Prodeco attends historic commemoration for blood coal victims

Image: Organisaties van nabestaanden herdenken het geweld van twintig jaar geleden, toen paramilitairen verschillende moorden pleegden en de inwoners van hun land verjoegen. Foto Joris van de Sandt

October 3, 2017

Mining multinational Prodeco/Glencore has attended a commemoration for victims of paramilitary violence in the mining region of Cesar, Colombia. Victims, church leaders, and local, regional and national authorities gathered in the town of Estados Unidos to commemorate massacres that took place 20 years ago in the area close to the La Jagua mine.

Joris van de Sandt (PAX): “It is very positive that a delegation from Prodeco/Glencore has attended the event. We consider this a sign of recognition for the victims and an important step in a process which will hopefully lead to a reconciliation dialogue between victims and the mining company.”

The meeting, which was covered by regional, national and international media, was organized by twelve local victim groups and was attended by approximately 800 people. According to one of the victims, it was the first time since the paramilitary violence that so many people had gathered in the central square of Estados Unidos, once a flourishing town with 1,000 inhabitants but now reduced to no more than 400 souls. Evelio Aguirre of the organizing committee, and a survivor of assaults by paramilitary troops, declared: “Hopefully this commemoration will convince the government and other key actors that the victims finally need remediation.” On behalf of Prodeco, Nicolas Gomez expressed solidarity with the victims. He stated: “Prodeco wants to contribute actively to regional truth-finding and to prevent any reoccurrence of past crimes.”

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 in their zone of influence, while at the same time they have benefitted from the abuses, for example by obtaining land in zones where communities had previously been forcefully displaced. While victims have been waiting for recognition, truth and reparations for a long time, threats and assaults by paramilitary successor groups have recently increased again.

Way forward
PAX is supporting victims in their search for truth and reconciliation. It is engaging with the mining companies to persuade them to assume their responsibility and contribute to an effective remedy for the victims. Van de Sandt: “We applaud the fact that Prodeco/Glencore wants to play a role in regional peace-building efforts. The best way to translate these good intentions into deeds would be to start a dialogue with the victims and communities in Prodeco’s zone of influence that is aimed at remediating them. This would be a truly great contribution towards achieving sustainable peace in the mining region.”

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