On July 22, the José Alvear Restrepo Lawyers’ Collective (CCAJAR), the Corporación Geoambiental Terrae and local communities of the Guajira peninsula launched a constitutional action seeking the fulfilment of the right to participation for communities affected by the open-pit Cerrejón mine in Colombia. For many years, NB Power has imported and burned coal from the Cerrejón mine at its electrical generating station in Belledune in northern New Brunswick.
Their media statement explains: “The tutela action is a constitutional mechanism which allows any person to claim immediate judicial protection of their fundamental rights before a judge, at any time and in any place.”
The mine is operated by Carbones del Cerrejón, a company based in the British West Indies and owned by Anglo American, BHP Billiton and Glencore.
Communities impacted by the mine
About half of the population impacted by the mine are ethnic and Indigenous peoples, including the Wayuu, the largest group, the Wiwa, Arhuaco and Kogui peoples, as well as Afro-descendant and campesino (peasant) communities.
The media release announcing the constitutional action notes: “These communities have suffered serious violations of human rights, affecting their right to a decent life, to water, to health, to food security and sovereignty, to information, to participation and to free prior and informed consent, among others.”
It further notes that impacted communities have been denied participated in an official study (ordered by the Constitutional Court in 2016 and published in 2020) and in the development of a policy on coal pollution (ordered by the court in 2013).
Colombian coal exports to Canada
The Atlantic Regional Solidarity Network (ARSN) and MiningWatch Canada have highlighted that NB Power has been buying approximately 500,000 tonnes of coal from Cerrejón since the mid-1990s. Nova Scotia Power also imports coal from Cerrejón.
In November 2015, Francisco Ramirez Cuellar, a Colombian lawyer and union leader, asked NB Power to put conditions on the coal leaving his country. He further stated that if NB Power cannot guarantee the rights of labour and Indigenous peoples from its current sources, then it should buy from other sources that respect the rights of those affected.
Unfortunately, NB Power continues to import this coal and burn it at its plant in Belledune, which is located north of Fredericton.
CCAJAR calls for an immediate suspension of the mine
Last year, CCAJAR called for “an immediate suspension of the mining operations of Cerrejón” and further stated that “in accordance with its Paris Agreement obligations, relevant to guarantee the human rights of the Wayuu people, the Colombian State should gradually eradicate coal mining.”
CCAJAR has also further highlighted the human right to water and noted: “The impact of the mining operation in the dramatic transformations of the water system of [Wayuu] territory in the last 30 years is undeniable.”
To read the full statement on the tutela action, please see Constitutional Action on the right to participation in mining in Colombia. For more on the connections to Canada, please see Tracy Glynn’s article NB Power asked to put conditions on blood coal from Colombia.
The Peace Brigades International-Colombia Project has accompanied the José Alvear Restrepo Lawyers’ Collective (CCAJAR) since 1995.
Brent Patterson is the Executive Director of Peace Brigades International-Canada.