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Breiner David Cucuñame

Breiner David Cucuñame, a 14-year-old Indigenous environmentalist, was killed in Colombia on January 14, 2022. (Photo: National Natural Parks of Colombia)

14-Year-Old Indigenous Land Defender Killed in Colombia

"We condemn the killing of Breiner David Cucuñame!" says Fridays for Future MAPA. "We join the calls for justice and stand in solidarity with the environmental defenders in Colombia and across the world!"

Jessica Corbett

Outrage and demands for justice are growing after 14-year-old Breiner David Cucuñame was shot dead last Friday while on patrol with the Indigenous Guard, an unarmed collective that aims to protect their lands in Colombia, known globally for frequent murders of environmentalists.

Fridays for Future MAPA—youth climate activists from the most affected people and areas—responded to the teenager's death on Wednesday by tweeting the common phrase: "They tried to bury us. They didn't know we were seeds."

"We condemn the killing of Breiner David Cucuñame!" the group added. "We join the calls for justice and stand in solidarity with the environmental defenders in Colombia and across the world!"

In a statement condemning the attack, the Regional Indigenous Council of Cauca (CRIC) called Cucuñame a "carer of Mother Earth" and "child protector of life" who wanted the Nasa people to be uplifted by "collective action and big dreams," according to El País.

Noting that Indigenous authorities blame dissidents from the defunct Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) for the killing, El País reports:

The attack on January 14 took place in a rural area in the north of Cauca, while the Indigenous Guard was trying to secure the territory after receiving reports about the presence of armed men in the preserve. When they got to the area, the dissidents fired at the Indigenous Guard and at the community, according to the North Cauca Association of Indigenous Reserves (ACIN). During the shootout, Guillermo Chicame, a member of the Indigenous Guard's security team, was killed, while Fabián Camayo, a leader in the group, was injured. The shooting continued and soon after the young Cucuñame—who according to witnesses had been accompanying his father after a long day at work—was shot dead.

"The Indigenous Guard are protectors of the land and the environment, and Breiner represented that," ACIN human rights coordinator Eduin Mauricio Capaz told The Guardian. "The murder of Breiner is the result of a phenomenon that was years in the making. In Colombia, armed groups dominate once more."

Amnesty International secretary general Agnès Callamard said Wednesday that "my heart sank over the murder of 14-year-old Indigenous and environment activist Breiner David Cucuñame. The age of the victim is shocking. As is the number of social leaders murdered in Colombia. In total impunity."

Mounting anger over Cucuñame's death comes as Colombia's human rights ombudsman, Carlos Camargo, announced Monday that at least 145 civil society leaders were killed in the South American country last year alone.

"We are deeply saddened by each case, because of the impact they have on the communities," Camargo said, according to Deutsche Welle.

DW pointed out that 2021 figures "vary widely depending on source, with the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) listing 78 confirmed killings, whereas Indepaz, an advocacy group, says 171 leaders were murdered."

The U.N. Human Rights Office in Colombia denounced last week's attack on the Indigenous Guard on social media, saying that "we reiterate the call to respect the life of all people, and to guarantee the safety of the Indigenous authorities and their communities."

The office also called for "all measures to be taken to prevent future violations" of human rights in the region "through dialogue and coordination of protection and prevention actions."

Right-wing Colombian President Iván Duque, who is under pressure to end such killings, tweeted that "the death of the young Breiner David Cucuñame, a champion of environmental protection in his community in Cauca, fills us with sadness."

"To his family and the Indigenous community, my deepest condolences," he said, also expressing support for prosecutors "to quickly clarify the facts."

Survival International "worked with the Nasa in the '70s and '80s, they were being killed then, they're being killed now," the group said Wednesday. "When will [Duque] put a stop to it?"

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