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16 July 2020

Legal Clinic conducts research to defend Colombian indigenous peoples and environment

King’s Legal Clinic students and staff have conducted extensive research for a legal intervention, filed yesterday, protecting the indigenous communities and environment within Colombia’s Linea Negra (or ‘Black Line’).

Colombian flag

The Linea Negra encircles 348 sacred sites that are considered the “Heart of the World” for the region’s four indigenous tribes: Kogui, Arhuaco, Wiwa, and Kankumano. Their ancestral territory also has global environmental importance, containing the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, a coastal mountain range rich in biodiversity.

In 2018, the Colombian President signed a decree granting special protections to the indigenous communities and nature within the Linea Negra. However, with mining companies interested in excavating the land for minerals, a claim has recently been bought to nullify the decree and remove the indigenous people’s right to the territory. The communities, represented by Colombian NGO, AIDA, are applying for the right to be party to the case.

The King’s Legal Clinic is also supporting the communities via partner NGOs in the UK. Supervising solicitor Sue Willman and students within the Clinic provided background research assistance for counsel to draft a third party legal intervention, which assists courts by giving an independent analysis of international human rights principles.

The Clinic team researched indigenous people’s rights and environmental and cultural protection, both in Colombia and internationally. The intervention argues for the protection of the Linea Negra territory based on the right to a fair procedure and prior consultation, participation and self-determination by indigenous peoples. It also refers to the UN Convention on Biodiversity and Colombia’s international obligations under the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development.

The students working on the case were Laura Knöpfel (PhD candidate), Lucia Saborio Perez (undergraduate finalist) and Daniel Tolosa Russi (LLM student). Laura said she found the research “fascinating - exploring how human and environmental rights fit together.”

The intervention, which was drafted by Counsel Mónica Feria Tinta of 20 Essex Street Chambers on behalf of two London-based NGOs, ABColombia and the Colombian Caravana, was filed on 15 July 2020 in Colombia.

King's Legal Clinic

King’s Legal Clinic is a free service offering legal advice from law students at King’s. Students work under the supervision of qualified lawyers on a range of problems. A specialist Human Rights and Environment Clinic will launch in the autumn term. Visit the King’s Legal Clinic webpages for more information.

In this story

Sue Willman

Assistant Director of King's Legal Clinic and Lecturer in Law (Education)