Protecting Andean ecosystems and communities from mining's impact
Colombia is among the world's most vulnerable places when it comes to mining's environmental impact. The country's fragile ecosystems —ranging from biodiverse forests to high-altitude wetlands— are under seige from mining development. The indigenous and rural communities that depend on these ecosystems' freshwater resources stand to suffer the most from mining's harmful effects.
As the home of South America’s second largest coal reserve and potentially the largest gold mine in the hemisphere, Colombia must grapple with complex mining-related issues. These issues are intensified by national economic policies that shift priority from agriculture to mining. Government regulators, meanwhile, lack the legal framework and technical knowledge to balance mining regulation with environmental protection. AIDA seeks to help.
In the case of the Muriel Mining Corporation´s Mandé Norte project in the biodiverse Chocó region, AIDA contributed to a lawsuit submitted by the Inter-ecclesial Commission for Justice and Peace. Ruling on the case, the Colombian Constitutional Court established a key precedent regarding the right of indigenous and tribal communities to free, prior and informed consent under international law. Specifically, the court ordered the company and government to stop all work on the mine until they produced comprehensive environmental impact studies and conducted a new consultation process with affected communities.
In the Santander department, we are working to prevent Greystar Resources Corporation of Canada from building one of the world's largest open-pit gold and silver mines on sensitive high-altitude wetlands. If the Angostura mine is built, it will jeopardize these paramos wetlands that serve as "water factories" for lower-lying areas. At least ten municipalities, including a city of 1.2 million, depend on freshwater from these paramos. In collaboration with various partners, AIDA provided legal advice to environmental and mining regulators regarding this project. In 2010, the responsible authorities ruled that Greystar cannot build its mine in the area because the wetlands are legally protected. Greystar is appealing the decision.
AIDA has also been working with other environmental organizations to investigate a project that could become the hemisphere’s largest gold mine: the proposed La Colosa mine, a project of AngloGold Ashanti in the district of Tolima. In this case, we seek full and informed citizen participation as well as compliance with the highest environmental standards.
Finally, to address mining throughout Colombia, AIDA joined other organizations in filing two lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of the national mining code. In its ruling, the Constitutional Court established important precedents regarding the need to protect ecologically sensitive areas, the importance of the precautionary principle, and the independence and role of environmental authorities —as compared to mining authorities— in environmental licensing for mining projects.
Beyond Colombia, AIDA has been asked to help counter mining projects in Bolivia, Ecuador, Costa Rica, Mexico and Panama, among other nations. In each case, regardless of location, we aim to develop significant legal and scientific resources, including case studies and international legal briefs, that can be used in relevant cases throughout the Americas. See our bilingual mining resources website for more information.