Today, on International Peace Day and two years after the signing of the Colombian Peace Accord, victims in the coal mining region of Cesar are still waiting for truth and reconciliation. Program manager Joris van de Sandt: “An increasing number of actors, including European energy companies buying Colombian coal, are pushing for a reconciliation dialogue between victims of grave human rights violations and mining companies in Cesar. It's time to act.”
Swedish energy company Vattenfall is giving the right example. Last year they published a Human Rights Risk Assessment in which they require mining companies to enter into a dialogue with victims. In a recently published a progress report they seem to indicate that things are not moving fast enough indicating that “we continue to see that improvements are needed towards a dialogue”.
Vattenfall has also made it clear that it is prepared to suspend its coal imports if mining companies do not take concrete actions. Now, other European energy companies seem to follow suit. Together with Vattenfall, they started a Colombia Working Group within the Bettercoal initiative. Recently, Bettercoal has tightened its 'disassociation protocol' for companies that do not fulfill their commitments.
Conflict in Cesar
The mining region of Cesar has been hard hit by the conflict. Between 1996 and 2006, at least 3,100 people were murdered, 55,000 farmers were driven from their land and hundreds of people disappeared. The paramilitary group responsible for these atrocities arrived roughly at the same time that mining multinationals started their operations in the area. However, mining companies have so far failed to address the human rights impact of their operations, while at the same time they have benefited from the abuses, for example by obtaining land in zones where communities had previously been forcefully displaced. While victims have been waiting for recognition, truth and reparations for a long time, threats and assaults by paramilitary successor groups have recently increased again.
Despite the growing economic and political pressure from abroad, a company like Drummond is still resisting the offer of victims' organizations to enter into a dialogue. Meanwhile, the security situation of human rights defenders in Colombia, including the victims in Cesar, has deteriorated and urgent measures are needed to guarantee their safety. Van de Sandt: “PAX is preparing victims for a constructive dialogue with mining companies about truth and reconciliation. Despite a lot of fear and suffering, they are ready to reconcile. Now it is up to the mining companies to join.”