Court Halts Colombia's Biggest Copper Mining Venture

Date of publication: 
28 March 2010

BOGOTA — The Constitutional Court ordered a halt to Colombia’s largest copper mining project, citing a lack of consultation with nearby indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities regarding the environmental and cultural impact of the mine.

“Adequate action was not taken to ensure the communities were aware of the nature of the Mande Norte project and subsequently able to make a decision with full awareness and understanding,” the court said in a ruling published Thursday.

The decision requires the Muriel Mining Corporation to suspend exploration and production activities in an area straddling the border between the northwestern provinces of Antioquia and Choco.

Because Muriel’s project will inevitably alter the area’s ecological balance, the company must comply with its obligation to consult with the communities that inhabit that region and that will be affected by the mining activity, the judges said.

“The Interior and Justice Ministry should have consulted beforehand with all the groups that stand to be affected by the mining project, giving them ample opportunity to understand and participate, which did not occur in this instance,” the court added.

It also noted that the development of natural resources in territories traditionally inhabited by indigenous communities must be consistent with the state’s obligation to guarantee protection for their social, cultural and economic integrity.

A total of 12 communities belonging to the Embera ethnic group and two Afro-Colombian communities live in the area where Muriel Mining was awarded a 30-year concession.

The multinational’s plans for that zone include mining the largest copper deposit discovered in Colombia, as well as reserves of gold and molybdenum.