Public Statement: UK and Irish Parliamentary Delegation to Colombia Express Profound Concerns for the Rights of the Wayuu Indigenous Peoples and Afro-Colombian Communities in La Guajira, Colombia.

Photo: UK and Irish Delegation of parliamentarians 2022: Brendan O’Hara MP, Claire Hanna MP and Gary Gannon TD, accompanied by Mora, Irish Deputy Ambassador, Maria Alejandra Navarrete, UK Embassy Bogota, in La Guajira with Fuerza Mujer Wayuu

UK and Irish Delegation of members of the UK Parliament and the Irish Dáil, Brendan O’Hara MP, Claire Hanna MP and Gary Gannon TD, were in Colombia from 1 to 7 April 2022. During their visit they met with Carbones del Cerrejón coal mining company (Cerrejón) in La Guajira, and with the Wayuu indigenous and the Afro-Colombian communities, whose rights are being negatively impacted by Cerrejón. 

The Wayuu and Afro-Colombian peoples rights have been directly affected by the announcement of the decision by Colombian Inter-institutional Round table refusing to restore the Arroyo Bruno Stream to its original course.

The Cerrejón mine is the largest open pit coal mine in Latin America, which until March 2022 was jointly owned by multinational giants Anglo American (British) BHP (Australian), and Glencore (Swiss). After intense exploitation for over 20 years, in January 2022, Anglo American and BHP finalised the sale, announced on 28 June 2021, of their share in Cerrejón to Glencore. 

The UK and Irish Delegation express their profound concerned that following Colombia’s Constitutional Court decision, announced on 6 April 2022, to reopen Ruling SU698/17 on the Arroyo Bruno Case and to reassume the oversight of compliance with, and completion of, the orders given in that ruling, the Technical Roundtable (Mesa Técnica Interinstitucional) of which Cerrejón is a member, announced that Cerrejón had complied with the fifth order of the Judgment corresponding to the study of the uncertainties, issued by the Court in ruling SU-698/17, and could start exploiting the Arroyo Bruno riverbed. 

According to National NGOs accompanying this case, the orders issued by the Court in this ruling had not been complied with, including ensuring guarantees for the participation of the plaintiff communities of La Gran Parada and Paradero; which is why they requested that the case be reopened by the Constitutional Court. The Court agreed to re-open the case and having announced this the Mesa Technica then issued its statement saying that the fifth order had been fulfilled.

This decision by Colombian Government institutions will destroy the natural flow of the Arroyo Bruno in the South of Guajira, which Wayuu Indigenous Peoples and Afro-Colombian communities have been struggling to protect through recourse to the law. Several studies point out that coal mining in general, and Cerrejón specifically, has accelerated climate change and created risks and impacts on groundwater supplies. In 2014, The Institute of Hydrology, Meteorology and Environmental Studies in Colombia (IDEAM) characterised the Guajira peninsula as one of the most vulnerable areas to climate variability in the country, and that its high levels of aridity make it one of the regions with the largest water deficit. Cerrejón’s monopolisation of water for its mining activities is already restricting access to water for local communities, and this will be further compounded by the destruction of the natural course of the Arroyo Bruno Cerrejón’s operations have been denounced by several prominent UN human rights experts.The UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment said that the case was ‘one of the most disturbing situations’ he had encountered in his time in this role.

In their statement British and Irish MPs strongly urge the Inspector General (Procuraduría General), to take Urgent Provisional Actions to prevent the multinational company from permanently destroying the natural channel and the stream. The MPs and TD also call on the Ombudsman’s Office (Defensoría) and Comptroller General’s Office (Contraloría) to take action as the competent control bodies to monitor the member institutions of the Inter-institutional Table, as well as guarantee the participation of the communities in said decision-making process. 

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British MPs take their concerns to Parliament

As a further action, Brendan O’Hara MP and Claire Hanna MP, members of the delegation took part in a debate in Parliament to discuss the state of human rights in Colombia to highlight how the human rights of communities living around the Cerrejón mine are impacted by the mining activity.

MP Brendan O’Hara at a debate on Colombia at the British Parliament 20 April 2022. Source: ParliamentLiveTV
MP Claire Hanna at a debate on Colombia at the British Parliament 20 April 2022. Source: Parliament Live TV