Oxfam calls for suspension of Guatemala mine

By Oxfam

Washington, D.C. – International humanitarian organization Oxfam America urges the Guatemalan government to suspend operations at Marlin Mine, an open-pit gold mine run by Canada’s Goldcorp. The mine continues to operate in Guatemala’s western highlands despite a ruling by an international human rights body calling to suspend operations.

The call to action comes one year after the Inter-American Human Rights Commission (IAHRC), an independent body of the Organization of American States, called on the government to suspend mining operations based on allegations of violating human rights, contaminating water supplies and causing adverse health effects on members of the community. The government of Guatemala has largely ignored the IAHRC ruling and the mine continues to operate.

“Never before has an international human rights body taken such a strong action on human rights problems related to a large-scale natural resource extraction project,” said Raymond C. Offenheiser, president of Oxfam America. “The unprecedented ruling affirms that the Marlin gold mine should be suspended until community concerns are adequately addressed.”

Since the initial exploration phase of Marlin Mine, the Mayan communities affected by the project have lodged numerous complaints, arguing that they never gave their consent for the project to operate on their land– a right protected under international law. This has led to a pattern of conflict and tensions since 2005, when the mine started operations. That year, one person was killed and 16 people injured when police broke up a highway blockade meant to prevent shipment of mining equipment to the site. Since then, numerous death threats have been made against mining activists. In July 2010, a Mayan woman was shot in the head by unknown assailants.

“Time and time again, concerns raised by indigenous communities have been ignored. Guatemala must take action to address these concerns so that mining conflicts don’t further destabilize the country,” said Keith Slack, extractive industries program manager at Oxfam America. "We urge the government of Guatemala to take action today.”

IAHRC’s unprecedented ruling echoes similar recommendations made by other, well-respected international bodies, including the International Labor Organization, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and the US Congress.

“Statements made by the international community reaffirm the importance of free, prior and informed consent (FPIC), a process involving local communities–especially indigenous communities–who may be affected by a development project,” said Juliana Turqui, extractive industries program coordinator for Oxfam America in Guatemala. “By consulting and receiving the consent of local populations, Guatemala and other resource-rich countries can help prevent the social conflicts generated by mining operations, such as Marlin Mine.”

Oxfam America is working with national and local organizations in Guatemala to inform communities about the possible effects of mining projects in their communities and their rights to information and participation in decision-making. On May 19 and 20, civil society organizations and affected communities will mobilize in Guatemala to raise concerns about the government's non-fulfillment of the IACHR ruling.  These groups will carry out various activities, including lobby visits to the Ministry of Energy and Mines and governmental human rights bodies to highlight the urgent need to suspend the operations of Marlin Mine.

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