Two high-level bodies related to the United Nations are advising the government of Guatemala to address problems related to mining in the country.
The International Labour Organization (ILO) is calling on President Álvaro Colom to suspend operations at the Marlin Mine in the western highlands. The ILO’s Commission of Experts told the government that it should “suspend exploitation” until it can provide information for a review under way concerning the social, spiritual, cultural, and environmental impact of the Marlin mine on local Maya people. (See the Report of the Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations, pp. 769-770.)
The same report (p. 781) urged the government of Peru to suspend mining exploration and operations affecting indigenous people until “until such time as the participation and consultation of the peoples concerned is ensured through their representative institutions in a climate of full respect and trust.”
The review is part of the government’s responsibility under the ILO’s Convention Concerning Indigenous and Tribal People in Independent Countries (known as ILO Convention 169).
In addition, the UN’s Committee on Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD), in its 76th session in Geneva urged the government of Guatemala to take action to support the human rights of indigenous people affected by mining: “It was recommended that Guatemala put in place adequate mechanisms, in conformity with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and International Labour Organization Convention No. 169, to ensure effective consultation with communities that could be affected regarding projects for the exploitation and development of their natural resources, with the objective of obtaining their prior informed consent.”
These statements reaffirm the importance of free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) of the indigenous people of Guatemala. Local communities--especially indigenous communities--have to be informed in a timely manner about development projects and should have the opportunity to approve (or reject) a project before it starts.
Oxfam America works with national organizations to inform communities about the possible effects of mining projects in their communities and their rights to FPIC. “The reports and the recommendations of ILO and CERD reconfirm the importance and the validity of the demands of the indigenous people in Guatemala affected by mining, and the importance of consulting with these communities,” affirms Andrés McKinley, program officer for Oxfam America in Central America. “In the absence of these fundamental rights, mining in Guatemala will continue to threaten peace and sustainable development in the country.”