Gold mine risks “irreparable” damage to the environment in violation of World Bank standards, Peruvian human rights leader tells U.S. Congress

Inter-Institutional Platform of Celendin (Plataforma Interinstitucional Celendina - PIC)           Columbia Law School Human Rights Clinic

 

Press Contact: Benjamin Hoffman, +1-212-854-3954 or bhoffman@law.columbia.edu (interviews in English and Spanish); Milton Sánchez Cubas, milton.celendin@gmail.com (interviews in Spanish).

Groups call on World Bank to stop proposed Conga mine in light of the social and environmental threats posed by the project.

Washington, D.C., September 30, 2015—A proposed new gold mine in Peru poses great risks to human rights and the environment, a Peruvian human rights leader told members of Congress today, calling on the World Bank to put a stop to the project. The mine, proposed by a company in which the World Bank invests, would destroy four mountain lakes and hundreds of acres of wetlands that provide essential water resources, to create two massive open pits and waste dumps.

            “The mine threatens to destroy our sources of water and our lives. It’s either us or the mine,” said Milton Sánchez Cubas, a Peruvian human rights leader and General Secretary of the Plataforma Interinstitucional Celendina (PIC) who traveled from Celendín, Peru to testify before Congress in representation of the communities that would be affected by the project. “The World Bank should stand with us in publicly opposing the project.”

            Sánchez Cubas’s remarks came during a special briefing of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission of the U.S. Congress on the role of human rights in the decision-making of the World Bank and its private investment arm, the International Finance Corporation (IFC). In addition to his testimony, Sánchez Cubas entered into the record a new report concluding that the social and environmental risks of the Conga mining project make the project “unviable” in light of World Bank standards.

            “The IFC has social and environmental standards in place to ensure that its investments lead to sustainable development. The Conga project risks violating nearly all of them,” said human rights lawyer Benjamin Hoffman, a clinical teaching fellow in Columbia Law School’s Human Rights Clinic, which provided research and technical support for the report.

            The Conga project of Minera Yanacocha, a joint venture of Colorado-based Newmont Mining Corporation, the IFC, and Peruvian company Buenaventura, has generated much opposition in the region, as thousands have demonstrated and protested in defense of their water, environment, and way of life. The communities and their local governments have proposed an alternative plan for sustainable development based on agriculture, animal husbandry, and tourism, that would seek to preserve the natural ecosystem.

            Concerns about the new project stem in part from the frequent environmental and social conflicts that have marked Minera Yanacocha’s decades-long operation of the Yanacocha gold mine located less than 80km away from the proposed new mine. While violent repression of protests at the proposed Conga site led to the company’s assertion that it would indefinitely suspend the project, construction continues on reservoirs essential for the proposed mine’s operations. Sánchez Cubas and a coalition of Peruvian social organizations are calling for the project’s permanent suspension to prevent risk of further environmental degradation and abuse.

            In addition to testifying before Congress, Sánchez Cubas, together with the Human Rights Clinic, met with representatives from the U.S. Treasury, the World Bank, and the IFC. UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty Philip Alston also spoke before the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission.

            The briefing and the release of the report come just one week ahead of the World Bank’s Annual General Meeting taking place this year in Lima, Peru, the first time since 1967 that the World Bank has convened its annual meeting in Latin America.

         

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For more information regarding the briefing of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission see: http://tlhrc.house.gov/hearing_notice.asp?id=1302

Milton Sánchez Cubas is the General Secretary of the Plataforma Interinstitucional Celendina (PIC), a coalition of more than thirty social organizations from the Province of Celendín in the Cajamarca region of Peru. The PIC was formed at the end of 2009 with the objective of protecting the province’s hydrologic ecosystems threatened by the development of mega mining and hydroelectric projects planned for its territory. For more information, see: https://celendinlibre.wordpress.com/ (Spanish) or https://congaconflict.wordpress.com/ (English).

The Human Rights Clinic of Columbia Law School is an intensive course at Columbia Law School that brings together human rights work, student education, critical reflection, and scholarly research. In the Clinic, students are trained to be strategic human rights advocates, while pursuing social justice in partnership with civil society and communities, and advancing human rights methodologies and scholarship. Benjamin Hoffman is the Clinic Fellow, and the Clinic is directed by Professor Sarah Knuckey.