Ireland takes a very active role in supporting human rights defenders, open civil society space and the protection and promotion of fundamental rights and freedoms. As outlined in the response to the previous PQ you mention, I am aware of the difficult situation that exists for human rights defenders in Colombia, and continue to reject the use of threats, including death threats, intimidation and violence against those exercising and protecting their rights to freedom of expression and assembly.
Since opening earlier this year, our new Embassy in Bogotá has followed the situation in La Guajira closely and has maintained regular contact with all relevant stakeholders in order to gain a greater understanding of the circumstances and issues raised by the Deputy. Taking into account security and other considerations, a visit by the Embassy to the Department of La Guajira, where the Cerrejón mine is located, was possible in late September 2019.
The two-day visit took place on 23 and 24 September and was led by Ireland's Ambassador to Colombia, Ms Alison Milton. The programme included a tour of the mine itself, which was also attended by NGOs and local-community groups, as well as meetings with all stakeholders involved with the Cerrejón mine, including Cerrejón management, local communities, local government, religious leaders, academics and NGOs, including the local human rights group Fuerzas Mujeres Wayuu.
The La Guajira region has a near-majority indigenous population (over 40% compared to 3.4% nationally), the largest of which is the Wayuu people, who number around 270,000 and for whom the exploitation of La Guajira’s natural resources is a major grievance as they maintain a deep spiritual and ancestral connection to the land. It is also one of Colombia’s poorest regions, where the needs of local communities are acute.
The mine generates almost half of the region’s income and is one of its largest employers providing over 13,000 jobs. While the mine owners attest to their compliance with local and international standards, challenges exist in relation to local governance, leading to a lack of trust between the local authorities, local communities and the mine.
The Embassy has reported on the range and complexity of issues, not least evolving public opinion in relation to the extraction and consumption of fossil fuels, and concluded that efforts should be made to improve communication between the local communities and the mine, and to include the local community in plans for closure of the mine by 2033.
The Embassy will hold meetings with national Government, with national and international NGO partners, and with Cerrejón management in order to share feedback on the visit. Some of these meetings have already taken place.
The Embassy will also continue its engagement on this issue with the EU delegation in Bogotá. The EU Delegation has visited the Cerrejón mine in order to hear stakeholders’ views and maintains regular contact with representatives of sectoral trade unions and other civil society and environmental organisations. The EU Human Rights subgroup also visited the area and met with local communities in February of this year.
Having a presence on the ground in Colombia has greatly enhanced Ireland's ability to engage on and monitor important issues, among them those raised by human rights, environmental and indigenous rights defenders, not least the impact of the Cerrejón mine on the local community and the environment.
The situation of human rights in the country is closely tied to the implementation of the peace agreement. Ireland supports the Colombian Government’s full implementation of these accords. We also aim to continue our financial support to the peace process and to deepen our lesson-sharing programmes, based on our experiences of peacebuilding and reconciliation on the island of Ireland.
I can assure the Deputy that officials in my Department in Dublin and at our Embassy in Bogotá will continue to monitor the human rights situation in La Guajira and across Colombia. Ireland is committed to supporting Colombia in its transition to a stable, peaceful, post-conflict society.