The Guatemalan government is fuelling the fires of conflict by failing to consult local communities before awarding mining licences to companies, effectively raising the risk of bloodshed and bulldozing over the rights of its people, said Amnesty International today.
The report, Mining in Guatemala: Rights at Risk, published today, exposes significant gaps in protection for communities affected by mining projects. New legislation put forward by the Guatemalan government not only fails to address widespread concerns among Indigenous and rural communities about a lack of consultation, but includes measures that may exacerbate existing tensions.
“The proposed legislation effectively side-steps the concerns of communities. It does not address the issue of consultation in any meaningful way. If enacted it would essentially mean that communities’ views and concerns continue to be ignored. This is a significant missed opportunity,” said Erika Guevara Rosas, Americas Director of Amnesty International.
Reforms to the Mining Law are currently before Congress having been drafted in 2012. However, the proposed reforms will simply replicate the current loopholes allowing just 10 days for challenges to licence applications, exacerbating the problem of lack of consultation.
Tensions over a lack of fair process and proper consultation have previously led to violent confrontations, with protesters clashing with security guards and police over the proposed mine site.
International human rights standards require that those potentially affected by mining projects must be consulted and adequately informed, and that projects on Indigenous peoples’ land should only proceed with their free, prior and informed consent.
“Analyzing the implications of any mining project takes time, and 10 days to respond to a licence application is not realistic for communities who might be affected and therefore need to examine the proposal carefully,” said Erika Guevara Rosas.
“We’re concerned that the violence seen in the past will continue if a fair and balanced consultation process is not introduced. We are also aware that the rights of Indigenous peoples are not being respected,” said Erika Guevara Rosas.
In many cases, the authorities have failed to thoroughly investigate the death and injury of those protesting against mining projects.
On 13 June 2012, activist Yolanda Oquelí was shot and seriously injured by two unknown assailants. She was returning from a protest over mining when two men on a motorbike cut across her path and fired at her with a pistol. She was hit by one bullet which lodged close to her liver. She survived the attack and went into hiding with her family.
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights ordered the Guatemalan government to provide protection to Yolanda Oquelí and her family. Although the Public Ministry opened an investigation into the attack, to date no one has been brought to justice.
“The violence and repression that has taken root around mining in Guatemala cannot continue. The Guatemalan government must ensure that they implement and respect legislation to facilitate dialogue and decision-making between mining companies, state authorities and affected people. Communities must be provided with full and objective information about the benefits and risks of mining in a clear and culturally appropriate manner,” said Erika Guevara Rosas.
“We are also calling on the home governments of foreign-owned mining companies in Guatemala to monitor and hold their companies to account for the human rights impact of their activities, wherever they operate.”
Many of the high-profile companies currently operating in Guatemala are subsidiaries of Canadian companies.
Guatemala is still struggling to deal with the legacy of past human rights abuses from the internal armed conflict (1960-1996) when over 200,000 people were killed, including an estimated 40,000 who were forcibly “disappeared”.
Today, Indigenous peoples remain economically and socially marginalised. Land tenure is a particular problem, with Indigenous communities bearing the brunt of acute inequality in the distribution of land.
In Guatemala approximately 30 per cent of the population lives in extreme poverty.
Amnesty International is presenting the report Mining in Guatemala: Rights at risk in Guatemala City today with a delegation comprised of Alex Neve, Secretary General of Amnesty International Canada, Sebastian Elgueta, Central America Researcher, and Tara Scurr, Amnesty International Canada’s Business and Human Rights Campaigner.