After years of conflict and challenges, it’s time for mining companies like Newmont to take real, positive action.
Today an independent fact-finding mission is releasing a report on its investigation into the conflict between Peruvian campesina Maxima Chaupe and US-based mining giant Newmont. Chaupe and her family have been in an ongoing struggle over the ownership of a parcel of land that the company wants to develop as part of the Conga mega-project in northern Peru. And she has become an international cause celebre for mining-resistance activists globally. (See my earlier post for more on the Chaupe case and the long and troubled history of the project)
This most recent investigation was intended to establish the facts of the case and contribute to finding a way forward in the dispute. Sadly, despite the good intentions, the report will likely only add to the growing stack of such reports that have had little effect on a project that has been off the rails since it opened more than 20 years ago.
At issue is who actually has legal right to occupy the land. Chaupe and her family argue it’s theirs, having purchased the land from a family member in 1994. For its part, Minera Yanacocha (the Newmont subsidiary that runs the project) says they obtained legal title when they purchased the interests of Minas Conga, the company that bought the land from the campesino community of which Chaupe and her family are part. The Peruvian legal system is notoriously murky in these kinds of matters, especially in rural areas like Cajamarca where the project is located.
Throughout the dispute, Minera Yanacocha has attempted to physically evict the Chaupes from the land. This, the family argues, has resulted in physical harm that is tantamount to human rights abuse. Indeed, in 2014 the Interamerican Commission on Human Rights issued a decree that “precautionary measures” be taken to protect the family. Just two weeks ago, further conflict occurred between Chaupe and security forces. This time Chaupe was taken to a local hospital where she was treated for injuries she said were inflicted by the security forces. Newmont and Minera Yanacocha released statements saying there was no physical contact between Chaupe and security.
The fact-finding missions’ report says the documentation they were able to review is “inconclusive” as to who retains the rights of occupancy on the land. This is perhaps not surprising given that the legal documentation relating to the case is more than 20 years old. The report also finds no evidence of human rights abuse directed by the company at Chaupe or her family. Importantly, however, it states that the company failed to do appropriate human rights due diligence around the case to ensure no human rights abuses occurred.
The Chaupe case is unfortunately part of a broader regional pattern identified by the Interamerican Commission on Human Rights of aggression and intimidation directed at individuals and activists working to protect their land from extractive industries and other potentially damaging forms of development. Berta Cáceres, the Honduran indigenous rights activist who was assassinated earlier this year, is another example. At Oxfam, we have been supporting activists to demand that their right to give consent and human rights be respected by corporations in compliance with international standards. We are also pressing governments to protect the space for civil society organizations to operate freely.
Ultimately the most important conclusion of the fact-finding report – and maybe the most obvious – is that the company’s excessively legalistic approach and its attempts to physically dislodge the Chaupes are at odds with its stated intention of promoting constructive dialogue to resolve problems at the mine. This conclusion is nearly identical to those found in several other independent reviews done on the project and its social problems over the years.
At this late stage in the life of Minera Yanacocha it seems unlikely that company-community relations will improve dramatically in the near future. For whatever reason, the company is either unable or unwilling (perhaps both) to fix the way it addresses these issues. The opposition’s positions have also hardened, so even if Minera Yanacocha made a genuine effort to change, it might have a hard time convincing local communities and NGOs of its good intentions.
Still, the company has to find a just resolution to this conflict. If and when the Conga project does come on line, it would have a mine life of 19 years. Nineteen more years of conflicts like this is unacceptable. Real dialogue, and not aggressive legal and physical action, are what’s urgently needed now. Without it, the Chaupe dispute and others yet to emerge will only continue.