Vattenfall requires reconciliation between mining companies and victims

November 7, 2017

European energy giant Nuon-Vattenfall requires that mining companies take concrete steps towards a reconciliation dialogue concerning past human rights violations. This clear recommendation is made in a report on the human rights situation in the coal mining region in Colombia which was published today. In the report Vattenfall also makes clear that it is prepared to suspend its coal imports if mining companies do not take concrete actions.

The report ‘A Human Right Risk Assessment in Colombia‘ is the result of a three week investigation that Vattenfall carried out in Colombia in March this year, as part of an enhanced Human Rights Due Diligence for Colombia that the power company has developed. It report recognizes that coal mining has taken place in a context of violence, conflict and corruption in which many people have been victimized. The report also makes clear that the majority of crimes and murders have not been resolved, perpetrators were rarely prosecuted and access to remedy for victims has been ineffective.

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.

Action Plan
Vattenfall’s report is clear when it comes to the action required: “Companies should take concrete efforts to engage in constructive dialogue with victims of past human rights violations.” The report also states that “companies should set up, publically communicate, and implement a zero-tolerance policy regarding threats, intimidation, and physical or legal attacks against human rights defenders…”. Vattenfall makes clear that these requirements and other recommendations need to be translated into an action plan that mining companies need to agree to and executed.

In order to ensure that mining companies will do what is expected, Vattenfall is prepared to use its commercial leverage: “Ultimately, should we reach the conclusion that a company is not willing to agree on an action plan or has not met an agreed action plan within reasonable time frames, we will seek to temporarily cease imports, followed by disengagement if matters remain unsolved.”

Wouter Kolk, campaign coordinator for PAX: “We applaud Vattenfall for setting a new human rights benchmark and clearly showing its commitment to identify and address the human rights impact in the Colombian supply chain. From other energy companies such as RWE, Uniper and Engie we expect that they follow Vattenfalls lead and endorse the report, including its recommendations towards remedy for victims of past human rights violations.”

Way forward
Vattenfall’s report is published immediately after the visit of a Colombian mining mission to Germany and the Netherlands. During that visit several high government officials recognized that dealing with the past is an essential component of building a sustainable peace in the mining region and that it was time for companies to move from statements to actions.

PAX will closely monitor if concrete actions will indeed be taken and include a commitment of mining companies to a collective non-judicial reconciliation dialogue with victim communities. This should include the elements of recognition, truth finding, compensation and guarantees of non-repetition. Wouter Kolk: “Such a reconciliation dialogue should take the shape of a regional peace building effort and could become an emblematic case within the larger framework of the Colombian Peace Process. Mining companies became part of the conflict. Now they have an opportunity to become part of the solution.”

In depth: Stop Blood Coal

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