As Convenor of the Cross Party Group on International Development, I was delighted to welcome human rights defenders from the indigenous Awa community in Colombia. Also in attendance were representatives from SCIAF and ABColombia.
Robert Daza Guevara, spokesperson for the Nariño section of the Coordinador Nacional Agrario (National Agrarian Committee) and Alex Guanga, an Awá indigenous community leader and a member of UNIPA- La Unidad Indígena del Pueblo Awá (The Indigenous Unit of the Awá People) both addressed the group and gave a first-hand account of the impact that mining is having on communities in Colombia. Robert and Alex visited Edinburgh as part of their tour of the UK where they are promoting the recently launched Giving It Away report, published by ABColombia.
Colombia has suffered from serious conflict for 50 years. With over 40% of the land now targeted as suitable for mining, the rush for minerals represents a new threat. People are being forced off their land, with traditional rights under threat and dangerous consequences for the environment. Moreover, the people of Colombia are also faced with a number of other key developmental issues including illegal drug trafficking, marginalisation of indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities and rights to truth and justice.
There is a major problem in relation to human rights in Colombia. It is known that security forces and guerrilla combatants have specifically targeted the civilian population and millions of people have been forcibly displaced from their homes.
The last Administration in Colombia, under President Uribe, rapidly increased mining as part of the government’s plans to implements their Plan Mining and Energy vision 2019. The current Administration has also singled out large scale mining as an economic driving force, despite the fact that it conflicts with policies on the protection of ecologically fragile areas, land restitution and the protection of land for agricultural use. It is deeply concerning that the Comptroller General has warned that Colombia is at risk of destroying its biodiversity.
Robert and Alex gave harrowing accounts of the consequences of unsustainable mining, whilst showing the group photographs of contaminated rivers and spoiled landscapes. This has led to civil unrest within communities, but there are reports of the police arresting concerned citizens arbitrarily and exercising violence. Whilst there are laws and policies in place to protect communities and the landscape from exploitation and contamination, these are being ignored for economic gain.
Following the meeting, I have lodged a motion in the Scottish Parliament welcoming the ABColombia report and how it highlights the devastating impact of the mining industry in Colombia and calling on the UK Government to uphold its commitment to implementing the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights by ensuring that UK-registered companies do not contribute to or cause human rights harm overseas.
At the end of the meeting, I also encouraged members in attendance to contact their local MP and lobby for justice for the people of Colombia. If you would like to write to your MP, please feel free to download the letters that I have written to the British Foreign Secretary and the Ambassador of Colombia to the United Kingdom for more information.