As Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau earns accolades for his pledges to uphold indigenous rights on the home front, legal advocates in Latin America are urging him to extend that respect internationally when it comes to the conduct of Canadian mining companies abroad.
On April 25 a coalition of more than 180 organizations based in Latin America, Europe and the United States presented an open letter to Trudeau pointing out the long list of human rights abuses allegedly committed by Canada-based mining companies in Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Colombia, Chile, Argentina and Peru. In a support document the coalition noted that 70 percent of all mining activities in Latin America involve Canadian companies.
The signatories urged Trudeau and his government to “promote legal and administrative reforms to more effectively regulate the actions of Canadian mining companies throughout the world,” according to the letter. The letter was released by the Due Process of Law Foundation (DPLF), a nongovernmental organization that promotes human rights and the rule of law in the Americas.
The need to “respect the rights of indigenous communities to self-determination and to free, prior, and informed consent before any mining activities are undertaken on their territories” and the need to “respect the decisions of numerous communities, indigenous and non-indigenous, who have said no to large-scale mining because of its severe damaging impacts on the environment and social wellbeing” were among the coalition’s nine recommendations to Trudeau.
“We expect the expressed openness toward new human rights policies prove true through the implementation of concrete measures restricting the conduct of mining companies headquartered in Canada to a legal framework consistent with the Canadian's international obligations,” the DPLF said in a statement.
"While Canada promotes voluntary standards of corporate social responsibility, its mining companies remain involved in serious human rights violations in Latin America,” said Daniel Cerqueira, senior program officer for human rights and extractive industries at the DPLF, in the statement. “The absence of effective accountability and sanction mechanisms for abuses perpetrated by these companies compromise Canada's image as a nation committed to human rights."
The letter referred to a 2014 report charging that Canadian mining companies are wreaking havoc on indigenous communities throughout Latin America in conjunction, and sometimes collusion with, the Canadian and other governments. The group urged Trudeau to do what he could to rein in these companies and bring their international conduct in line with the principles he has committed to at home.
“After many years of a lack of will to dialogue and an absence of critical self-evaluation by previous governments, we are hopeful that your commitment to human rights will lead to measures that hold state agencies and corporations to account and prevent further abuses by Canadian mining companies operating abroad,” the letter concluded after its nine recommendations. “Such measures would earn Canada greater recognition as a nation that respects human rights.”
The alleged abuses include environmental contamination; forced displacement; community division and breakdown of social fabric; criminalization of social protest; violent deaths and serious injury to mineworkers and opponents of projects; adverse health consequences; fraudulent acquisition of property; disregard for the rights of indigenous and tribal peoples; absence of real participation by affected citizens, and nonexistent or ineffective judicial remedies, among other categories.
The large-scale investigation into these charges was first put together by the Working Group on Mining and Human Rights on Latin America, a nongovernmental organization comprised of attorneys, activists and scholar groups from seven of the affected countries. Their findings were presented to the United Nations, the Organization for American States, Canadian political leaders and Canadian embassies in the affected countries.
The letter from the DPLF first congratulated Trudeau on the “gestures of support for human rights” coming from his administration as well as his promises to uphold the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in Canada. It quickly moved on to the 2014 report, The Impact of Canadian Mining in Latin America and Canada’s Responsibility, citing examples of alleged abuses confronting indigenous communities in Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico.
"In Guatemala it has been determined that Marlin Mine operations have led to major water contamination,” the report’s executive summary said. “Technical studies show the presence of heavy metals such as iron, aluminum, magnesium and arsenic in local rivers, including the Tzala and Riachuelo, downstream of the tailings dam."
In Honduras, communities around the Entre Mares mine have been displaced, the report said, and "it has been reported that the licensee company [Goldcorp of Canada] urged—and in some cases forced—the sale of land, arguing that the law authorized expropriation of the land or the state would pay less for it."
In 2010, the report alleged, “17 members of the Valle de Siria Environmental Committee (Comité Ambientalista del Valle de Siria) were accused of opposing the clearing of a forest in a mining concession area. These individuals were prosecuted in a trial court that first ordered their supervised pretrial release and, later, in February 2013, acquitted them of all charges."
Things were no different farther north, in Mexico.
"In San José del Progreso, in Oaxaca State, 23 persons were detained in May 2009, after the eviction of residents who had spoken out publicly against groundwater contamination in the area,” the report alleged.
Both the DPLF letter and the report noted that Canadian officials as well as authorities in the home countries have been made aware of the abuses by activists and leaders in the IACHR, the United Nations and other organizations. As of press time, the Trudeau administration had not responded to the letter, according to Milli Legrain of the DPLF.