Church sends a strong signal of support for communities affected by mining, and for work towards effective response

Publish Date: 
Thursday, July 23, 2015

Iglesias y Minería’ Press Release 17/07/2015.

Today, the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace will welcome about thirty representatives of communities affected by mining activities from Africa, Asia and Latin America for a three-day meeting, "A day of reflection - In union with God we hear a plea". The meeting is intended as a time for collection of evidence, sharing of experiences, reflection and proposals for future action by the Church or communities themselves.

Hearing the cry of the oppressed and the cry of the earth: Communities in different parts of the world are facing situations of violence and intimidation, lawlessness and corruption, pollution and human rights violations linked to mining, as well as criminalization and persecution of leaders defending their land and rights.

“In our region of Carajás alone, in the North of Brasil, we have seen 26 conflicts in the past three years between Vale mining company and local communities. After people’s demonstrations, in many cases, the response by governments and the multinational has been the criminalization and the filing of law suits against our people. In this way the company tries to change from aggressor to victim, as if our communities were bothering their projects and becoming an obstacle to their profits.”-  commented Alaide Abreu da Silva, a leader of one of the communities affected by mining in the Maranhão State.

The ecumenical coalition Iglesias y Minería (Churches and Mining) brings together about 70 Latin American Christian grassroots groups, working side by side with communities to promote and defend human dignity.  As Pope Francis emphasized when addressing social movements in Bolivia on 9 July, the poor and the excluded can and are doing a lot: the future of humanity is to a large extent in their hands, in their capacity to get organized and to promote creative alternatives to current development models- which are harming both nature and the people.

Iglesias y Minería embraces this message and works towards empowerment of communities, but at the same time denounces the underlying problem of imbalance that sees on one side big companies investing capital and acting according to narrow economic interests in a territory, and on the other side the local communities. The latter are every day defending the existence of their peoples, their cultures, projects, lifestyles and relation with Mother Earth, against projects that impact them; but they lack the economic, political and media influence that companies often have.

“Our network of grassroots Christian groups was formed with the purpose of defending communities in these types of situations of imbalance. The political lobbying and economic power of companies is very strong and it promotes a continuous increase in mining activities. It is really important that the Church at all levels (also at the institutional level) reinforces the visibility, the disapproval of certain policies, and the just claims of self determination by the communities”- said the Comboni Missionary Dario Bossi, working in Latin America on these topics. 

While some mining companies say that they seek dialogue with local communities, the experiences of local communities frequently reveal a falsity in this ‘dialogue’.  Often the main objective is rather to make them endorse the companies’ projects, in exchange for very few short-term benefits and for maintaining a façade of “good relations.”

Acting with diligence and responsibility in the service of the common good, justice and human dignity: A number of affected communities are supported, advised, and defended by the Churches, which have taken courageous positions in a variety of contexts. The meeting organized by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace (PCJP), on 17-19 July to listen to stories of affected communities, is an example of such Church engagement. Two principles, respect for the self determination of communities and for care of the common good above economic interest are emphasized  in the encyclical and further motivate the work on Churches and mining - in the notes for editors some quotes from the encyclical supporting these points have been selected.

Empowered by the Church, it is important to work towards measures to help ensure that businesses respect communities’ rights. Drawing from the concrete experiences of communities, different aspects will be considered at the PCJP meeting regarding proposals for future actions. Among these are respect for communities’ self-determination, through the requirement to undertake a process towards free, prior and informed consent of communities, enshrined in international law. There is also need for properly enforced regulation. An example at international level is the work which has started on a binding UN treaty on business and human rights. The Holy See gave important support to the process towards a treaty through its statement in favor of a legal instrument during the 2014 UN Human Rights Council session that decided on the establishment of the process.[i] 

In occasion of this meeting, Iglesias y Minería launched in different languages the documentary “Churches and Mining in Latin America”, exposing the situation in which indigenous peoples and traditional communities are threatened by those interested in mining heir territories.

[1] See Statement of the Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations in Geneva, 11 June 2014.