During the conflict in the Cesar department of Colombia, large mining and agricultural companies have stood by while human rights violations took place. These companies must now assess their own role during this period. They need to do their part toward remedy and reparation in accordance with international standards on business and human rights, and all of this within the context of the peace process.
These are some of the findings of a study published by the National Centre of Historical Memory in Colombia. The study, Land and coal in the vortex of the Great Magdalena, looks at the impacts of large-scale coal mining and agriculture on human rights in the context of the internal conflict in the department of Cesar. It is an important contribution to truth finding and thus peace-building in this war-torn region.
At the same time
The study shows how the rise of mining coincided with the arrival of the paramilitary movement AUC, which terrorized the region between 1996 and 2006. Many communities, often beneficiaries of land reform, were driven off their land; land which was later sold at below-market prices to companies and large landowners.
Victims twice over
Although the emphasis of the publication is on the active role of local elites and businessmen in attracting the violence, it also shows that the mining companies in the region did not do enough to help prevent the atrocities from occurring. Moreover, the study argues that some companies have not properly applied due diligence in land acquisition and in this way revictimized communities that were already displaced by the violence. This is especially so since Cesar is a “zone of conflict [with] weak governability […] in which there are frequent incongruities in public policies or by state officials to attract national or foreign investment, to the detriment of human rights and the construction of peace.”
The study also looks at the present situation and shows that the human rights problems in the region are far from being resolved. Land restitution to the thousands of victims of forced displacement has been blocked by opposing interests of the national government and local elites, who are backing the promotion of large-scale mining and agro-industrial development. Meanwhile, the leaders of the land restitution movement are being threatened by new illegal armed groups. Equally problematic is that the Victims and Land Restitution Law has not helped clarify the motivations of the paramilitaries for killing and forcibly displacing the peasants.
The study concludes: “Multinationals and other economic actors must evaluate the human rights liabilities of their predecessors and / or themselves, in order to remedy and repair them in light of international business standards on human rights and the rights of victims.”
An honest narrative
Joris van de Sandt, head of PAX’s Latin America program, says: “The peace process has brought hope to Colombia, but sustainable regional peace is only possible if an honest and balanced narrative about the past can be constructed. This study by the National Centre of Historical Memory is a valuable contribution to truth finding and we hope that mining companies and other influential actors will embrace it. It could constitute a point of departure in direct dialogue with victim communities about how to address the past in order to build a better and peaceful future for the region.”