Mining production, territory and conflict in Colombia

Global and Local Challenges for the Protection of Human Rights

The annual congress of the Colombian Mining Association was held on the 9th and 10th of May 2019. This organisation represents the large mining companies that control the mining titles, and therefore mineral exploration and exploitation in the country. Among them are the biggest producers such as Mineros S.A. and Gran Colombia Gold. These companies produce 8.7 tons per year, one fifth of the 41 tons that were produced in 2017. The proposals of the companies and the promises of President Iván Duque reveal a risk of deepening the exclusionary policies towards small-scale miners while extending the privileged treatment reserved for the large enterprises.

The commitments of President Iván Duque were the following: to create a special unit to combat the illegal extraction of minerals; to promote a bill to tighten up sanctions for those who carry out illegal mining operations; to have changes to the regulations regarding prior consultation, which the companies have seen as an obstacle to advancing in their extractive projects, ready in the second half of 2019 (Jiménez 2019). These commitments reflect the logic of the so-called ‘mining locomotive’, a Colombian concept that links a growing mining sector to approaches of socio-economic development and wellfare. This assumption is mobilized to justify the provision of legal securities to investors and large enterprises. 

Letters like the one addressed to the national go vernment by Gran Colombia Gold towards the end of 2018, in which the company demanded military intervention to expel untitled miners (in its Segovia and Marmato projects) using military and police deployment, as well as support with “any other force” show the pressure these companies exert to expel their local competitors, who are mainly small-scale miners and ancestral miners, from the territories (El Espectador 2019b). As shown in this paper, the conflict is expressed not only with respect to miners in the territories, but also towards those who defend the environment. For this reason, Colombia can contribute, as a case study, to the development of new analysis showing the need for binding rules that oblige companies to respect human rights and the environment and to commit themselves to reparation plans in communities and territories where the impacts have been generated. 

This is necessary since there is broad protection for business investments in Colombia. International Investment Agreements (IIAs) seek to maintain favorable conditions for investors from other countries, and they include agreements for the promotion and reciprocal protection of investments. In addition, investment chapters in free trade agreements (Pro Colombia 2016) create the international legal framework for mining companies such as Gran Colombia Gold to bring lawsuits against the state before international tribunals when, for example, they found themselves affected by the Constitutional Court’s decision to protect the rights of miners of Marmato, in municipalities where the company has a gold-mining project in the department of Caldas (El Espectador 2019a). The challenge, therefore, of seeing that human rights are not subordinated to investment agreements requires arduous work on all territorial and international scales. 

All this investor confidence allows companies to make optimistic projections. The companies that are members of the Colombian Mining Association expect to advance from producing 11 tons of gold in 2018 to 19 tons in 2020. By the year 2030 they 

 expect to be producing 70 tons (ACM 2019). In  multiplying its production by seven in the next decade, it must therefore expect to control the 20 tons which according to the National Mining Agency (Agencia Nacional de Minería, ANM) is produced by small-scale producers, presented in their totality today as barequeros.

Mining rights for the production of gold and other precious metals granted up to the present amount to a total of 2,124,094 hectares. In the following chart we can see the five companies that have accumulated the greatest extensions of mining rights. They control more than half of the area titled for the exploitation of precious metals in the entire country.


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Date of Publication
february 2020
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Table of contents

4   Table of contents

8   Acknowledgments

9   Introduction

11  Chapter 1.The regulatory framework on human rights and business

12  1.1 Due diligence 

12  1.2 European regulation 

13  1.3 Human Rights and Business: The guiding principles of the United Nations and the limits of voluntarism 

13  1.3.1 France has taken an important step forward regarding binding mechanisms 

14  1.3.2 Colombia: implementation of the guiding principles

14  1.4 Towards a binding treaty

16  Chapter 2. The peace process, its risks and its sustainability: the context in which gold is produced in Colombia 

20  Chapter 3. Small and medium-sized producers criminalised and expelled from the territories

24  3.1 Large enterprises, human rights and environmental law  

24  3.1.1 The right to work and the right to territory infringed by the power of large companies

25  3.1.2 Social mobilisation has revealed the unrest, the exclusion and the agendas of miners 

27  3.1.3 Small- and medium-scale mining disappears from the gold production chain in Colombia

29  Chapter 4. Relations between gold production and conflict in Colombia: specific cases

34  4.1 Antioquia: Main producer of gold in Colombia and the territory with the highest number of victims of the armed conflict

38  4.2 Department of Chocó, the second major producer of gold in Colombia:The objectives of sustainable development have not reached Chocó

39  4.2.1 Gold production, conflict and the right to the territory 

41  4.2.2 The trap closes on local producers 

41  4.2.3 The barequeros 

42  4.2.4 Gold production and environmental deterioration 

43  4.3 Department of Cauca: social leaders are murdered for the land and the gold 

44  4.3.1 The rights to the territory and to its ancestral economic practices are being limited in ethnic territorie 

45  4.3.2 Impact on human rights violations  

45  4.3.3 Traditional artisanal mining, obstructed by mining rights of multinationals and subject to pressure of armed groups that violate human rights 

46  4.3.4 Impact on the territory  

48  Chapter 5. Non-mining territories threatened by the expansion of the titling process 

49  5.1 Mobilisation, popular consultations and municipal agreements are the strategy for defending the water and the territoryies 

51  Chapter 6. Conclusions

56  Chapter 7. Recommendations and challenges

57  7.1 Human Rights and Business: Towards regulations that oblige companies    to respect human rights and protect the environment?  

61  Bibliograph

68  Appendix 68  Appendix 1 

70  Appendix 2