By Nick Meynen and Leah Temper.
These plaintiffs have turned to Canadian courts because there is little chance that they could get justice in Guatemala. But their chances of a fair outcome remain slim, this is because Canadian mining companies operating abroad, despite being far and away the worst offenders in environmental, human rights and other abuses around the world, still enjoy impunity for their actions in Canada.
Canada’s mining industry has a serious problem. It is facing allegations of killings and rape in Tanzania, murders of anti-mining leaders in Mexico, Guatemala and El Salvador, forced evictions and alleged gang rapes in Papua New Guinea, and alleged involvement in massacres in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The killing of Mariano Abarca in Chicomuselo, Chiapas, Mexico, on 27 November 2009, a leader of the resistance against Blackfire from Calgary, a barite mining company, is still reverberating. The company was forced to close down the mine. Employees of the company have been charged with murder.
Another Canadian mining company active in Guatemala – Goldcorp –has been in conflict with Mayan indigenous communities ever since opening the Marlin mine in 2005. In 2010, the International Labour Organisation and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights both asked the government to suspend mining operations because of environmental concerns and lack of local consent. A 2011 report showed that locals only receive 5% of revenues while environmental risks are exceptionally high. Despite this the suspension was lifted last year and the mine continues to operate after heavy pressure from the Guatemalan government.
Goldcorp also wants to exploit the Cerro Blanco gold and silver mine in Guatemala. This proposed mine has provoked fierce opposition in the country as well as in neighbouring El Salvador, as the pollution it causes crosses the border through the Lempa river, the main river valley in El Salvador. On at least two occasions, Salvadorean activists traveling to Guatemala to talk with officials have been abducted. More on these Goldcorp cases in the upcoming EJOLT report on mining.
There are too many of these incidents with Canadian mining companies in other countries to dismiss them as isolated incidents.
MiningWatch has published a detailed report on how these Canadian companies are also buying the press to keep their abuses untold. Heavy pollution and attempts to hide the truth also come together in the story of another Canadian mining company active in Kyrgystan. And we have reported before on Canadian companies fighting their way to gold in Greece as well.
Despite the poor record of Canadian extractive companies abroad, last year Bill C-300, that attempted to increase corporate accountability for the Activities of Mining, Oil or Gas in Developing Countries, was narrowly defeated after mining companies and their lobbyists mounted a campaign to block it. The bill would have created a set of eligibility criteria for the agencies’ corporate clients and established a complaints mechanism regarding extractive corporations’ overseas operations.
A new bill, Bill C-323, on the International Promotion and Protection of Human Rights Act, has recently been tabled, and would allow the Canadian Federal Courts to hear and decide claims for violations of international law that occur outside of Canada, and allow non-citizens to sue anyone for violations of basic human, environmental or labor rights when they are committed outside of Canada through the Canadian court system.” Mining companies have promised to fight this legislation as well.
Meanwhile, the Harper government has cut the staff in federal departments making environmental assessments from 40 to 3 and given the cabinet the power to override even these decisions, essentially making a farce of the process. At the same time, Harper has been cutting funds from science and shrinking government departments responsible for environmental monitoring. Environmental ngos have also been in the firing line, and organizations campaigning on mining injustice, such as KAIROS and Development and Peace have seen their funding cut by CIDA.
The contention of Canada’s government and mining sector that voluntary codes are sufficient and that it is the host and not the home country that has the legal responsibility to regulate, sanction and ensure compensation for corporate misbehavior would seem laughable if not for the brutality of the cases coming to light.
In reality, high levels of corruption, complicity among politicians and weak governance, among other things, ensure effective impunity for corporate offenders. In the case of Guatemala, one of the countries with the highest murder rates in the world, companies operate precisely because lower environmental, social and human rights standards translate into higher profits. As a report of the UN’s Special Rapporteur to the country said in 2007. “Guatemala is a good place to commit a murder, because you will almost certainly get away with it.”
We hope that in the face of inaction and complicity on the part of the Canadian government, the Canadian courts will send a message this time that Canadian companies cannot get away with murder on foreign soil.
For more information about the lawsuits, see www.chocversushudbay.com