Mining company faces legal challenge to plans for gold-mining in Colombia

By agency reporter
June 10, 2019

Local environmental and community groups in Cajamarca, Colombia, have submitted a legal claim against mining concessions held by South African mining company, AngloGold Ashanti. They aim to prevent the company and Colombia’s National Mining Agency from overturning a popular vote which halted ‘La Colosa’, a gold mining project in their municipality.

The legal challenge, filed on 5 June 2019, calls for a judge to annul three mining concessions in Cajamarca municipality, claiming they are no longer valid following the popular vote to prohibit mining. The lawyers who have submitted the claim on behalf of local groups, have previously won a high profile ruling in a separate case to protect the Atrato River in another region of Colombia. They are supported by UK aid agency CAFOD.

Anne Lindsay, lead private sector policy analyst at CAFOD, said: “‘La Colosa’ was described as the company’s largest greenfields discovery, but the proposed site of the mine would have had a huge impact on communities in a rich agricultural region of Colombia.”

“Local people remain opposed to the mine, and highlighted that for them water was more important than gold. Their views, and the outcome of the legally binding public vote held in 2017, should be upheld.”

In 2017 the municipality of Cajamarca, representatives of small rural communities, environmental campaigners and a coalition of different community groups successfully halted progress on the proposed gold mine ‘La Colosa’ which had reached the exploration phase. They achieved this by means of a local referendum in Cajamarca. In the ‘consulta popular’ vote on 26 March 2017, over 97 per cent of the votes cast were against mining.

Following the result of the 2017 referendum, the company reported that all project work was stopped on grounds of force majeure. However, the mining concessions are still held by AngloGold Ashanti.

“As well as respecting the views of the community who would be directly affected, CAFOD is also calling on the Colombian and British Governments to ensure those who are working peacefully for the rights of local people in this case are protected, as there has been an increasing number of attacks on citizens from the region who participated in the referendum, and on environmental defenders who are supporting them,” said Anne Lindsay. 

The impact of the proposed large-scale extractive project on water resources and the protection of the unique Colombian páramo habitat of mountainous wetlands were key factors highlighted by the successful public campaign. Many other communities in Colombia have sought to follow the example of Cajamarca by holding similar ‘consulta popular’ in municipalities facing extractive projects.

* CAFOD is the Catholic Agency for Overseas Development. https://cafod.org.uk/

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