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A woman and child from the Proviancial Wayuu community.

Photo: Felipe Abondano

Protect Indigenous lands from dirty coal mining

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Environment has called on the Colombian government and company owners to partially suspend the operations of the Cerrejón Coal mine because of the damage being caused to the environment and the health of Indigenous Wayuu people living near it.

Take action: Call for a halt to coal mining near Indigenous Wayuu territories!

The Cerrejón coal mine is the biggest opencast coal mine in Latin America and is owned by three huge multinational mining companies trading on the London Stock Exchange: Anglo American, BHP and Glencore.

Special Rapporteur David Boyd pointed out that Colombia's own Constitutional Court had made rulings to protect vulnerable communities, but these are being ignored. Coal dust from the mine is damaging the health of people in the Indigenous Wayuu community of Provincial, and the mining has polluted local water sources.

Boyd concluded, echoing the official complaints of the community, that at least during the Covid-19 pandemic, mining in the nearby Patilla coal pit should stop unless it can be proved to be safe. Otherwise, the combination of air pollution and lack of access to water during the pandemic will bring an even greater threat to the lives of communities who have had to live with the devastating reality of more than 30 years of coal mining on their land.

"During COVID, Cerrejón has been a truly irresponsible company with respect to health here inside the territory.”
– Luis Misael Socarras Ipuana, Wayuu Women’s Strength (Fuerza de Mujeres Wayuu)

Please support the Wayuu people by calling on the President of Colombia and the Chief Executives of the mining companies to respect Wayuu people's rights and follow the recommendations laid out by the UN report.

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Background info

Read the full statement from the United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner in English.

Globally, mining companies have done precious little to protect people in response to Covid-19, whilst they have saught to profit from the pandemic, according to a report from June 2020 by War on Want, Mining Watch Canada, London Mining Network and others.

The Cerrejón Coal Company claims it has supplied water during the crisis to almost 300,000 people and donated US$1.5 million to humanitarian aid and food security initiatives.

However, the company stands accused of causing many of the underlying problems facing the region in the first place. The mining operation has been linked to the displacement and the destruction of livelihoods of at least 35 Indigenous, African descent and small-farming communities.

Cerrejón uses 16 million litres of water per day in a drought-stricken region and its operations have negatively affected 19 rivers and floodplains in the area, jeopardising the endangered dry tropical forest ecosystem.

“It is clear that the Wayuu people are some of those exposed and we are at high risk because of the rail line which crosses 140km of our territory. People are arriving from outside without any controls. What guarantees do we have that these people who are arriving to the Bolivar Port, where the freighters arrive to pick up coal from all corners of the world, won’t be transmitting COVID-19? The train, full of coal, is passing by 24 hours a day. The contamination continues to kill us and the company’s irresponsibility, too. And for all of us who are complaining, who are speaking out, we are immediately threatened so that we stop condemning their actions. The worst of it is that the government is a government on its knees in front of the company."
– Luis Misael Socarras Ipuana, Wayuu Women’s Strength (Fuerza de Mujeres Wayuu)