Wayuu mothers, from the indigenous reserve Provincial in la Guajira, Colombia, present an urgent request before the UN

Tuesday 23 June 2020

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The request warns that given the new scientific evidence on the characterization of the risks of the pandemic, it is especially urgent —in application of the precautionary principle— to continue the suspension of the mining pits adjacent to the Provincial community. The Colombian State is obliged to provide protection and adopt effective measures in favor of this community, otherwise it would lead to the risk of extermination of this indigenous people.

Derecho a un ambiente sano | Destrucción ambiental | Indígenas |

The indigenous Wayuu communities, of the Provincial indigenous reserve in la Guajira, present an urgent request before the U.N, due to the serious risk of COVID-19, caused by constant exposure to poor air quality and violations to their right to water. Wayuu woman demand the UN to make a recall for a full suspension of coal exploitation affecting their lives.

“We are demanding that Cerrejón ensure our children’s health. We are fighting for our right to live in a healthy territory, in a reserve without pollution, just as it was before the arrival of Cerrejón. We are exposed to mine pollution 24 hours a day. I have my own children, and if I have to fight against the whole world for them, I will do so. I will go wherever needed to protect my family, to honor the memory of all children who have died or fallen ill because of this air pollution. As Cerrejón´s neighbors, ¿how is it possible we have no access to health? We don’t have drinkable water. We don’t have suitable housing. We live in abject misery.”
Luz Ángela Uriana, Wayuu woman.

At the request of the Wayuu women, who are left caring for their daughters and sons who have fallen ill, José Alvear Restrepo Lawyers Collective (CAJAR) informed the lawyer Mónica Feria-Tinta and an urgent communication was presented through the UN special procedures: The Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment; the Special Rapporteur on the Human Right to Safe Drinking Water and Sanitation, the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, and the United Nations Working Group on Business and Human Rights, warning the public health emergency related to Covid-19, which has worsened the highly vulnerable situation of the Wayuu indigenous community, in particular the children, from the Provincial Reserve in La Guajira, because of the emission of dust or particulate matter produced by the exploitation of the largest open-pit coal mine in Latin America, which is located less than a kilometer from its territory.

Recent worldwide studies developed within the framework of the pandemic have shown the relationship between air pollution and an increase in death rates from Covid-19.3 These studies indicate that even a small increase in a single PM 2.5 particulate matter increases the risk of respiratory problems, which can be lethal for patients with coronavirus. In addition to this concern, international reports indicate that mines around the world are a critical point for the spread of Covid 19.4
The serious cases of COVID-19 turn into respiratory diseases with high levels of mortality for people with pre-existing respiratory health conditions, such as the Wayuu from the Provincial community.

After an extensive evidentiary and argumentative debate, the Court’s found there to be serious health effects that this community already suffered before the pandemic, including: “risk of alterations at the cellular level, cancer, pneumonia, unspecified bacterial infections, pneumococci’s, chronic bronchitis, massive fibrosis, mixed asthma, bronchial asthma, acute obstructive laryngitis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (epoc), unspecified acute infections of the lower respiratory tract, and other acute "multiple site" infections upper and lower respiratory."

In accordance with a 2014 report on the humanitarian crisis in La Guajira presented by the Human Rights Ombudsperson’s Office,this petition before the different rapporteurships of the UN, was denounced since 2014, indicates that statements by the local authorities from the Barrancas municipality (where the indigenous community is located): "The most relevant environmental problem in the municipality is contamination by dust emissions due to the exploitation of the Cerrejón coal mines, which affect the health of the inhabitants."

The request warns that given the new scientific evidence on the characterization of the risks of the pandemic, it is especially urgent —in application of the precautionary principle— to continue the suspension of the mining pits adjacent to the Provincial community. The Colombian State is obliged to provide protection and adopt effective measures in favor of this community, otherwise it would lead to the risk of extermination of this indigenous people.

The health emergency situation experienced by Covid-19 has worsened the conditions of vulnerability faced by the Wayuu community due to the lack of effective guarantee of the right to water. The company Carbones del Cerrejón systematically denies any responsibility for the violation of the right to water of the indigenous communities surrounding the pits of their mining exploitation. However, the incidence of the mining operation in the dramatic transformations of the water system of its territory in the last 30 years is undeniable.

Carbones del Cerrejón argues that (89%) of the water it uses for its mining operation is of very poor quality, not suitable for human consumption, animal consumption, or even irrigation. However, it does not mention or provide clear information on its contribution to the contamination of the Ranchería river. According to court ruling T-614 of 2019 of the Colombian Constitutional Court, evidence in the file indicates that the mining operation has affected the bodies of water surrounding the Provincial indigenous reservation.

Additionally, the Colombian State has not guaranteed truthful and impartial information on the relationship of the impacts of the mining operation carried out by Carbones del Cerrejón with the water shortage in La Guajira.

Likewise, in court ruling T-302 of 2017, the Constitutional Court declared the existence of an unconstitutional state of affairs in relation to the effective enjoyment of the fundamental rights to food, health, drinking water, and the participation of Wayuu children. The court also ordered to undertake an independent study to determine the causal relationship between large-scale mining activity and water scarcity for Wayuu communities and, if so, in which places in the Department of La Guajira. After CCAJAR consulted different state agencies, it was established this order has not been complied with as of May 2020.

Urgent Measures:

In accordance to the previous exposed arguments and reasons, it is respectfully asked to the Special Rapporteurs to declare:
1. Wayuu peoples have the right to life, a healthy environment, clean air, water and food. The previously described situation violates these rights.
Therefore, the UN Special Rapporteurships call on for:
2. In application of the precautionary principle, an immediate suspension of the mining operations of Cerrejón from the mines and dumps of Carbones del Cerrejón that are surrounding the community of the Provincial Reserve in the context of the Covid-19 emergency.
3. That a fair, equitable and participatory transition process should be initiated for the termination of the Carbones del Cerrejón mining operations, with full compliance with the legal obligations of the closure plan and commitments in human rights in light of the flagrant violations to the human rights of the Wayuu people due to the exploitation of the mine, as established by numerous decisions of the Constitutional Court, the most recent of which is (T-614 of 2019), recognizing the massive contamination caused by the Cerrejón mine to the detriment of the Wayuu indigenous peoples (including children) of the Provincial Indigenous Reservation.
4. That, in accordance with the obligations of the Paris Agreement, pertinent to guarantee the human rights of the Wayuu, the Colombian State gradually will erradicate coal mining.

Afiliaciones

Afiliado a la Federación Internacional de Derechos Humanos
y la Organización Mundial contra la Tortura
Estatus Consultivo en la OEA

José Alvear Restrepo

Nace en Medellín el 1 de julio de 1913 en el seno de una familia de profundas convicciones religiosas y bajo los parámetros de la ideología del partido conservador. Realiza sus estudios en la Facultad de Derecho de la Universidad de Antioquia, donde se gradúa de Abogado con una brillante tesis titulada: "Conflictos del trabajo: la huelga"

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