Human Rights and Mining in Central America
For the last fifteen years, an increase in international demand for natural resources coupled with the recovery of mineral prices on the international market boosted the mining sector’s development. But the cost of this rush towards precious metals is considerable, especially for the communities living close to the mines. As stated by the Secretary Generals’ Special Representative on the issue of human rights and transnational companies, John Ruggie, the mining industry is the largest private sector violating human rights, a trend that is only getting worse.
Encouraged by financial incentives and lax regulation that doesn’t require any guaranties in terms of human rights, about 75% of exploration and mining companies have set up their head offices in Canada. Central America has become a privileged destination for Canadian mining companies. About 230 Canadian companies share assets estimated at a value of over 50 billion dollars. In spite of their promises of prosperity, these companies show very little when it comes to sustainability, and economic and social development.
In many Central American countries, transnational companies’ mining activities threaten local ecosystems and infringe on human rights.
“Big mining companies provoke division and violence in the communities, especially where public institutions and the legal system are weak, explains Oscar Conde of Guatemalan organisation Madre Selva. The Observatory of Mining Conflicts in Latin America, a network reuniting citizens’ groups and Natives communities affected by commercial mining operations in Latin America currently lists 206 conflicts linked to mining exploitation in the region, affecting about 311 communities. Nearly half of these conflicts entangle Canadian companies.
In 2014, Alternatives and its partners set up a program to strengthen the rights of communities affected by the mining industries in Guatemala, Nicaragua and Salvador. First, the program supports the work of organisations in the region that aim to amend and reform national mining codes, improving regulation of transnational companies and protecting the rights of women and men whose lives are affected by mining-related activities. To boot, the program provides direct support to affected communities through financial, technical and material resources, and facilitates their access to the legal system.
The project’s ultimate goal is to ensure human rights are respected in communities affected by mining in Guatemala, Nicaragua and Salvador. More specifically, the project aims to:
-Strengthen advocacy for human, economic, cultural and environmental rights of women and men affected by mining.
-Increase participation and influence of targeted communities in managing their resources and social and economic development in the region.
i) Local communities affected by mining activities, especially Native communities who play a key role in defending environmental rights. These populations often lack resources, information, technical abilities and institutional support to lead successful struggles against the mining industry. It’s therefore important to inform and train them on human rights, on the legitimacy of their demands and on techniques to document the violations of their rights.
ii) Local associations involved in the fight for economic, social, cultural and environmental rights. In the absence of state control on the mining industry, local associations’ work is essential in monitoring mining activities, raising awareness and informing affected communities and leading advocacy campaigns with local authorities and international authorities for social, economic, cultural and environmental rights. But members of these organisations and their families are often threatened, and those who defend mining investments burden their work.
iii) Journalists: In the Americas, journalists and media professionals are often attacked due to their work on environmental and territorial issues.
iv) Workers in the mining industry, often subcontracted or working without a contract. In the mining sector, the working conditions are painful and intense, unionization rates are very low and workers looking to get organized are often intimidated and harassed.
Sandinista Workers’ Centre of Nicaragua (CST)
The Sandinista Workers’ Centre of Nicaragua (CST) is a union representing about 60 000 workers with a mission to defend and represent its unionized workers, mostly workers of the Maquiladoras sector, in public service, in commerce, construction, health, education and mining. Its mandate is to negotiate collective agreements, represent its workers to the relevant authorities, and train and mobilize its members.
The Centre for Research on Investments and Commerce (CEICOM)
The Centre for Research on Investments and Commerce (CEICOM) is specialized in transnational conflicts, by presenting analysis, building education tools and raising awareness on the impacts of mining investments in Salvador and by campaigning nationally, regionally and internationally for socioeconomic, cultural and environmental rights. The CEICOM is currently reaching out to communities and organizations living close to the Guatemalan-Salvadorian border to raise awareness on the impact of the Cerro Blanco mining project
Founded in 1996, the Madre Selva collective fights for environmental preservation in Guatemala. Their goal is to inform and support local populations so they can peacefully oppose businesses that infringe on their socio-environmental rights.
The collective campaigns mostly on access to water, mining and mangrove protection, but also on protecting the Rio Quiscab watershed in East Guatemala.
Madre Selva works with communities, schools and municipalities.
Support Alternatives and their partners in their fight to ensure that workers’ rights in Central America are respected.