Mining exploitation threatens not only the environmental balance but often also violates human rights. The struggle of the missionaries from the grassroots up to the United Nations.
“As Pope Francis has said, there is a big difference between guarding and looting the environment. We are witnessing massive looting, which has been going on for years. Two million people and 21 municipalities are affected by the negative impact of the operations of the Brazilia VALE, one of the three largest metals and mining company in the world”, Father Dario Bossi denounces. He is a Comboni missionary who has lived in Piquiá de Baixo in the industrial district of Açailândia, Maranhãoe State, Brazil, for eight years now. This area has been scarred by mining exploitation which has been going on for 25 years, and which has affected both the environment and the community living here, mainly the poor, the indigenous and the rural African Americans. . .
Father Dario, however, is not alone in the fight against mining exploitation. The awareness of environmental threats and the efforts to protect both environment and communities have increased in recent years. Churches, missionaries, local communities and ecumenical groups are often in the front line in the fight against environmental injustice and human rights abuses. An activism which today is echoed and strengthened by Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment. Pope Francis’ environmental sensitivity is shared by many ecclesial realities in Latin America.
His words will certainly give new impetus to old and new initiatives and participation. “The Church is now engaged in different fields”, says Father Dario. “For instance, in 2013, we created a group called ‘Iglesias y Mineria’. This is an ecumenical network of religious and lay people, who try in collaboration with local communities, to face the negative impacts caused by the operations of the large mining companies. Pan-Amazon Ecclesial Network on the other hand was established for the defence of the human rights of indigenous peoples, often dispossessed of their lands by mining companies or by land grabbing. Many communities we collaborate with, are often heavily threatened. This is why networking is important as well as pushing for solidarity, especially for ordinary people, the ‘invisible’ who suffer daily and whose life is sometimes threatened”.
The group ‘lglesas y Mineria’ very often posts experiences or abuses denounced by activists on the network, farmers, men and women religious, or by groups working at continental level to defend the communities affected by mining activities which respect neither the environment nor the populations. Violations and abuses are often interconnected: land grabbing, deforestation, forced removal of local people from their land, are often accompanied by violence and serious human rights violations, such as sexual violence, diseases caused by water pollution, environmental and social degradation. Mining exploitation is also fueling the ongoing social conflicts in Peru, Colombia, Guatemala, Ecuador, Brazil, to name just a few countries.
“During the debate over the law that regulates mining activity – says Msgr. Leonardo Steinet, President of the Brazilian National Bishop Conference (CNBB) – we, as bishops of Brazil, firmly stated that nature cannot be destroyed for greed and money”. Furthermore, the bishops of the Latin American Episcopal Council (CELAM), presented a proposal to their counterparts in Canada and the United States suggesting that all of them should act and speak jointly about this problem before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. “It is an important step. We are trying to cooperate as a Christian community to protect life”, said Father Peter Hughes, executive secretary of the Department for Justice and Solidarity of CELAM.
Meanwhile, religious congregations have established the ‘Mining Working Group’ at the United Nations, which has now become a large coalition of NGOs and associations that bring the problems of local communities to the attention of this great assembly of nations. The MWG mainly advocates at and through the United Nations, for human and environmental rights as related to extractive industries. This group has recently tackled mining exploitation activity and related abuses and violations in Paraguay, Papua New Guinea and Indonesia. MWG has also been engaged in carrying out a campaign for the recognition of the right to water as a ‘common good’. In fact, water has to be considered as a ‘human right essential to life ‘.
Zelia Cordero, who belongs to the Order of the Missionary Sister Servants of the Holy Spirit, is also executive director of Vivat International, a NGO, which includes twelve congregations, in consultative status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations. She said, “the use of water is one of the most critical points related to mining. The large amount of water required for mining activity, in fact, causes the reduction of water supply for the local population. Furthermore, mining companies are clearly not protecting the waterways near their mining operations, introducing pollution in this way into local water supplies. This is why we are striving to make water a priority in the post-2O15 Agenda. Water is essential for life, health, for the production of sustainable energy, food, but also for culture, equality, and for climate change mitigation”. (F.P.)