - autonomous law-making

The right of Indigenous and Tribal Peoples to give or withhold their free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) for any project, law or administrative act affecting their ancestral territories is recognized in diverse international human rights instruments such as the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (2007) and ILO Convention I69 concerning Indigenous and Tribal Peoples (1989), and further refined in international jurisprudence. Yet fundamentally, how this right should be respected and upheld is determined by the legitimate authorities of each People, following their own self-defined process and criteria, in alignment with their collective life projects and aspirations. Given ever-growing interests in the resources embedded in ancestral territories, developing FPIC law is a key tool for territorial defence and upholding self-determination.


Autonomous FPIC law-making processes I have supported include:

FPIC laws can help counter state, company or NGO attempts to impose unilateral processes. But also, the very process of developing autonomous FPIC laws can help strengthen community visioning and unity, and hold up and include diverse perspectives and voices -- women, youth, elders and medicine people, for example. It can help strengthen awareness and organizational capacities around internationally recognized Indigenous rights; and build on the teachings from the land and its ancestral custodians. These are dynamic processes and living laws - subject to ongoing revision and refinement, as defined by the legitimate authorities.


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