Reporting on the conflict between the mega mining project Conga and the people of Cajamarca, Peru
On July 23, a group of prominent non-governmental human and environmental rights organizations filed an amicus curiae (friend of the court) brief in the Peruvian Constitutional Court in support of the challenge brought by the NGO Grufides against Newmont Mining’s Conga mining project. The case presents the argument that the Conga project would violate the fundamental constitutional right to an adequate and healthy environment. “The project does not only involve violations of Peruvian constitutional law, but also of two fundamental principles of international environmental law,” said Benjamin Hoffman, an attorney at EarthRights International (ERI).
ERI was joined by the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL) and Earthworks in expressing their interest in promoting justice systems that respect international principles of sustainable development and precaution against environmental threats posed by mining activities. These principles, recognized both internationally and in Peru, require the government to take every measure to prevent and mitigate irreversible environmental harm even when there is uncertainty about the extent of damage to the environment.
Governments take their first steps to meet these obligations by requiring the submission, review, and approval of an environmental impact assessment (EIA) for each project. International conventions, guidelines and jurisprudence requires the review and approval of the EIA to be performed independently from the promotion of the project – independence which was absent from the review of the Conga project EIA.
With the Conga project, independent experts have raised legitimate concerns about the environmental impacts that warrant the application of the principles of precaution and sustainable development. The project threatens to destroy wetlands and lagoons essential to the region, and may contaminate groundwater. “The proposed mine would irreversibly change the headwaters of the river basin, destroying the water balance of the ecosystem that provides essential services to the region of Cajamarca,” said Carla Garcia Zendejas from CIEL.
The system adopted by the Peruvian government for review of the Conga project’s EIA was insufficient to meet international and constitutional requirements. The Ministry of Energy and Mines simultaneously promoted the Conga project and was the final arbiter of the EIA, creating a clear conflict of interest that interfered with environmental protection. The Conga project did not benefit from an independent system of review and approval of the EIA, as required by international standards.
In light of this violation of international principles, the amicus brief urges the Constitutional Court to join other national courts confronting similar violations – such as those of India, Panama, Canada and Colombia – and order a halt to the Conga project to prevent irreversible environmental damage.