OAS’ Human Rights Commission Urges for Suspension of Mining Activity at Goldcorp’s Marlin Mine

The Organization of American States’ Human Rights Commission, the region’s most respected human rights body, calls on the Guatemalan Government and Goldcorp to halt mining

Washington, D.C.—As evidence mounts of human rights violations and health impacts at Goldcorp’s Marlin mine in the western highlands of Guatemala, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), an independent body of the Organization of American States (OAS), has called on the Government of Guatemala to suspend mining activity at the Marlin mine and take steps to protect the health of the surrounding indigenous communities.

The Marlin gold mine has been plagued by controversy ever since it began operating in 2005.  The Mayan communities affected by the mine have asserted that they never gave their consent to the mine, a right protected under international law.  The IACHR’s decision comes as concerns over the mine’s health impacts have intensified.  A study released last week by Physicians for Human Rights and scientists at the University of Michigan found that a sample of residents living near the mine have higher levels of mercury, copper, arsenic and zinc in their urine, and of lead in their blood, than a sample of persons living seven kilometers away.

“We think the ruling of the Inter-American Commission is important for the defense of our rights as the people of San Miguel Ixtahuacán,” said Maudilia Lopez, coordinator of the Front for the Defense of San Miguel Ixtahuacan (FREDEMI), a coalition of local organizations and communities affected by the Marlin mine. “The  IACHR’s decision, the recently released Physicians for Human Rights study, and the recommendations of the ILO to suspend mining operations all support our efforts to defend the rights of our communities. Usually the Guatemalan government turns a deaf ear to us, but we hope that they will finally act under all this pressure and attention. “

The decision by the IACHR echoes the finding of the International Labor Organization (ILO), which earlier this year called for suspension of mining activities at the Marlin mine until the consultation and studies required by ILO Convention No. 169 are conducted.

Goldcorp’s own Human Rights Impact Assessment (HRIA) released a week ago recommended that Goldcorp “[h]alt all land acquisition, exploration activities, mine expansion projects, or conversion of exploration to exploitation licenses.”  The HRIA, which was conducted without the support or participation of the communities affected by the Marlin mine, found widespread human rights abuses at the mine, including the right to consultation, right to property, right to freedom of association and collective bargaining, and failure to create effective grievance mechanisms for its employees and community members.

Goldcorp came under intense criticism at its annual shareholders meeting last week from representatives of communities affected by its mines throughout Latin America. One of the representatives Javier de Leon expressed concern regarding the mine’s negative health impacts on the surrounding communities. Goldcorp CEO Charles Jeannes responded that it was a “physically impossible” for the mine to be contaminating the surrounding community.

The decision of the IACHR was in response to a petition submitted in 2007 by the communities affected by the Marlin mine.  The Commission recommends suspension of mining activities until it issues a decision on the merits of the petition.

Similar concerns were raised in a complaint to the Canadian National Contact Point, submitted by community members in December 2009.  The complaint was submitted under the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises.  Although the National Contact Point has determined that the complaint merits further examination, it has not yet issued its final statement on whether Goldcorp violated the Guidelines.

“We welcome the IACHR’s bold opinion and urge the Government of Guatemala and Goldcorp to comply with it,” said Kris Genovese, senior attorney at the Center for International Environmental Law.  “It is far past time when indigenous rights take precedent over corporate profit.”

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