Global Palm Oil Traders Acknowledge the Need to Prevent Human Rights Abuses in Guatemala

Civil Society Pressure Shines a Spotlight on Ongoing Environmental Destruction and Murder in Guatemala’s Palm Sector

June 8, 2016

One year after a massive spill of toxic palm oil effluent into Guatemala’s Pasión River that was labeled an ‘ecocide’ by a Guatemalan court, and nine months after the killing of a Guatemalan activist who denounced the spill, social movement groups in Guatemala are still demanding justice, and companies have begun to recognize that such violence and ecocide must not be tolerated.

Last week, Cargill, one of the largest purchasers of palm oil from Guatemala, published a statement requiring REPSA, the Guatemalan company that was the defendant in the ecocide case, to take a series of actions to prevent future violence. The same day, REPSA published a “Policy on Non Violence and Intimidation.”

The companies’ statements come in the wake of a series of tragic events, and as a response to continued pressure from Guatemalan civil society and international advocacy groups.

Following a deadly spill of pesticide-laden palm oil waste into the Pasión River in the municipality of Sayaxché in northern Guatemala in June 2015, a Guatemalan court ruled the spill an “ecocide” and ordered that REPSA suspend operations pending investigation. Immediately following the ruling, in September, 2015, one of the plaintiffs, Q’eq’chi Mayan schoolteacher Rigoberto Lima Choc, was shot and killed.

In response, civil society groups in Guatemala have pursued a series of legal actions and non-violent protests, and a coalition of international advocacy groups including Friends of the Earth-US, Rainforest Action Network, ActionAid USA, Oxfam America and the Guatemala Human Rights Commission/USA have called on global palm oil giants Wilmar, Cargill, IOI, ADM, AAK and Bunge to publicly denounce the violence, cut ties to REPSA, and take clear steps to address human rights risks in their supply chains. Friday’s statements from Cargill and REPSA are the first visible signs that companies recognize the need to address civil society’s demands.

“The clear denunciation of violence by both Cargill and REPSA is a positive step and clearly needed given the recent murder and kidnapping of activists,” said Gemma Tillack, Agribusiness Campaign Director for Rainforest Action Network. “The statement issued by Cargill contains a number of clear demands that REPSA must comply with to maintain contracts – but this falls short of local civil society demands for the shut down of REPSA’s palm oil operations that were responsible for the ecocide of the Pasión River.”

“Cargill’s public position against violence and REPSA’s promise of reform are significant,” said Jeff Conant, Senior International Forests Program Director at Friends of the Earth-US. “But real transformation will only come when the rights of local people take full precedence over the profits of agribusiness.”

“REPSA has thus far not engaged civil society groups effectively and there is no indication that the security situation in the region will allow for meaningful and safe dialogue with local groups,” Conant added. “There is a clear need for the companies to act – but company engagement in regions suffering high levels of violence and weak governance is extremely delicate. The companies must take their cues from the demands of organized civil society in Guatemala to avoid creating more conflict.”

The anniversary of the June, 2015 toxic leak and fish kill that covered over 100 kilometers in the Pasión River was marked by a march in which some 800 residents of Sayaxché took to the streets to demand justice. A key demand of many local groups is that REPSA permanently cease its operations in the region.

REPSA’s Non-Violence and Intimidation Policy is open for two months of public comment, but the company has not yet provided a plan for engagement with local stakeholders. Cargill has made it known that in order to continue doing business with REPSA, REPSA must “engage local communities and civil society groups… to rebuild trust by creating a participatory process in partnership with local communities and civil society.”

Relations between the palm oil supplier and local groups is especially tense due to the unresolved murder of environmental and human rights defender Rigoberto Lima Choc immediately following a court ruling against REPSA last September. The international NGO coalition is concerned that the companies’ positions are out of touch with local communities that are calling for the full rejection of REPSA’s operations in the region.

“Lima Choc’s murder shows the severity of the threats facing activists, and remains an open wound that will not be healed by words on paper,” said Kelsey Alford-Jones, Director of the Guatemala Human Rights Commission/USA. “Yesterday, hundreds of brave community members gathered in Sayaxché to demand that REPSA permanently close down its operations.”

“Thousands of Guatemalans rely on the Pasión River to earn a living and feed their families, but the negligent actions of REPSA are putting their way of life at risk. REPSA and its parent company, Grupo Olmeca, must be held to account for the damage its operations have done to these communities,” said Doug Hertzler, Senior Policy Analyst at ActionAid USA.

It is too early to tell what repercussions Cargill’s statement may have for the resolution of grievances in Guatemala, or for its palm oil supply, much of which is sold in Europe.

“While some companies that source from REPSA and Grupo Olmeca, including Cargill, have listened to civil society asks and taken positive steps, others remain silent,” noted Oxfam America Policy Advisor Aditi Sen. “All companies have a responsibility to respect human rights, and must have transparent processes in place to investigate human rights impacts in their supply chains and ensure that those harmed by their operations or suppliers are able to access remedy.”

Other companies that purchase from REPSA, directly or indirectly, include global palm oil traders Wilmar, IOI, ADM, AAK and Bunge.

Signed:

Guatemala Human Rights Commission/USA
Friends of the Earth-United States
Rainforest Action Network
Oxfam America
ActionAid USA

For more information on the case, visit GHRC’s website: http://www.ghrc-usa.org/our-work/current-cases/african-palm-oil-production-repsa-ecocide-case/

 

International Organizations Reiterate Support for Guatemalan Communities and Institutions Upholding Rule of Law and Respect for Human Rights in the case of the communities of La Puya and El Tambor Mine

[en español abajo]

May 24, 2016

The undersigned human rights and environmental law organizations applaud recent efforts by Guatemalan courts to enforce domestic laws and international norms in relation to the right to consultation and corporate accountability in the case of the El Tambor mine, also known as “Progreso VII Derivada.” We reiterate our support for the Communities in peaceful resistance of La Puya in Guatemala.

Guatemalan courts have granted a provisional injunction, ordering the suspension of the license for gold and silver extraction at the El Tambor mine. The mine is owned by the company Exploraciones Mineras de Guatemala, SA (Exmingua), subsidiary of US company Kappes, Cassiday & Associates. KCA acquired 100% interest in Exmingua from Canadian company Radius Gold in 2012; Radius receives royalty interest and cash payments from the project.

The injunction was granted because Guatemala’s highest court recognized that the State failed its duty to consult the affected communities prior to awarding the license and did not initiate processes to seek the consent of affected Indigenous peoples. The right of Indigenous peoples to consultation is enshrined in ILO Convention 169 and the right to free, prior and informed consent is recognized by Guatemala, a signatory to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

The recent rulings have affirmed the concerns expressed by communities in San Pedro Ayampuc and San Jose del Golfo. From the time they learned of the mining concession in 2011, they have raised concerns about the lack of consultation, violation of Indigenous peoples’ rights, and detrimental health and environmental impacts of the mine.

International organizations have closely observed the case since the La Puya movement initiated a non-violent sit-in at the entrance to the mine in 2012 to demand their government comply with constitutionally-required protections for Guatemalan citizens. Their legitimate concerns have been met with repression, public defamation and trumped-up criminal charges. Violence has been committed against human rights defenders with impunity. There still has been no real investigation into the June 2012 shooting of a La Puya activist, nor has there been investigation or redress for the serious injuries sustained by protestors during the violent eviction by the police in May 2014. Questions also remain about the incident on the night of April 29, in which two people were injured at the sit-in in front of the MEM.

We reiterate the importance of investigating these acts of violence, as well as addressing the serious concerns raised by the communities in terms of the environmental impact of mining activities on their water and health. International experts who reviewed the company’s Environmental Impact Assessment found numerous deficiencies and concluded that it did not meet basic international standards.

We also draw attention to the fact that the court injunction has set in motion a series of investigations that reveal evidence of possible illegal activity by Exmingua.

On March 10 of this year, the Ministry of Energy and Mines (MEM) enforced the injunction through corresponding administrative measures by suspending Exmingua’s license for mineral extraction. A MEM inspection in April verified the company continued to operate, and on May 9, police and prosecutors arrested four Exmingua employees on charges of illegal resource extraction. They had in their possession 19 sacks of gold and silver concentrate, worth an estimated US$1.9 million in total. We are concerned that on May 10, charges were dropped against the men for “lack of merit,” released the workers and ordered the sacks of minerals returned to the company, an action that suggests a lack of understanding of the resolutions of Guatemala´s highest courts. However, just days later, police and prosecutors carried out four more raids at a clandestine warehouse and recovered 300 sacks, worth a total of approximately $30 million.

The media has revealed that investigators had traced helicopters contracted by the company – allegedly used to transport minerals from the mine site to a farm in El Progreso — to Juan Carlos Monzón, former Private Secretary to ex Vice President Roxana Baldetti, and to Raúl Osoy Penado, a business man who allegedly served as a front man for Baldetti. All have been embroiled in a series of major corruption scandals that led to the arrest of Baldetti and former President Otto Pérez Molina, among many others in 2015.

A separate legal case has raised serious questions regarding whether the company possessed the necessary municipal construction permits to operate at the site, including the alleged falsification of these permits.

Guatemala has taken important strides to address long-standing challenges of government corruption and impunity. We commend the Guatemalan courts for their recent rulings that uphold rule of law as well as the efforts of the Ministry of Energy and Mines and the Public Prosecutor’s Office for their actions to uphold the right to prior consultation and ensure corporate accountability in this case.

We call on US company KCA and its subsidiary Exmingua to immediately halt all operations and comply with the recent MEM resolution and the provisional court injunction.

We call on the Public Prosecutor’s Office to continue all relevant investigations into alleged criminal acts related to Exmingua, KCA and the El Tambor mine.

We call on the Guatemalan government and the Interior Ministry to ensure the safety of those who participate in La Puya and of Guatemalan citizens who engage in peaceful protest.

We urge the US Embassy to support human rights defenders and condemn the use of hate speech and defamation as a tool to impede their work. Further, we call on the Embassy to take all possible measures to ensure US companies respect the law and human rights, in accordance with domestic legislation, court rulings, and guided by the highest international standards for multinational corporations. We urge US Ambassador Todd Robinson to make a public statement to this effect.

Signed:

Guatemala Human Rights Commission/USA
Network in Solidarity with the People of Guatemala
Center for International Environmental Law
Maritimes – Guatemala Breaking the Silence Network
Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada
Rights Action Canada
Rights Action USA
Chicago Religious Leadership Network on Latin America
Latin America Working Group
Oxfam
American Friends Service Committee (AFSC)
Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns
American Jewish World Service
Sisters of Mercy of the Americas – Institute Justice Team
International Platform against Impunity


Organizaciones internacionales reiteran su apoyo a las comunidades y a  las instituciones que quieren apoyar el estado de derecho y el respeto a los derechos humanos en el caso de las comunidades de la Puya y la mina El Tambor

24 de mayo de 2016

Las organizaciones de derechos humanos y derecho ambiental abajo firmantes aplaudimos los esfuerzos recientes de las cortes guatemaltecas para aplicar la ley nacional y normas internacionales en relación al derecho a la consulta y la responsabilidad corporativa en el caso de la mina El Tambor, también conocido como “Progreso VII Derivada”; y reiteramos nuestro apoyo para las Comunidades en resistencia pacífica de la Puya en Guatemala.

Las cortes guatemaltecas han otorgado un amparo provisional, dejando en suspenso el otorgamiento de la licencia de explotación de oro y plata en la mina El Tambor . El dueño del proyecto es la empresa Exploraciones Mineras de Guatemala, SA (Exmingua), subsidiaria de la empresa estadounidense Kappes, Cassiday & Associates. KCA; la cual adquirió 100% del interés en Exmingua de la empresa canadiense Radius Gold en 2012. Radius sigue recibiendo intereses por regalías y pagos en efectivo del proyecto.

El amparo fue otorgado porque las cortes reconocieron que el Estado no cumplió con su obligación de consultar a la población antes de iniciar el proyecto y no inició ningún proceso para buscar el consentimiento de las poblaciones indígenas afectadas. El derecho de pueblos indígenas a ser consultados está consagrado en el Convenio 169 de la Organización Internacional de Trabajo y el derecho al consentimiento libre, previo e informado es reconocido por Guatemala, país signatario de la Declaración de las Naciones Unidas sobre los derechos de los pueblos indígenas.

Las resoluciones recientes han afirmado las preocupaciones expresadas por las comunidades de los municipios de San Pedro Ayampuc y San José del Golfo.Desde el momento en que supieron de la concesión minera en 2011, han expresado sus preocupaciones sobre la falta de consulta, violaciones de los derechos de pueblos indígenas y los impactos negativos de la mina en el medio ambiente y la salud de las personas.

Organizacionesinternacionales hemos observado de cerca este caso, desde que las comunidades iniciaron un plantón pacífico en la entrada a la mina en 2012 para exigir que su gobierno cumpliera con las garantías de protección para la ciudadanía establecidas en la Constitución guatemalteca. La respuesta a sus preocupaciones legítimas ha sido una combinación de represión, difamación pública y criminalización. Se han cometido actos de violencia en contra de las y los defensores de derechos humanos de estas comunidades que prevalecen impunes. Aun hace falta una investigación real del atentado en contra de una activista en junio de 2012; tampoco ha habido investigación o reparación por las graves heridas sufridas por comunitarios durante el desalojo violento llevado a cabo por la PNC en mayo de 2014. No se ha esclarecido el incidente ocurrido la noche del 29 de abril, en el que dos personas resultaron heridas en el plantón frente al MEM.

Reiteramos la importancia de investigar estos actos de violencia, así como abordar las preocupaciones serias de las comunidades en relación con impactos ambientales, sobre el agua y su salud por la actividad minera. Expertos internacionales quienes analizaron el Estudio de Impacto Ambiental encontraron numerosas deficiencias y concluyeron que no cumple con los estándares internacionales básicos.

Destacamos también el hecho de que el amparo ha puesto en marcha una serie de investigaciones que revelan evidencia de posibles actividades ilegales por parte de Exmingua.

El 10 de marzo del año en curso, el Ministerio de Energía y Minas (MEM) respondió a la resolución legal con las medidas administrativas correspondientes, suspendiendo la licencia de explotación de Exmingua. Una inspección del MEM en abril verificó que la empresa seguía operando.El 9 de mayo, agentes policiales y el Ministerio Público detuvieron a cuatro trabajadores de Exmingua, sindicados del delito de explotación ilegal de recursos naturales. En su vehículo se encontraron 19 costales de concentrado de oro y plata, valorados en total en aproximadamente US$1.9 millones . Nos preocupa que el 10 de mayo se retiraron los cargos contra los hombres por “falta de mérito”, fueron puestos en libertad los trabajadores y los sacos de minerales devueltos a la empresa, una acción que sugiere una falta de conocimiento de la resolución de las máximas cortes del país. Sin embargo, unos días después, policías y agentes fiscales llevaron a cabo cuatro allanamientos de una bodega clandestina e incautaron 300 sacos, valorados en un total de aproximadamente US$30 millones.

Notas de prensa han revelado que investigadores habían vinculado helicópteros contratados por la empresa – supuestamente usados para transportar minerales de la mina a una finca en El Progreso – a Juan Carlos Monzón, ex secretario privado de la ex vice presidenta Roxana Baldetti, y a Raúl Osoy Penado, empresario que supuestamente actuó como testaferro para Baldetti . Todos han sido envueltos en una serie de grandes escándalos de corrupción que resultaron en el arresto de Baldetti y el ex presidente Otto Pérez Molina en 2015, entre muchos otros.

Otro caso legal ha revelado serias dudas sobre si la empresa tenía los permisos municipales necesarios para sus actividades de construcción en el sitio e incluso la presunta falsificación de dichos permisos.

Guatemala ha tomado pasos importantes para abordar los grandes retos de combatir la corrupción estatal y la impunidad. Aplaudimos las resoluciones apegadas a derecho tomadas por las cortes guatemaltecas,así también reconocemos los esfuerzos del Ministerio de Energía y Minas y el Ministerio Público por las acciones recientes para hacer cumplir el derecho a la consulta previa y asegurar que las empresas también cumplan con la ley en este caso.

Hacemos un llamado a la empresa estadounidense KCA y su subsidiaria Exmingua a suspender de inmediato sus operaciones y acatar la resolución reciente del MEM y el amparo provisional.

Hacemos un llamado al Ministerio Público a que continúe con todas las investigaciones pertinentes de supuestos actos criminales en relación a Exmingua, KCA y el proyecto El Tambor.

Hacemos un llamado al Gobierno de Guatemala y al Ministerio de Gobernación, para garantizar la seguridad de las personas en la Puya y cualquier ciudadano que participe en manifestaciones pacíficas.

Instamos a la Embajada de los Estados Unidos a que apoye a las y los defensores de los derechos humanos y condene el uso del discurso de odio y la difamación como una herramienta para impedir su labor. Además, hacemos un llamado a la Embajada a tomar todas las medidas posibles y necesarias para asegurar que empresas estadounidenses respeten la ley y los derechos humanos, de acuerdo con la legislación nacional, resoluciones de las cortes y con los más altos estándares internacionales para empresas multinacionales. Instamos al Embajador Todd Robinson a que haga un pronunciamiento público en tal efecto.

Firmado:

Guatemala Human Rights Commission/USA
Network in Solidarity with the People of Guatemala
Center for International Environmental Law
Maritimes – Guatemala Breaking the Silence Network
Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada
Rights Action Canada
Rights Action USA
Chicago Religious Leadership Network on Latin America
Latin America Working Group
Oxfam
American Friends Service Committee (AFSC)
Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns
American Jewish World Service
Sisters of Mercy of the Americas – Institute Justice Team
International Platform against Impunity

US Company Continues Illegal Mining Operations at El Tambor Mine

US Company Kappes Cassiday & Associates and Guatemalan subsidiary, Exmingua, continue to mine gold illegally in San Pedro Ayampuc, Guatemala.

On February 22, 2016, the Guatemalan Supreme Court granted an injunction that suspends the granting of KCA’s license for extraction of gold and silver at the El Tambor mine. The Guatemalan Ministry of Energy and Mines, the body responsible for carrying out the administrative procedures to suspend the license, have refused to do so.

In response, families have camped out in front of the ministry, demanding they enforce the ruling.

IMG_3259

Peaceful protesters in front of the Ministry of Energy and Mining.

The Guatemalan congress has called on the Minister to justify his lack of action.

As the pressure mounts, the US-owned mine continues to operate. The waste-water tailing pond continues to fill as material is extracted and treated with a chemical bath – procedures not fully addressed in the Environmental Impact Assessment, and without any oversight regarding the structural integrity of the holding tank or mandatory testing of possible contamination of the local water supply.

IMG_3524.JPG

Holding tank at the El Tambor mine

With communities again blocking the entrance to the mine, Exmingua employees have taken to illegally transporting petroleum for mining machinery by foot. They were stopped by the police on at least one occasion, but a recent video captured them exiting with empty canisters.

In the last couple of days, the company has begun to use helicopters to carry large containers in and out of the mine.

 

Despite intense US pressure on the Guatemalan government to address corruption and improve rule of law, the Embassy has been silent on a US Company’s alleged evasion of legal procedures and it’s ongoing operations despite multiple court injunctions.

Background: 

Communities in the area have been in non-violent resistance since 2011, and have maintained a presence outside the mine for over 4 years. Continue reading

GHRC Condemns the Assassination of Berta Cáceres – Human Rights Defender from Honduras

Berta Caceres Picture

The Guatemala Human Rights Commission/USA condemns in the most strongest of terms the killing of world renowned environmental activists and human rights defender Berta Cáceres of Honduras. According to reports Berta Cáceres was killed by armed assailants early in the morning March 3rd. Berta led and founded the Consejo Cívico de Organizaciones Populares e Indígenas de Honduras (COPINH), and was the winner of the 2015 Goldman Environmental Prize. Gustavo Castro, a fellow activist from Otros Mundos, was also injured in the attack. GHRC calls for an immediate investigation into this heinous crime and that those responsible be prosecuted and held accountable to the fullest extent of the law. GHRC also calls for immediate action to be taken to ensure the protection of Gustavo Castro, a key witness in this murder.

La Puya Protest at the Ministry of Energy and Mines

Gallery

This gallery contains 7 photos.

La Puya activists staged a protest in front of the Guatemalan Ministry of Energy and Defense (MEM) in Guatemala City today to demand that the government body act on the Supreme Court’s ruling to suspend the license of Kappes, Cassiday … Continue reading

Maya Nations call for the protection and defense of Mother Earth

Tapachula, Chiapas, Mexico – Last week Maya Ancestral Authorities from diverse Maya nations of Mexico and Guatemala convened a three-day meeting titled, Ancestral Wisdom for the Defense of life, Mother Earth, and Her Natural Elements, from February 12 -14. The gathering is in response to the urgent threats in the region due to the hundreds of development projects causing environmental destruction and violating the rights of the Maya peoples and Mother Earth. This meeting comes just days before Pope Francis will arrive in Chiapas, Mexico. His visit will include meetings with indigenous peoples to hear their concerns regarding their human rights and protection of Mother Nature. In his Encyclical, the Pope called for indigenous peoples to be the “principle dialogue partners especially when large projects on their lands are proposed.”

Continue reading

Guatemala News Update: Feb. 6-12

Public Prosecutor’s Office presents skeletons as evidence at the Sepur Zarco hearings

In the seventh day of hearings by the judges of the Sepur Zarco case, the Public Prosecutor’s Office presented as evidence boxes with the skeletons of 48 people. One expert, Juan Carlos Gatíca, explained where the bones had been exhumed and the analysis that had been done to identify them. Another expert, Óscar Ariel Ixpatá, described the types of wounds found on the exhumed bones, explaining that what they found indicated that the victims had bullet wounds and had been beaten. Furthermore, the victims had been blindfolded, bound, and gagged.

Campesinos March for Political Change in Guatemala

Thousands of Guatemalan rural workers protested in the streets of Guatemala City on Wednesday, blocking traffic to pressure President Jimmy Morales into passing political and economic reforms. The campesino organizations listed a variety of demands, including the respect of the constitutional rights of Guatemalan cities, wage levels, environmental protections, and national sovereignty.  Concerning environmental issues, protesters want an end to projects that displace communities and exploit natural resources. They also criticized agreements with transnational organizations, arguing instead for nationalized energy resources to benefit Guatemalans.

The protesters also demanded justice for those who intimidated community leaders, and the freedom of human rights defenders who had been jailed and criminalized. Furthermore, they called for resolution of 135 land conflicts, and housing guarantees.

Minister of Energy and Mining denied new moratorium on mining and will accelerate process to grant licensing

The Minister of Energy and Mines will not maintain a moratorium on new mining licenses and instead seeks to speed up the process of granting requests for licenses. The past two administrations had abstained from granting new licenses. The new officials argue that these projects can help to reduce the high levels of poverty within the country if attention is paid to social and environmental issues, explained the Vice-minister of Sustainable Development, Roberto Velasquez. In contrast, communities who live next to resource extraction projects such as mines, as well as hydroelectric dam projects have almost unanimously opposed them as environmentally harmful, socially destructive, and as driving factors of increased violence and repression in their communities. Continue reading