AB Colombia and Colombian Caravana intervene in an indigenous rights claim against British owned mining company in Colombia

AB Colombia and the Colombian Caravana have filed an amicus curiae brief before the Court of Execution of Penalties and Security Measures (Bogotá, Colombia) in relation to the implementation of a 2017 judgement issued by the Colombian Constitutional Court in a dispute between members of the Wayúu indigenous community of La Guajira and British owned coal mining company, Carbones del Cerrejón Limited, as well as various Colombian stage agencies.

La Guajira is a semi-desert region in north east Colombia that is highly vulnerable to climate change and that has been experiencing an acute humanitarian crisis for a number of years, due to water scarcity.  The Cerrejón coal mine is located in La Guajira and is the largest open-cast coal mine in Latin America, spanning over 69 000 hectares and producing over 30 million tonnes of coal per year.  Its continued exploitation and expansion has resulted in a number of serious human rights violations over the last three decades, including the forcible displacement of some 15 afro-Colombian and indigenous communities. To source its own water, the company has dried, dammed or diverted 17 bodies of water, to the detriment of local populations.

In 2012, Cerrejon successfully applied for a license from the state to divert the River Bruno, one of the only remaining water sources in the region and an area of special cultural significance for local indigenous communities. In 2015, a number of Wayyu communities began legal proceedings against the company and the state authorities, with the support of CCAJAR, a leading Colombian human rights organisation. Their complaint was upheld by the Constitutional Court in 2017, who ruled that the diversion project violated the communities’ fundamental rights to water, food security and health, and ordered the mining company to conduct a full environmental impact assessment and undertake a consultation process with the communities. This judgement was disregarded by Cerrejón who proceeded with its diversion project.

Against this background, AB Colombia and the Colombian Caravana, two UK-based NGOs working to protect and promote human rights in Colombia, submitted a third-party intervention to the Court of Execution of Penalties and Security Measures, tasked with overseeing the implementation of the Constitutional Court’s ruling. The intervention addressed the key standards under international human rights law and international environmental law in relation to environmental protection and to the protection of indigenous communities adversely impacted by large-scale investment and development projects. Particular attention was paid to the rights to a healthy environment, water and food security; the legal personhood of nature; the rights of indigenous communities to culture, participation and prior consultation; and the precautionary and prevention principles under environmental law. 

Doughty Street barristers Jelia Sane and Keina Yoshida were instructed by Sue Willman of Deighton Pierce Glynn, together with Garden Court counsel, Camila Zapata Besso, to advise on and draft the third party intervention. Research assistance was provided by the King’s College Legal Clinic.

More information about the legal intervention can be found here and here.