A BHP-backed coal mine in Colombia has been accused of violating the human rights of the Provincial Wayuu community amid the coronavirus pandemic.
A British barrister said the mine, Cerrejón had resumed operations during COVID-19, placing the community at risk and contributing to the issue of water scarcity.
The mine is equally owned by BHP, Glencore and Anglo American.
The Twenty Essex legal chambers of London barrister is appealing to the United Nations Special Rapporteur to intervene on behalf of the Wayuu people due to the alleged damages to their health.
“In the prevailing lockdown it is even more difficult for the Wayuu to access water,” the Twenty Essex legal chambers of London said in a statement to Reuters.
“In essence, the communities are seeking the suspension of all mining activities by Cerrejón in the current context,” barrister Monica Feria-Tinta said.
Feria-Tinta told Reuters that Colombia’s Constitutional Court had also ordered Cerrejón to prevent water pollution and control emissions.
Cerrejón rejected the allegations, stating that the information about its social and environmental performance was inaccurate and biased.
“We emphatically reject the presentation of inaccurate and biased information about Cerrejón’s social and environmental performance, including completely false data on the company’s water use and air quality,” the company stated.
“We regret that this account continues to repeat information without real evidence, apparently supporting interests that do not represent all members of the Provincial indigenous community.”
Cerrejón stated that it was ready and willing to offer information to the United Nations agencies about its social and environmental performance.
“In addition to embedding human rights due diligence processes to manage impacts by the operation, Cerrejón develops programs which contribute to improving the living conditions of the ethnic communities neighbouring the operation, including Provincial,” Cerrejón stated.
“An example of this is that, in 2019, the company invested $US3.8 million ($5.5 million) to strengthen, train and support members of this community, as well as taking measures to improve access to water and develop projects which generate income. In 2019, we delivered 26.4 million litres of water.
“Over our years of operation we have provided financial aid for access to higher education to 17,000 people. Additionally, through the Public Works Tax Initiative, in 2019 we invested $US2 million in the expansion of the water treatment plant in Riohacha, La Guajira.
“We refute strongly the allegations and the insinuation that we have acted inappropriately, both in general and during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Operations at the Cerrejón mine were significantly reduced in March, only to gradually pick up production in mid-April.