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Colombia: Recognition of Aboriginal Languages

(Sept. 1, 2010) On January 25, 2010, Colombia adopted Law 1381, which develops and regulates certain provisions of the Political Constitution and of Law 21 of 1991, which had approved Convention 169 of the International Labour Organization concerning Indigenous and Tribal Peoples in Independent Countries. Law 1381 regulates the recognition, promotion, protection, use, preservation, and strengthening of the languages of ethnic groups in Colombia and the linguistic rights of those who speak these languages. (Law 1381, DIARIO OFICIAL (Jan. 25, 2010).

The Law specifically identifies languages utilized by Afro-descendant communities and by native, aboriginal peoples in certain areas of the country. It highlights the rich cultural and ethnic variety of Colombia, with the purpose of furthering the construction of a multi-ethnic and multi-cultural nation. (Id.)

The Law prohibits all discrimination based on the use of any native language; utilization of these languages is allowed in parallel with the official Castilian language throughout the national territory. The Law states that native peoples have a right to use their own tongues while conducting businesses with government authorities at all levels. Likewise, official documents concerning native peoples also must be made available to them in their vernaculars. (Id.)

The names of aboriginal peoples must be used as they would be according to their native languages. When the name of a person also exists in Castilian, both names will be registered by the authorities and considered official. Translation services must be provided for aboriginal litigants in judicial procedures. Also, all government agencies with jurisdiction in health or social security matters must provide translation services for native persons, as well as documentation written in their own languages. (Id.)

Furthermore, the Law mandates that the National Development Plan and the Development Plans for Territorial Entities include specific programs and actions for the strengthening of native languages. Aboriginal tongues are to be included in the List Representing Manifestations of the Immaterial Cultural Patrimony of the Nation regulated in Law 1185 of 2008. (Law 1185, DIARIO OFICIAL 1-8 (Dec. 3, 2008), Global Legal Information Network ID No. 229548,

The National Advisory Council on Native Languages created by the Law is charged with designing urgent plans for the revitalization of native languages in danger of extinction or in fragile situations. Communities interested in reviving languages already extinguished may request governmental assistance for their revitalization. (Law 1381, supra.)

The State is to generate reading, audiovisual, digital, and other similar materials aimed at revitalizing the cultural values and traditions of ethnic communities throughout the country. Education activities provided in local communities heavily populated by indigenous persons must include usage of native tongues jointly with the Castilian language. Government agencies are also directed to create programs for the training of translators and interpreters in native languages and in Castilian. Finally, the Law declares February 21st of each year as the “National Day of Native Languages.” (Id.)