Three global miners including Australia’s BHP have become embroiled in an alleged human rights crisis in Colombia, with indigenous communities claiming the jointly owned Cerrejón coal mine is depriving them of water and exacerbating illnesses amid the coronavirus emergency.
As the mining sector’s relationships with First Nations people face the spotlight following Rio Tinto’s destruction of ancient Aboriginal caves last month, the Wayuu indigenous people of Colombia are launching an urgent application for the UN Human Rights Council to intervene in what they say is a “health emergency” being exacerbated by the Cerrejón mine’s contamination of the area.
Cerrejón – owned equally by miners BHP, Anglo American and Glencore – is one of the largest open-pit coal mines in the world, covering 69,000 hectares in the middle of indigenous Wayuus’ ancestral land.
Represented by barrister Monica Feria-Tinta, the communities allege the mine’s operations use 24 million litres of water a day and have contaminated drinking water at a time when locals are facing difficulties accessing clean, bottled water due to lockdown restrictions.
She said the main source of drinking water in the area, the Rancheria River, is contaminated and no longer able to sustain the local population, while the Bruno stream is under threat of being diverted by a mine expansion.