Guatemala Defies Human Rights Body, Refuses To Suspend Marlin Mine

(Ottawa) After a year of delays, Guatemala has backtracked on its promise to comply with precautionary measures issued by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and to suspend Goldcorp's Marlin mine.

On May 20, 2010, the IACHR, a body of the Organization of American States, ordered Guatemala to suspend mining operations to prevent imminent harm to communities living near the Marlin mine. On June 23, 2010, President Álvaro Colom committed to implement the measures. Instead, however, Colom initiated an administrative process that was supposed to take three months. Over a year later, the Ministry of Energy and Mines has refused to suspend the Marlin mine, arguing that it lacks evidence of water contamination. The Guatemalan government then requested that the IACHR modify or lift the precautionary measures.

“By their very nature, precautionary measures are issued because there is sufficient threat of imminent and irreversible harm,” remarks Senior Attorney Kris Genovese of the Center for International Environmental Law in Washington, D.C. “It isn’t for Guatemala to decide if the measures are warranted. By its own admission, the Government of Guatemala failed to consider independent scientific studies, which reveal evidence of arsenic-rich groundwater being drawn into surface waters, and relatively high levels of lead in the blood of those living closest to the mine.”

“The order to suspend mine operations is designed to protect the right to life. This is a right that cannot be negotiated,” says Ramon Cadenas, Guatemalan representative of the International Commission of Jurists. “The Guatemalan state has demonstrated that it lacks the capacity to protect the rights of its citizens in this case, which is the very reason the IACHR issued the precautionary measures. The IACHR did not ask Guatemala to judge whether or not contamination, or any other risks, exist for people affected by the Marlin mine. The state has tried to distort the meaning of what the commission said.”

Local human rights defenders are disillusioned, but not surprised.

“The Guatemalan state will never say it's Goldcorp’s fault. They write reports to suit their own interests,” states Miguel Angel Bámaca, resident of the municipality of San Miguel Ixtahuacán where the Marlin mine is located. “They say there's no danger, but it's not true. They think it's just fine for us to have to put up with disaster; to personally bear the brunt of the mine's impacts through the air we breathe, through possible flooding of the tailings pond, through impacts in our homes and on our lands.”

Since the precautionary measures were issued, attacks on environmental and indigenous rights defenders in the province of San Marcos, where the mine operates, have been on the rise. In the first four months of 2011, the Unit for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (UDEFEGUA) reported that the number of attacks against human rights defenders in this northwestern province exceeded the number of attacks against human rights defenders in all other areas of Guatemala combined.

“It’s deplorable that the Guatemalan state has not complied with its obligations to protect people's lives in the communities of San Miguel Ixtahuacán,” says Claudia Samayoa, Coordinator of UDEFEGUA in Guatemala City. “The State’s failure to ensure effective consultation, to de-escalate conflict created by the mine’s operations, and to guarantee security for human rights defenders creates an unfavorable climate in which to exercise one’s human rights.”

For mine-affected residents, the Ministry of Energy and Mines' announcement is not the end of their struggle. Bámaca adds, “They have tried to silence us, but we will continue raising our voices until this “tortoise” reaches the finish line.”

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Jennifer Moore, MiningWatch Canada, (613) 569-3439, jen(at)
Kris Genovese, Center for International Environmental Law, (202) 742-5831, kgenovese(at)

The Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL) is committed to strengthening and using international law and institutions to protect the environment, promote human health, and ensure a just and sustainable society. CIEL is a non-profit organization dedicated to advocacy in the global public interest, including through legal counsel, policy research, analysis, education, training and capacity building.

MiningWatch Canada is a pan-Canadian initiative supported by environmental, social justice, Aboriginal and labour organizations from across the country. It addresses the urgent need for a co-ordinated public interest response to the threats to public health, water and air quality, fish and wildlife habitat and community interests posed by irresponsible mineral policies and practices in Canada and around the world.