Photo: Ángel M. Felicísimo / Páramo

Civil society organizations, including SOMO, have sent a communique to Léo Heller, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights to Drinking Water and Sanitation. In it they warn that their rights are at serious risk in the face of proposed harmful mining projects in or near the páramo, a water source for more than 10 municipalities and 3 large cities. They request that the Rapporteur prepares a report on the case, visit the site, and support the Colombian government in protecting the ecosystem.

Actions and omissions by the Colombian government have allowed the development of mining projects that threaten the availability and quality of water provided by the páramo. The government’s protection of the páramo did not include the entire ecosystem, leaving a part of it unprotected, and did not allow for public participation. As a result, the Constitutional Court ordered the government to redo the process again.

The submission details the process of defining the boundaries of the Santurbán páramo, the importance of that process for the environment and the enjoyment of the right to water in Colombia, the legal framework for the protection of the páramos in the country, the development of projects in or near the site, as well as the associated environmental impacts or threats which include: decrease in the quality and quantity of water, contamination due to the use of explosives, decrease in air quality, increase in noise level and permanent loss of habitats, among others.

Likewise, the submission details the impacts of Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) claims on governmental decisions to protect their water sources. Several mining companies have tried for more than 15 years to extract gold from the Santurbán páramo. Some of those are Canadian companies, who are currently using this arbitration process to demand hundreds of millions of dollars from the Colombian government in compensation for their “lost” profits.

The organizations ask the Rapporteur to monitor the situation in the Santurbán páramo and urge the Colombian government to comply with its international obligations in relation to the right to water.