Mining companies speak out jointly against threats to social leaders

Image: Bedreiging Colombia

May 24, 2019

Mining companies Prodeco, Drummond, Cerrejón and CNR have responded jointly to death threats against Colombian social leaders. The leaders received these death threats shortly after a meeting with Dutch MPs about the human rights situation in the Cesar coal mining region.

While the threatened social leaders are still awaiting security guarantees from the government, the mining companies acted swiftly by issuing a joint statement that was also published in the local newspaper, in which they reject the threats and call upon authorities to investigate them and bring the perpetrators to justice. “We recognize the important work carried out by social leaders in Colombia in the construction of peace.”

The mining companies were not the only ones that acted promptly. Their most important customers, European energy companies such as Uniper, RWE, Vattenfall and Engie, both used their individual influence and also issued a joint statement.

PAX programme leader Joris van de Sandt: “We have pushed for such adequate reactions and it is good to see that companies are actually using their influence. Now it is up to the Colombian authorities to guarantee the protection of the social leaders, arrest and prosecute the people that made the threats and investigate the structures that support them.”

Violent past
The Cesar coal mining region has a violent past. The social leaders that received the threat stand up for labour rights and victims of paramilitary violence. Between 1996 and 2006 thousands of people were killed, and 55,000 farmers were driven from their land. The mining companies set up their operations during the same period. European energy companies are buying large amounts of coal from Cesar and are the most important customers of mining companies operating in this region.

The current death threats were made in a pamphlet published by a neo-paramilitary group called the “Aguilas Negras” (Black Eagles), which claims to be operating in the interests of companies. They fit an extremely worrying pattern in Colombia: more than 500 social leaders have already been killed since the signing of the Peace Agreement with the FARC in November 2016. In Cesar, as elsewhere in Colombia, both the memory of past violence and the current climate of insecurity have a paralyzing effect upon critical social leaders, journalists and human rights defenders.

Solving the security crisis
The unanimous and clear reaction to the threats by the mining companies is a good first step to break the cycle of violence in Cesar. The reaction was formulated within the CREER framework on the issue of the protection of social leaders and shows that mining companies can use their influence in a positive way. A next step would be to push Colombian authorities to finally activate a Special Investigation Unit to investigate and crack down on neo-paramilitary groups and their support structures, as promised in the Peace Accords.

Another important contribution to break the cycle of violence is to deal with the violent past in the coal mining region. Several European energy companies have called upon mining companies to start a direct dialogue with the victims of human rights violations during the conflict.

Joris van de Sandt: “We are glad about the response of the mining companies to the recent threats and hope they will follow up on them by monitoring the authorities responsible for the protection of the people. We now invite them to accept the invitation of the victims to start a direct dialogue about the violent past and about a peaceful future. Healing the wounds of war is a requirement for building sustainable peace and security in Colombia and there is an opportunity in Cesar to set an example that others can follow.”

Read more about PAX’s work in the Cesar coal mining region

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