In Popayan, a beautifully restored colonial city called the White City (la ciudad blanca), representatives of Lawyers without Borders Canada (LWBC) met with approximately 25 Nasa Councillors to deliver five letters of support from as many Canadian First Nations Grand Chiefs from Quebec and British Columbia, as well as leaders of Aboriginal Justice programs. This show of international support from other Aboriginal peoples was received by Nasa leaders with emotion and gratitude, not unlike what had occurred the preceding week with Awa community leaders.
Once the ceremony concluded, the LWBC team went to a secluded camp near Popayan to meet with approximately twenty Nasa and Yanacona leaders to deliver a workshop, jointly with Ms. Soraya Gutierrez of the CCAJAR, Ms. Ana Manuela Ochoa, a Kankuamo lawyer of the National Indigenous Organization of Colombia (ONIC) and Ms. Emit Lopez Dias, a Nasa counsel with the Regional Indigenous Council of Cauca (CRIC). The contribution of the LWBC team to the workshop included sessions on the situation of Canadian Aboriginal peoples and the International Criminal Court. The two-day workshop tackled aimed at identifying human rights protection measures for the Nasa people, as well as national, inter-American and international recourses possibly available to them.
In the course of those two days, it became obvious to the LWBC team that the internal armed conflict has a significant impact on the culture and identity of those Indigenous peoples and their will to protect them is an example of resistance to forces that are so overwhelming. Nonetheless, their gentleness and humour, despite the aggravation caused by the armed conflict, are humbling. For instance, a young woman, a local Councilor, who was attending the workshop could not walk as a result of a shooting by military forces that left her crippled – a so-called “error” that is being investigated – but she nonetheless wants to continue the resistance and participate in the defence of the fundamental rights of her nation. As well, each time a vehicle was approaching the compound, nervousness was obvious in all participants as they are always concerned that illegal combatants might appear at any time, day and night.
Finally, before leaving Popayan, the LWBC team and Ms. Emit Lopez Dias, met with the Regional representative of the Procurador General de la Nación (aninstitution that has the responsibility to ensure that all public entities abide by the 1991 Constitution and enforced legislation) to discuss five instances of serious assaults on Indigenous people that are of particular concern to the Cauca Regional Indigenous Council (CRIC). This meeting allowed the participants to provide each other with an update about those issues and to identify clearly the next steps that would provide closure to those affected.
It is also worth mentioning the mere presence of LWB Canada prompted people to contact the team, expressing concerns for their safety and looking for advice. For instance a young single mother of two beautiful girls whose father was murdered by illegal combatants and whose mother has been receiving death threats wanted to discuss her personal situation. She desires to provide for her daughters some level of security and had chosen Canada as a safe haven but was declined refugee status. She therefore wanted to know more about the process to obtain access to our country. Throughout this mission, it was obvious to the team that the armed conflict in Colombia and violations of fundamental rights, particularly to Indigenous peoples, had caused a profound scar on the Colombian society and the presence of the international community is not only wished but very much expected as Colombians do not want the world to close its eyes on such a human tragedy.