Europe needs to take into account the human and environmental costs of natural resource extraction.
During a recent visit to Brussels Monseigneur Ramazzini, Bishop of San Marcos, Guatemala, reported to European policymakers about the negative impacts of mining in his home country, Guatemala.
Mgr Ramazzini urged the EU to adopt norms for European companies to guarantee that their operations abroad do not violate human rights. The day before his visit, Monday 12 September, the European Parliament adopted a Report on a raw materials strategy for Europe.
According to Monseigneur Ramazzini, it is people in poor countries who pay the consequences of the EU’s drive for natural resources, which is at odds with its very own development policies. “One starts to doubt the very ethics of European relations with developing countries. With one hand the Europeans give support through development aid, but with the other they take resources which are extracted at the cost of human rights and the environment.” Mgr. Ramazzini told members of the press in Brussels.
Mgr. Ramazzini supports communities affected by megaprojects in their struggle to get the state and mining companies to respect their rights. In countries like Guatemala, the profits of gold, nickel and silver mining go mostly to foreign shareholders on the stock exchanges. Faced with a lack of political will to reform the mining laws to truly benefit the country, the local population receives few benefits. Indeed, they foot the bill in the form of environmental damage, social dislocation, and often further impoverishment. Land becomes more expensive and scarcer, and water is also used disproportionately by the extractive operations. Two international missions to Guatemala concluded that megaprojects also endanger food security. However, opponents of the megaprojects are criminalised and discredited.
Criminalisation is a structural and systemic problem throughout Latin America and takes place in a context of violent harassment and intimidation. In Latin America, protest – and particularly that related to large investment projects - is routinely met by direct repression and with the abuse of judicial procedures to convert legitimate protest into criminal acts. The aim of criminalisation is to create fear, tarnish reputations, weaken resistance, force opponents to expend time and resources defending themselves and to justify the use of force against them. Ultimately states and companies want to weaken and neutralise resistance so that large scale extractive projects can proceed.
As Mgr. Ramazzini was holding meetings in Brussels, a CIDSE partner, Father Marco Arana was being attacked on a rural road in northern Peru as he travelled to celebrate the anniversary of a community consultation process held in 2007 in which 97% of voters rejected a proposal to construct a copper mine in a fragile environmental area. The vehicle containing Fr. Marco and his companions was surrounded by gunshots and hit with rocks, and sustained damages including broken windows.
This is not the first case of violence associated with this copper mine. It is currently owned by a Chinese consortium, but in 2005 was the property of Monterrico Metals PLC, a British company. In August that year 33 people were detained for 3 days within the camp installations after a peaceful protest march against mining activities. It is alleged that members of a private security company contracted by Monterrico Metals tortured those detained. One person died. In a case presented to the British High Court in 2009 Monterrico Metals agreed to pay compensation to those detained and to the families of the dead man. Lawyers for the victims point out that whilst Monterrico Metals does not admit responsibility for the act, they agreed to the compensation as they consider that the victims have a solid case (more than 80 witnesses indicating the company’s responsibility, more than 50 photographs which show the victims with serious injuries within the mining camp etc.)
The use of natural resources is essential to our existence; however those who benefit carry a responsibility to ensure that this is done with respect for human rights, the environment, and the livelihoods of indigenous communities. One step is to ensure that communities are able to defend their rights in an environment that is safe and free from persecution.
We urgently need legally binding EU norms for European companies to guarantee that their operations abroad do not violate human rights; and trade policy must be coherent with development policy. The EU should ask the authorities in Latin America to fulfil their obligations to protect from criminalisation human rights defenders in peaceful opposition to megaprojects.
Extractives and Poverty in Latin America Coordinator, CIDSE