Energy companies seek solution for blood coal victims

Image: Energiebedrijven kunnen het verschil maken, maar alleen als zij hun eis voor een dialoog kracht bijzetten met hun economische macht. Foto Daniel Maissan

January 17, 2019

Four major European energy companies want their coal suppliers in the mining region of Cesar in Colombia to begin a process of reconciliation with victims of human rights violations.

Vattenfall, Engie, RWE and Uniper announced this new policy in the recently published annual Dutch Coal Covenant progress report. PAX is pleased with this new development. Now the energy companies need to follow through and ensure their coal suppliers quickly start a dialogue with the victims.

Wouter Kolk, Campaign Leader at PAX, says, “It is great to see that energy companies importing coal from the Cesar region are making clear their coal suppliers should start a reconciliation dialogue about past human rights violations. Victims have invited mining companies to start such a dialogue, but without any result so far. If the mining companies keep ignoring outreach from the victims, when will the energy companies use their commercial leverage to force the issue?”

Conflict in Cesar

The mining region of Cesar has been hard hit by the conflict. Between 1996 and 2006, at least 3,100 people were murdered, 55,000 farmers were driven from their land and hundreds of people disappeared. The paramilitary group responsible for these atrocities arrived roughly at the same time that mining multinationals started their operations in the area. However, mining companies have so far failed to address the human rights impact of the paramilitary activity in the mining zone. The mining companies benefited from the abuses, for example by obtaining land in zones where communities had been forcefully displaced. Victims have been waiting for recognition, truth-finding and reparations for a long time. Recently, paramilitary groups have once again threatened and assaulted victims and their representatives.

Progress requires pressure

Despite the signal energy companies are sending to their coal suppliers, the energy companies still need to show that they mean business. The coal covenant between energy companies and the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs was signed four years ago and is now in its final year. However, the signatories concede that “‘reconciliation for victims of past human rights violations” is one of the most important outstanding issues that still needs to be discussed with the mining companies. Clear demands need to be translated into clear deadlines, with consequences. So far only Vattenfall has done so, promising “not to buy coal from a certain supplier until the situation has improved satisfactorily.”

Wouter Kolk says, “After so many years of waiting, a solution for blood coal victims is finally within reach. Energy companies can make the difference, but only if they back-up their demand for a dialogue with economic leverage.”

In depth: Stop Blood Coal

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