On 31-10-2017, Pax Christi International, CIDSE and COMECE organised a seminar on “Extractives in Latin America” in Brussels. Martha Ines Romero, Latin America and Caribbean coordinator of Pax Christi discussed how international business including mining was intertwined with violence and infringements on human rights of indigenous people in Latin American countries. She protested the lack of involvement of local communities in public dialogue on mining activities, which tended to be accompanied by corruption, mismanagement and hiring of armed groups. She called on the EU to not just organise dialogue between companies and local communities, but also take initiatives to strengthen the rule of law and protect Human Rights defenders. Pax Christi International has trained local communities in non-violent resistance in 6 Latin American countries.
Mikeas Sanches Gomez of Zodevite in Chiapas, Mexico was the laureate of the Pax Christi International peace prize 2017. She explained the plans of the Mexican government to undertake large scale extractive activities on the territory of the Zoque indigenous community. Many international and Mexican companies were interested in the concessions. Their organisation had developed and translated information materials in the three local languages (Zoque, Spanish and English). They organised a non-violent campaign rejecting the mining activities. They were confronted with intimidation, killing and arrest of community leaders, including Silvia Juarez Juarez who was accused of kidnapping while she was demonstrated not to be in the area where this took place. Zodevite opposed all mining activities which were only serving economic purposes while damaging the environment, health and human rights of the local communities. They wanted to live sustainably in harmony with nature, while they did not believe in ecological mining.
Tove Sovndahl Gant, policy officer indigenous peoples of the EU External Action Service presented international activities to strengthen international treaties protecting human rights of indigenous peoples. She explained the EU’s role in international negotiations on a new binding treaty, and in building capacity in the EU’s partner countries to implement the current UN guiding principles on business and human rights. An EC staff working document issued in October 2016 on the rights of indigenous peoples concluded that the EU has done much good, but that there is room to improve the EU impact and to be much more effective in protecting these rights.
Stefan Reinhold of CIDSE presented the outcome of the open-ended working party meeting on the binding treaty, the week before. While the negotiations were expected to continue in the coming years, he was optimistic about the prospects.
Issues in the discussion were the role of churches in supporting local communities and in offering a platform for dialogue between these communities and mining companies. While such dialogue was not rejected, Martha Ines Romero stressed the need to support local communities, who were in a weaker position and whose rights must be defended unequivocally by churches. Pope Francis’ encyclical “Laudato Si” and his interventions addressing mining were welcome. Other participants asked what could be done to support the campaign for the binding treaty and about the importance of allowing local communities to express themselves in their native language.