(Translated by Nancy Beiter, a CSN volunteer translator)
Thursday, April 31, 2009
The Supreme Court of Justice will be charged with resolving an action brought by Afro-Colombian and Indigenous Communities for breach of trust, which was rejected at its first hearing on April 23, 2009.
The breach of trust action was instigated Wednesday, April 24 by delegates from the Indigenous Communities just as Congress was beginning a debate on the current mining code, which allows mineral extractions that unfairly benefit multinational corporations while generating serious social and environmental issues in the affected regions.
Civil society organizations interested in enforcing the requirement of the rights of the Indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities of Murindó and Jiguamiandó supported the challenge by filing a amicus curie brief with the Civil Division of the Supreme Court advocating that the rights to cultural identity and pre-consultation be made a reality for those communities.
This past April 13, 2009 the indigenous communities of the Resguardo Urada and the Resguardo Jiguamiandó Murindó, and the Afro-descendant communities of the Zona Humanitaria del Pueblo Nuevo, located near the Jiguamiandó River, filed an action against the Ministry of Environmental Supervision, Housing and Territorial Development, the Ministry of the Interior and Justice, the Ministry of Defense, the Ministry of Mines and Energy, and the Ministry of Social Protection for the violation of the rights to consultation and participation, existence, cultural identity , autonomy, and social and cultural integrity of peoples of indigenous and African descent.
The action sought to enforce the right to prior consultation, as enshrined in ILO Convention 169 and the Constitution, which implies that these tribal peoples can have input prior to the implementation of the projects that encroach on their territory such as the one in Mande Norte, which is headed up by Muriel Mining Corporation, which itself has a risk sharing agreement with the multinational, Rio Tinto. The objective of the mining project is the exploration and exploitation of gold, copper and molybdenum in the municipalities of Carmen del Darién, Chocó and Murindó, in the Department of Antioquia. The project directly affects the ancestral lands of people of indigenous and African descent.
The decision in the first instance of the civil division of the Superior Court of Bogotá was to deny the breach of trust, finding that meetings had in fact been held in the community and the trust honored. These meetings did not include representatives of all of the communities and the communities directly affected had not been informed of the meetings. As soon as this decision favoring business interests was known, Muriel initiated both a legal and media strategy to generate political pressure to defend its interests. Through the use of press releases and the dissemination of partial information to columnists, it sought to discredit national and international organizations of human rights, like the Commission of Justice and Peace and Peace Brigades International, (PBI), through false accusations.
Subsequently, through press releases or interviews, the manager of Muriel Mining, Guillermo Brown, has hurled false accusations against our Commission of Justice and Peace and has announced a meeting with Alvaro Uribe Vélez to resume exploration.
We have also seen the design of a legal strategy aimed at linking the communities and organizations which assist them to the FARC EP, seeking at the same to time to discredit the Consulta de los Pueblos. Muriel Mining Corporation, which is responsible for executing the Mande North Project, was awarded a concession on 16,006 hectares for the exploration and exploitation of copper, gold and molybdenum. The company continues its false arguments about the consent of the community in order to begin its exploration activities. Its position is supported by the Ministry of Interior and Justice, which insists on recognition of a prior consultation procedure, which is not consistent with the criteria of international law. In exercising their rights and their autonomous authority, more than 782 Indigenous succeeded in at least temporarily getting the company to withdraw from the La Rica zone in mid-February. As a result of the exploration activities done without community consent, Muriel Mining Corporation has desecrated a sacred hill, caused various ecosystems to deteriorate or be destroyed, and polluted water sources. Three (3) hectares of primary forest were cleared to build the camps where operatives of Muriel Mining Corporation, together with the national army, have settled.
With this history, if the Supreme Court of Justice does not make a reasonable and right decision, we are at the doors of a new corporate occupation which denies the rights of indigenous communities.
Now is the time to join forces with the indigenous communities in their decision to defend their territory, protect the survival of the ecosystems, and to recognize and respect the decision taken by the Primera Consulta Interétnica de los Pueblos last February 24th and 28th and to voice a resounding “no” to exploration and exploitation of their territory.