ILO asks Guatemala to suspend mining activities

"The Committee requests the Government to neither grant nor renew any licence for the exploration and exploitation of natural resources as referred to in Article 15 of the Convention while the participation and consultation provided for by the Convention are not being carried out, and to provide information in this regard".

These are the words of the International Labour Organisation’s (ILO) committee of experts, directly quoted from their recent report.

There are many ILO conventions, and periodically the ratifying governments are required to supply a report describing how they are implementing their recommendations, and in some cases responding to particular questions or points put to them by the ILO experts. The experts then get together and produce a report giving their conclusions and recommendations. Since we are talking of a global organisation with a great many countries to consider their report is a little on the heavy side, and I mean that in both senses, in weight and being a pretty unsatisfying read. However, that doesn’t mean that the Guatemalan authorities should be sleepng through it, as it has some harsh words for them, which ought to be keeping them awake at night.

Starting on page 708, is the report on how Guatemala measures up to the Indigenous and Tribal Peoples’ Convention, usually known by its convention number as ILO 169. The experts comment on a few cases that will be no surprise to anyone who has watched the controversy over mineral exploitation recently: the cement works in Sacatepequez, the Marlin mine in San Marcos, the legal status of community consultations.

ILO 169 grants rights to indigenous peoples to be consulted about any resource exploitation and development projects which would take place in
their territories. Should the communities reject any project then it cannot be implemented. The exploitation of resources is a hugely emotive issue to
indigenous people – their environment is often destroyed or damaged, their health affected and water supplies made less secure or are contaminated. Not surprisingly, there is a great deal of opposition, and this being Guatemala anyone who dares to stand up and be counted can expect to be targeted. We have mentioned the consequences suffered by women activists who protested in Sacatepequez, as reported by LAMMP, not to mention the long list of problems which have attended those opposing the Marlin mine from its inception. All along, those affected claimed they had been duped and not had explained to them the company’s real plans.

Communities in Guatemala have used the mechanism of the "consulta comunitaria" to make clear their feelings, and this is usually a "no" for instance almost all the communities in Huehuetenango have rejected mining in consultations. However, the legal status of these consultation is not clear. The first of these, in Sipakapa, San Marcos back in June 2005, which specifically was about the Marlin gold mine was eventually declared legal, but not binding. One of the points raised by the ILO report is that it has repeatedly asked that the Guatemalan government legislate for indigenous people’s consultations.

It appears that this time the ILO has lost patience with the prevarications of the government, after it commented in 2005, 2006 and 2007 about the mine
nothing has changed, no compensation has been paid to affected people, and licences continue to be issued. Its request to "neither grant nor renew any licence" is probably about as strongly worded a condemnation as we can expect. The organisation is worried that there is a widespread misunderstanding of the meaning of ILO 169 all over the region, as it has just announced a programme called "PRO 169" to promote greater observance of the rights, not just their recognition: actions not words. This is a four year
programme to be followed all over the continent.

Campesino organisations are now insisting that the government comply with the ILO’s demands or it "will be responsible for de facto measures" taken by the organisations.

Categories: Legal, Solidarity in Action


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