The adverse impact of business activities on the lives of members of the local population in Colombia and El Salvador was highlighted by the World Council of Churches (WCC)-sponsored participants at the United Nations Forum on Business and Human Rights.
The forum was held in Geneva from 1-3 December.
The WCC-sponsored participants at the forum were Renzo Alexander Garcia Parra from Colombia and Stanley Rodriguez from El Salvador, also supported by the International Network for Human Rights (RIDH) - an international organization based in Geneva, Switzerland.
At the forum they explained how international companies are involved in causing ecological and environmental destruction, while violating human rights of local populations. Such business activities, they said, are conducted in an undemocratic way – exploiting natural resources for enormous profits, ignoring the interests and welfare of local communities in the region.
The UN Forum on Business and Human Rights provided a space to representatives of civil society, business, government and international organizations to discuss ways to move forward in carrying out the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights – a global standard for addressing the risk of adverse impacts on human rights linked to business activity.
“We need a culture of peace, not a culture of death promoted by mining companies in Colombia,” said Renzo Alexander Garcia-Parra from the Comite Ambiental Defensa Vida, an organization working for the protection of environment. Garcia-Parra spoke about the negative impact of the La Colosa gold project run by Anglo Gold Ashanti in the Colombian district of Tolima. This project, he said, is “posing serious threats to natural landscape and local communities”.
“A large number of forests, mountains and agricultural fields have been destroyed due to this project,” said Garcia-Parra in a meeting at the WCC headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland.
“In order to extract a small quantity of gold, a large amount of water is consumed by the La Colosa project,” he said. According to several reports water for the consumption of people and agriculture is now used by the project that can eventually jeopardize the river basin.
To protest such business activities, Garcia-Parra shared that more than 50,000 people in the area have come out to protest violations of their human rights.
“We hope the international community becomes aware of the negative impacts of projects like La Colosa,” said Garcia-Parra. Speaking about his group’s participation at the UN forum, he said they had the opportunity to meet with government officials and representatives of NGOs and peoples movements. “We hope to use these encounters to establish alliances and create awareness on human right abuses perpetrated by the mining companies,” said Garcia-Parra.
Stanley Rodriguez, a government official from El Salvador said he is motivated to support initiatives in his country to implement the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. “The irresponsible business activities from multinational companies affect the rights of local people, hampering social, cultural and economic aspects of their lives,” said Rodriguez.
“It is important to increase awareness about these issues. We must network and lobby so that funding for irresponsible business activities can be stopped,” added Rodriguez.
“The WCC has a long history of supporting human rights defenders in Central and Latin America and speaking out against the exploitation of natural resources by transnational corporations and against the violation of human rights of the local communities,” said Christina Papazoglou, WCC programme executive for human rights.
“The UN Forum on Business and Human Rights provides a space for human rights defenders from affected areas to raise their voices and address their concerns by engaging in a dialogue with all relevant stakeholders,” she added.