CIDSE held an interview with Luisa Rodríguez Gaitán and Jenny Paola Ortiz from the Centre for Research and Popular Education/Peace programme (CINEP/PPP) based in Colombia. A Jesuit organisation founded in 1972, its aim is to build a just, sustainable and peaceful society, by working for the excluded in the country. CINEP is engaged in the process for a UN Binding Treaty on transnational corporations for the protection of human rights and has brought forward the case of Carbones del Cerrejón Limited, a large open-pit coal mine in La Guajira, Colombia which has been affecting the local population and environment for decades. This case was also discussed during the virtual side event: “Digging deeper, mining in Colombia and the urgent need for a UN Treaty” on 28 October.
Why is CINEP engaging in the Treaty process?
CINEP is participating in the Binding Treaty process because we believe in the importace of these international spaces for monitoring and guaranteeing the rights of communities that are negatively affected by the multinational companies’ extractive activities Given the constant evidence of the systemic nature of damages and human rights violations, this international mechanism would allow not only for preventive measures in terms of monitoring the actions of companies, but also provide guarantees in terms of restoring rights and access to justice for communities in different parts of the world.
The hope would be that the Treaty would contribute towards a greater ecological awareness in the face of the climate crisis that we are experiencing in the world. Also, that humanity would increasingly understand that we must care for ecosystems, environments, water resources, natural goods and peoples who want to safeguard their assets for the care and conservation of the entire world. Extractive economies are increasingly detrimental to natural resources and have accelerated this deep climate crisis that we have in the world which is becoming more severe.
How would a Binding Treaty change the lives of communities in Colombia?
There are still many cases of injustice in Colombia, and the government is flexible in environmental and labour regulations, which puts communities and workers at a disadvantage compared to companies seeking to attract international foreign investment. Therefore, the Treaty would imply a positive change for those communities, because they would have an international standard that would make the Colombian government and the different institutions support, guarantee and comply with their responsibility as guarantors of communities’ rights, and national regulations would be reinforced.
Why is the case of Cerrejón representative of the various important issues at stake in the Treaty?
The case of Cerrejón is significant for several reasons. It is a company that is owned by three multinationals (BHP, Anglo-American and Glencore) in three parent companies with different international regulations. It has more than 10 judicial rulings and convictions. It has systematically violated the human rights of the Wayuu and Afro-descendant communities in La Guajira and has negatively affected their health, their environment including their water. Also, there have not been fair resettlement measures for communities. , It is a company that has corporate power in Colombia and influences decisions made by the state. A Binding Treaty would allow for the monitoring of these companies and the analysis of situations regarding compliance with regulatory failures on the human rights situation, and on the issue of corporate capture of companies. Cerrejón is a company where three multinationals are equal owners, each of them able to neglect their responsibility to guarantee compensation for the rights of the communities.
How would the Treaty change and improve the lives of the communities in the case of Cerrejón?
In the case of Cerrejón, the Treaty could improve the lives of communities by establishing mechanisms for access to justice for the communities and help reduce the high level of impunity companies act with today.
In Cerrejón’s case, judicial rulings failed to favor the rights to prior consultation, health, food and the preservation of a healthy environment including clean water. Although these rights exist, and although the company has been sanctioned, there has not been justice in this respect.
The Treaty also establishes some lines of prevention, which could help other communities to not be affected by the advancing expansion of the energy mining frontier.
Also, it will allow a greater understanding of the particular affectations that women experience and reparation measures with a gender perspective.
Main picture: Manantialito a community affected by Cerrejón, picture by CINEP