Press Release: Human rights ombudsperson for Canadian corporations could be a step in the right direction, says BTS

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January 24, 2018

(Halifax / Guatemala City) For the Maritimes-Guatemala Breaking the Silence Network (BTS), the recently announced Canadian Ombudsperson for Responsible Enterprise could be a step towards increased corporate accountability, though its effectiveness remains to be seen.

The office will have the power to investigate human rights complaints against Canadian companies operating abroad and to issue public recommendations to both companies found to have committed harm, as well as to the Canadian government. The Ombudsperson could recommend the withdrawal of some government services such as trade advocacy in specific cases, as well as the reform of Canadian laws and policies.

As a solidarity organization, BTS has worked with Guatemalans struggling for political, social and economic justice since 1988. In 2004, BTS began providing human rights accompaniment to communities in Guatemala experiencing grave human rights abuses associated with Canadian mining projects. Since then, BTS members throughout the Maritimes have been part of a growing movement in the country demanding greater oversight of Canadian mining companies operating abroad. For years, BTS members have joined members of the Canadian Network on Corporate Accountability in calling for the creation of an effective Ombudsperson for the extractive sector.

Guatemalan Member of Congress and former coordinator of the Highland Small Farmers Committee (CCDA) Leocadio Juracán stressed the importance of this recently announced office beyond Guatemala, stating: “Hopefully, this institution that’s being formed in Canada truly is independent and will be allowed to really do its work, because it’s for the benefit of humanity.”  Earlier this month, Juracán called for the revocation of 90 mining exploitation and exploration licenses issued by the Guatemalan government for failing to respect the right to free, prior and informed consent of Indigenous communities in the country.

“In order for the Ombudsperson to be fully effective, there must be complete independence from government and corporate interference, as well as the necessary resources and tools to ensure that they can carry out thorough investigations,” says Stacey Gomez, BTS Maritimes Coordinator. “We will be watching to see how effective the office is in enabling Guatemalan communities affected by Canadian mining companies to, at the end of the day, receive remedy for harms caused.”

In Guatemala, five mines are currently owned or have been previously owned by Canadian companies. There are also numerous exploration licenses held by Canadian companies. For years, Canadian mining companies operating in the country, for instance Hudbay Minerals, Goldcorp and Tahoe Resources, have been denounced in Guatemala, Canada and internationally for grave human rights abuses committed around their projects, including murder, threats, intimidation, gang rape, contamination and scarcity of water.

Amalia Lemus of the Diocesan Committee in Defense of Nature (CODIDENA) stresses that, “It is important to investigate the human rights abuses which have occurred in our area, including the attacks, the state of siege and criminalization against our communities.” CODIDENA is based out of Santa Rosa, Guatemala where Tahoe Resources operates the Escobal mine.

Juracán emphasizes that megaprojects such as transnational mining “have caused significant environmental damage, destroyed hills and entire mountains, contaminated rivers and that, in reality, they haven’t meant a significant contribution to revenues in the country.” In the case of Goldcorp’s Marlin mine, he states, “It has stopped its operations, but has left the cost of mine closure to the communities and municipality, and this affects the population.”

“We as BTS are committed to continuing to support communities resisting Canadian mining companies and to bringing human rights abuses to the attention of the Canadian government, as well as the Canadian embassy in Guatemala, as we have done for the past 14 years,” emphasized Lisa Rankin, BTS Guatemala Coordinator.

BTS and its Guatemalan partners call on the Canadian government to ensure that the announced office can operate independently and has the resources and tools necessary to remedy and prevent human rights abuses, especially in the extractive sector.

Backgrounder

About Breaking the Silence: BTS is a voluntary network of people in the Maritimes who began to organize in 1988 to support the efforts of Guatemalans struggling for political, social, and economic justice. Today, BTS has committees in Fredericton, Halifax, PEI, the North Shore, Fredericton, and Antigonish. BTS engages in human rights accompaniment, public education and political advocacy around key issues such as the following: defense of territory; gender justice; truth, justice and impunity; and security. BTS has been accompanying communities affected by Canadian mining since 2004. For updates on these communities and more, visit the Breaking the Silence blog.

Canadian Mining in Guatemala: Key Cases BTS has Accompanied

Goldcorp’s Marlin Mine

In 2005, the Marlin mine began operations in San Miguel Ixtahuacan, San Marcos. Community members were misled to believe that the land would be used to grow orchids. In 2010, the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights (IACHR) called for the project’s suspension, asking that the Guatemalan government implement precautionary measures to prevent environmental damage. However, the suspension was later reversed. Community members, local, national, and international organizations have denounced the effects of the mine on the local community and environment, including threats and attacks against community leaders, criminalization, water contamination, illness, water shortage, and social division. These issues have been brought to the attention of shareholders and the Canadian government on numerous occasions. The mine is currently in its closure phase with no indication to the public of Goldcorp’s closure plan.

For more information, visit Goldcorp Out of Guatemala

Hudbay Minerals, formerly owners of the Fenix Nickel Mine

The Fenix nickel mine, located in El Estor, Izabal, dates back to the 1960s. INCO, a Canadian nickel company, was granted the mining concession in 1965. Until 2004, INCO was denounced for numerous human rights abuses around the project, including land evictions of Q’echqi’ people, as well as murder. The project was then bought by Canadian Skye Resources. Under their ownership, the evictions of Q’echqi’ people, as well as violence continued. In January 2007, 11 women from the community of Lote 8 were gang raped by mine security, police and the army. In August 2008, Skye Resources was purchased by Canadian Hudbay Minerals. The following year, in September 2009, mine security assassinated community leader Adolfo Ich Chaman and injured German Chub. Hudbay Minerals is being sued in Canada for the 3 cases, of the 11 women, the murder of Adolfo Ich and injury to German Chub. Currently, the project is owned by Soloway Group, a Russian company. Local fishermen continue to denounce the contamination caused by the project into Lake Izabal. Repression of these fishermen led to the death of Carlos Maaz by Guatemalan police in May 2017. The Canadian government and Canadian Embassy in Guatemala have been continuously made aware of the human rights abuses in the region while the project has been in the hands of Skype Resources and Hudbay Minerals.

For more information, visit Choc vs. Hudbay

Tahoe Resources’ Escobal Mine

The Tahoe Resources Escobal mine is located in San Rafael las Flores, Santa Rosa. The company began exploitation in 2013, despite community consultations already taking place in the area rejecting the project’s presence. Following the granting of the exploitation license, 7 peaceful protesters were shot outside the mine entrance by mine security. The company is currently being sued for the incident in Canada. Three days later, a state of siege was imposed in the region, restricting civil liberties and criminalizing community leaders. Legal initiatives and direct action by the community have led to the current suspension of project’s operations. However, the company has threatened to act against peaceful protesters. Community members, as well as local, national and international organizations have denounced the criminalization, murder, threats, intimidation and water shortages to the company, Canadian authorities and the Canadian embassy.

For more information, visit Tahoe on Trial

Bluestone’s Cerro Blanco Mine

The Cerro Blanco mine is located in Asunsion Mita, Jutiapa, on the Guatemala-El Salvador border. The project was initially owned by Goldcorp, though they were never able to extract minerals due to an inaccurate Environmental Impact Assessment. The project was recently bought by the Canadian junior mining company Bluestone Resources who is planning to exploit the gold reserve, as well as the thermal water source at the site. El Salvadorian organizations and government have been very outspoken in opposition of the project, for fear of contamination of Lago Guija, the country’s main water source.

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