ABColombia - on behalf of CAFOD, SCIAF, Trócaire, Christian Aid and Oxfam - organised and led a British and Irish delegation of parliamentarians to Colombia between 1-7 April. As a result of the human and Indigenous Rights violations that they encountered perpetrated by a multinational coal mining company, they issued a public statement expressing their concerns for the situation of the Wayuu and Afro-Colombians communities.
Indigenous communities of La Guajira and the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta are engaged in an existential battle with the Cerrejón Mine - owned by the multinational Glencore - over access to their sacred traditional lands, and the water upon which they depend for their survival. It has been reported that more than 20 communities have been forcibly displaced or dispossessed as a result of the huge open-pit Cerrejón coal mine. The Wayúu women, who have a deep connection to their land and water, have been deeply impacted, and have reported that more than 17 streams have been redirected or polluted.
In line with the papal encyclical Laudato Si, Members of Parliament were particularly concerned with the exploitation of coal in the largest open-pit coal mine in Latin America, and its impact on climate change. Upon their return to the UK, MPs Brendan O'Hara and Claire Hanna also raised the issue in the British Parliament.
Brendan O'Hara MP said: "I walked along the dry riverbed of what once was a thriving living river and I was amazed by what I will describe as the circular insanity of allowing the destruction of one of the most beautiful biodiverse places on the planet … to allow further coal extraction, the burning of which has contributed to rising global temperatures and which has directly contributed to the scarcity of water in the tropical forests of northern Colombia."
A Wayuu Indigenous community leader commented: " Mining in Colombia is destroying the land it's destroying the people, it's destroying the future for us and our children,… and ultimately it will destroy you too."
Claire Hanna MP said: "Cerrejón mining company, owned exclusively by the giant multinational Glencore, clearly treats the indigenous communities as an inconvenience."
The delegation issued the following official statement:
20 April 2022
A UK and Irish Delegation of members of the UK Parliament and the Irish Dáil - Brendan O'Hara MP, Claire Hanna MP and Gary Gannon TD - were in Colombia from 1 to 7 April 2022. During their visit they met with Carbones del Cerrejón coal mining company (Cerrejón) in La Guajira, and with the Wayuu indigenous and the Afro-Colombian communities, whose rights are being negatively impacted by Cerrejón.
The Cerrejón mine is the largest open pit coal mine in Latin America, which until March 2022 was jointly owned by multinational giants Anglo American (British) BHP (Australian), and Glencore (Swiss). After intense exploitation for over 20 years, in January 2022, Anglo American and BHP finalised the sale, announced on 28 June 2021, of their share in Cerrejón to Glencore.
The UK and Irish Delegation expressed their profound concerned that following Colombia's Constitutional Court decision, announced on 6 April 2022, to reopen Ruling SU698/17 on the Arroyo Bruno Case and could start exploiting the Arroyo Bruno riverbed.
According to National NGOs accompanying this case, the orders issued by the Court in this ruling had not been complied with, including ensuring the participation of the plaintiff communities of La Gran Parada and Paradero; which is why they requested that the case be reopened by the Constitutional Court. This decision by Colombian Government institutions will destroy the natural flow of the Arroyo Bruno in the South of Guajira, which Wayuu Indigenous Peoples and Afro-Colombian communities have been struggling to protect through recourse to the law.
Several studies point out that coal mining in general, and Cerrejón specifically, has accelerated climate change and created risks and impacts on groundwater supplies. In 2014, IDEAM characterised the Guajira peninsula as one of the most vulnerable areas to climate variability in the country, and that its high levels of aridity make it one of the regions with the largest water deficit. Cerrejón's monopolisation of water for its mining activities is already restricting access to water for local communities, and this will be further compounded by the destruction of the natural course of the Arroyo Bruno.
Cerrejón's operations have been denounced by several prominent UN human rights experts. The UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment said that the case was 'one of the most disturbing situations' he had encountered in his time in this role. It is alarming that the Technical Roundtable (Mesa Tecnica Interinstitucional) have taken a decision which would allow Cerrejón to destroy the natural course of the Arroyo Bruno when a Constitutional Court Case is still in progress.
This unfortunately is a repetition of when, just before the Constitutional Court announced its ruling on the Arroyo Bruno, the company rediverted the stream. The Court ruling stated that Cerrejón had not complied with all the legal and technical requirements under Colombian Law to redirect the Arroyo Bruno. Therefore, there is a grave risk of the Company destroying the natural course of the Arroyo Bruno before judicial authorities make a final ruling and the communities have all been consulted. The communities of La Gran Parada and Paradero have reiterated the absence of guarantees for their participation in the consultation process. The Constitutional Court's decision to reopen the Arroyo Bruno Case (Ruling SU698/17) to reassume the oversight of compliance with, and completion of, the orders given in the sentence, should be allowed to take place and its decision reached before any destruction of the natural channel of the Arroyo Bruno occurs.
Therefore, we strongly urge the Procuradaria General (Inspector General), to take Urgent Provisional Actions to prevent the company from permanently destroying the natural channel and the stream. We also call on the Ombudsman's Office (Defensoría) and Comptroller General's Office (Contraloria) to take action as the competent control bodies to monitor the member institutions of the Inter-institutional Table, as well as guarantee the participation of the communities in said decision-making process.
CAFOD Campaign for a new Business, Human Rights and Environment Act - https://cafod.org.uk/Campaign/Human-rights
London Mining Network: http://londonminingnetwork.org