New reports highlight dangers faced by environmental defenders opposed to fracking in Colombia

Published by Brent Patterson on

Video: Carolina Agón of CREDHOS speaks at the launch of the CIEDH report.

Two key reports released on June 9 – one from the Information Center on Business and Human Rights (CIEDH), the other from Fundación Conflict Responses (CORE), CRY-GEAM and Extinction Rebellion Colombia – document the dangerous situation for environmental defenders in Colombia, notably those challenging fracking.

El Espectador reports:

Between January 2020 and December 2021, the Information Center on Business and Human Rights (CIEDH) recorded 58 cases of attacks on trade unionists, activists or human rights defenders whose work questioned companies or business practices in the country.

The figures come from the report Business and human rights in Colombia: urgent protection is needed for people who defend the land, territory and the environment.

The CIEDH classified the recorded attacks on defenders by branches of production as follows: the oil, coal and gas sector (23 cases), agribusiness such as palm, banana or sugar (10 cases), mining (9 cases), hydroelectric and renewable energy sources (4 cases), transportation (5 cases), private security (5 cases), tourism and water companies one case respectively.

The attackers come from a wide spectrum that includes from private security companies to state agents, as well as members of the affected communities themselves, who see their interests threatened if the business projects end.

However, in Colombia, the investigation would show that the majority of attacks come from paramilitary groups and organized crime groups that “allegedly sometimes act on behalf of private companies,” according to the report: “some of the largest and most well-known companies established in the extractive sector were repeatedly linked to violence in their operations.”

Several specific cases are cited in the report, but there is one especially important one that has to do with opposition to fracking projects in Magdalena Medio.

The case of Magdalena Medio is also emblematic because in Santander, the department that covers part of this subregion, is where the greatest number of harassments against defenders and trade unionists is concentrated.

According to the CIEDH, in Colombia there is a “failure” in the “enhanced due diligence” of companies to prevent their business practices from leading by action or omission to violent dynamics in the areas where they are operating.

As recommendations, the Center proposes that businesses and companies “respect the full rights of indigenous and Afro-descendant communities and guarantee access to reparation, when damage occurs” and also “assume political commitments, recognize the increased risk, respect land rights and the forests of ethnic communities.

The full article in El Espectador can be read at “En Colombia hay un clima de intimidación sistémica a los líderes sociales”: CIEDH.

Video: Oscar Sampayo speaks at the launch of the report.

The report from CORE, CRY-GEAM and Extinction Rebellion Colombia on attacks against environmental leaders reveals a similar situation. It focuses on environmental defenders in the Magdalena Medio.

The report highlights: “It is due to the logic of hydrocarbons extraction, within the framework of the claim of the Government of Iván Duque in imposing the technique of hydraulic fracturing in generating rock (fracking) in the region, where different voices, processes and leadership question the form as extraction in the territory is given due to the environmental impacts it generates.”

Environmental defender Oscar Sampayo says: “This report reveals that Santander is the department with the greatest number of human rights violations, there we registered at least 16 threats and three attacks against people who exercise environmental leadership and defense of nature, the panorama is worrying because we also have two leaders were assassinated in the region, which shows an increase in these violations.”

For more, please see the Vanguardia article Informe devela grave violencia contra líderes ambientales en el Magdalena Medio.

Canadian capital in Colombia

The latest available figures from Natural Resources Canada say that Canadian energy assets abroad (CEAA) in Colombia totalled $8 billion (in 2018) and that 28 Canadian mining companies held assets totalling $1.406 billion in Colombia (in 2019).

The Banking on Climate Chaos website also reveals that Toronto-based Scotiabank has invested $3.032 billion in Ecopetrol since 2018. Oil Change International has also noted that Export Development Canada (EDC) provided $300 million to Ecopetrol between 2012 and 2020.

Ecopetrol is the company that will operate the Kale and Platero fracking pilot projects in Puerto Wilches.

Recent articles in El Espectador and Al Jazeera have reported on allegations of links between Ecopetrol and paramilitary groups. This was also recently reported on in

Furthermore, Toronto-based Sintana Energy Inc. holds a 30 per cent share in the VMM-37 block where the Platero fracking pilot project will be conducted. The company welcomed the National Hydrocarbons Agency (ANH) approval of the project.

And amid the concerns that extractivism brings human rights violations, securitization and militarization of territory, Canada will reportedly sell 50 Light Armoured Vehicles (LAVs) to the Colombian Army. Canada also sold  Huron tactical attack and defense vehicles to the Colombian police in 2014 reportedly “outfitted with a cannon to wrangle unruly rioters with foam, tear gas, dyes and water.”

We strongly encourage the Government of Canada to uphold the findings and recommendations in the CIEDH and Sinderh reports.

María del Mar Pizarro tweet: “Today we are in the @BoellColombia accompanying @omsampayo in the launch of the first report of the information system on human rights violations against environmental leaders in Colombia @fundacion_core @Xrcolombiaaa”

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