Cerrejón Accused before the OECD of Human Rights Abuses and Environmental Damage

On 19 January 2021, ABColombia together with Centro de Investigación y Educación Popular (CINEP), the Colectivo de Abogados ‘José Alvear Restrepo’ (CAJAR), and the Interamerican Association for Environmental Defence (AIDA) and ASK! Switzerland supported Global Legal Action Network (GLAN) and Christian Aid Ireland in their submission of a complaint to Multiple National Contact Points (NCPs) of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) requesting that they investigate multinational mining giants (BHP, Anglo American and Glencore) and Ireland’s state-owned energy provider, the ESB, over serious human rights abuses and shocking environmental pollution at the Cerrejón coal mine in Colombia. The complaints were filed simultaneously in Australia, Ireland, Switzerland and the UK.

OECD complaint related to the human rights abuses and environmental damage that the Cerrejón mine in La Guajira Colombia has caused to the Wayuu Indigenous and the Afro-Colombian communities living around the mine. Cerrejón is jointly owned by British registered multinational giants BHP, Anglo American and Glencore.

The Cerrejón mine is one of the largest open pit coal mines in the world. The persistent expansion of the mine over the past four decades has led to ruinous environmental degradation with serious human rights impacts. The air in La Guajira contains particulate matter in excess of the limits recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

As well as contaminating the air in La Guajira, the mine consumes and contaminates significant quantities of water. Studies on the Ranchería River have found unsafe levels of harmful metals in the water, including mercury and lead. The Ranchería River is the principal waterway in the region, and many communities once relied upon it for their domestic and farming activities.  The River’s flow was previously fed by 23 main tributaries, among them the Arroyo Bruno, which has been recently diverted despite a court judgment finding that it could violate fundamental rights.   The Arroyo Bruno supports the ecosystem of a tropical dry forest, which is in critical danger of extinction.

La Guajira is the ancestral homeland of the indigenous Wayúu people. Many Wayúu communities have been displaced to make way for the mine. Afro-Colombian and campesinos communities, who also live in the region, have faced similar forced displacement. At times, evictions have been carried out with armed guards, tear gas, and metal projectiles; and in 2016, bulldozers were used to destroy an Afro-Colombian village. Even when Cerrejón claims to have consulted with displaced communities, it has not offered a genuinely free choice as to relocation. Consultation is premised on the assumption that expansion will continue.

In the most recent Constitutional Court judgment, the impacts caused by the mine arise within ‘a general context characterised by indigenous communities that present a high degree of vulnerability, and large-scale mining exploitation puts their environment and health at risk’.  These impacts have been recognised by at least fourteen Colombian court decisions, and the mine’s failure to comply with domestic court rulings has seriously undermined the rule of law in Colombia. 

The UN condemn the activities at the Cerrejón Mine

In 2020, Cerrejón’s activities were also denounced by UN Special Procedures. David Boyd, the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment, remarked that ‘the situation … regarding the El Cerrejón mine and the Wayúu indigenous people is one of the most disturbing situations that I have learned about in my two and half years as Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment.’ 

This complaint forms part of a broader, decades-long effort to hold the owners of the Cerrejón mine to account.

Listen to a statement by the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment, David Boyd talking about the Cerrejón mine in Colombia or listen to it on YouTube

Read the full complaint documents