Mande Norte Mining Project in Embera Indigenous Peoples Land

The Embera indigenous peoples and the Afro-Colombian community of Jiguamiandó are trying to protect their land, the environment and their cultural and spiritual heritage in a region of Colombia known for its rich bio-diversity, which is currently under threat from a planned mining project.

The exploration for the Mande Norte project in the Departments of Chocó and Antioquia is being carried out by Muriel Mining Corporation (recently bought-out by Sunward Investments Inc.) [1]

The British registered mining company Rio Tinto has an 80% option for a joint venture and has been an essential partner in bankrolling the exploration stage of the project.

In 2005, nine mining concession were given for exploration and exploitation of copper, gold, molybdenum and other exploitable minerals; forming the Mande Norte Mining Project, which covers an area of 160 km2 between the Murindó Municipality in the Department of Antioquia and the Carmen del Darien Municipality, Department of Choco.

The Choco region is an area renowned for mega-concentrations of endemic species (native to that region) – wildlife, flora and fauna. This area was declared a Forrestal Reserve by the Government in 1959, recognised as Indigenous land in 1970 and Afro-Colombian communities had their collective land rights recognised in 2000.

If this project goes ahead as an open-pit mine it will destroy the forests, the habitats of a range of endemic species, and pollute the rivers. It will also destroy the traditional cultural and spiritual life of the Embera indigenous community (one of the 34 indigenous peoples in Colombia identified as at risk of physical or cultural extinction [2]) and the traditional livelihoods of the Afro-Colombian Community of Jiguamiando (a community that has been struggling for the right to continue living in their territory).

The Colombian NGO the Inter-Church Justice and Peace Commission (Comisión Intereclesial de Justicia y Paz) filed a lawsuit on behalf of these communities to stop the project; this was supported by a decision of the Colombian Constitutional Court decision (T-769 of 2009; 29 October 2009) in favour of the communities.

This decision established a key precedent regarding the right of indigenous and tribal communities to free, prior and informed consent. However, the Court’s decision has subsequently been appealed by the Muriel Mining Corporation and various government departments.

In July this year, the Bar Human Rights Committee (BHRC) submitted an Amicus Curiae (Court Brief) supporting the position of the Constitutional Court in respect of:

  1.  The need for prior consent before the commencement of major economic projects on land occupied by indigenous communities, in international practice;
  2. The importance of conducting environmental studies to determine the likely impact of any major project prior to the commencement of any such project, or the granting of a commercial concession by the state.



[1] see ABColombia’s report ‘Caught in the Crossfire – Colombia’s indigenous peoples’, pg21 for more information on mining and the lack of prior consultation – the case of Muriel Mining Corporation.

[2] see ABColombia’s report ‘Caught in the Crossfire – Colombia’s indigenous peoples’, for information related to the Constitutional Court’s Ruling (Auto 004) on the rights of indigenous peoples displaced by the conflict and the 34 indigenous peoples the Court identified as being at serious risk of physical and cultural extinction.