The indigenous Wayuu communities of Colombia have launched an urgent appeal for the UN Human Rights Council to intervene in an alleged human rights crisis caused by operations of the Cerrejon coal mine which is backed by Australian mining giant BHP.
The mine reportedly uses 24 million litres of water per day, and operations have contaminated the Rancheria River which is the main source of drinking water in the region. In addition, a planned mine expansion also includes diversion of the nearby Bruno stream, an alternative source of drinking water.
Air pollution from Cerrejon is also exacerbating respiratory illnesses and increasing the health risk posed by COVID-19. The claims come at a time when the local population is facing increasing difficulties accessing clean, bottled water due to COVID-19 lockdown measures.
The Wayuu communities are seeking support from the UN in their bid for suspension of operations during this crisis.
Cerrejon, one of the world’s largest open-pit coal mines, is situated in the middle of the Wayuu ancestral land.
The mine, jointly owned by BHP, Glencore and Anglo American, has rejected the allegations on the basis that the information about its environmental performance was inaccurate and biased.
“We emphatically reject the presentation of inaccurate and biased information about Cerrejón’s social and environmental performance, including completely false data on the company’s water use and air quality,” the company stated. (Australian Mining)
“We regret that this account continues to repeat information without real evidence, apparently supporting interests that do not represent all members of the Provincial indigenous community.”
Cerrejón further stated that it was ready and willing to provide information to the United Nations agencies about its social and environmental performance.
“We refute strongly the allegations and the insinuation that we have acted inappropriately, both in general and during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Operations at the Cerrejón mine were significantly reduced in March, only to gradually pick up production in mid-April.