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U.N. Urges Argentina to Address Indigenous Rights Violations

Catamarca Province Stands Accused of Ignoring Community Concerns

by Victor Adetimilehin

Tensions simmering in Argentina’s Catamarca province reached a boiling point as members of the Peñas Negras Indigenous community clashed with police guarding a controversial mining project. The incident, which left an elderly community member injured, has drawn the attention of the United Nations, raising concerns about potential human rights violations against Indigenous groups.

Community Rejects Mining Project, Cites Lack of Consent

The confrontation unfolded as representatives of the Australian mining company Elevado Gold, escorted by armed police, attempted to access the Alto El Mulato mining site on Alto de Salle hill. Located high in the Andes mountains, the project sits near the border of Salta province.

Residents of the Peñas Negras community vehemently opposed the project, arguing that it violated their right to free, prior, and informed consent (FPIC). The Argentinian government is obligated by international law, including the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), to uphold FPIC principles. However, the Peñas Negras community asserts that the Catamarca Mining Ministry renewed Elevado Gold’s exploration permit despite their public opposition expressed in a formal assembly.

History of Harassment and Violence Against Indigenous Community

This recent clash appears to be just the latest chapter in a troubling saga. According to local media reports, the Peñas Negras community has faced a pattern of harassment and violence allegedly perpetrated by police and individuals linked to the mining company. Their leader, Sebastián Gutiérrez, filed a complaint with the Belén Prosecutor’s Office in March 2024, detailing incidents of property destruction, theft of livestock, and intimidation tactics. Adding to the community’s frustration, their request for a hearing with the Catamarca Security Secretariat reportedly went unanswered.

The violent clash and ongoing tensions prompted the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) to issue a statement expressing concern. OCHA urged Argentinian authorities, particularly those in Catamarca province, to “engage in meaningful dialogue” with the Peñas Negras community and “ensure their right to self-determination and participation in decisions affecting their lands and resources” is respected.

Beyond the Clash: A Look at Indigenous Struggles in Argentina

The incident in Catamarca sheds light on the broader challenges faced by Indigenous communities in Argentina. Many Indigenous groups grapple with the encroachment of development projects on their ancestral lands and traditional ways of life. The lack of genuine consultation and respect for FPIC principles fuels frustration and resentment, potentially leading to social unrest.

The Peñas Negras community’s courageous stand for their rights highlights the need for a more transparent and inclusive approach to resource development in Argentina. Meaningful dialogue between Indigenous communities, government officials, and mining companies is crucial. Obtaining genuine FPIC, ensuring environmental sustainability, and upholding the rights of Indigenous people are essential for responsible development projects.

The United Nations’ intervention offers a glimmer of hope. By adhering to international human rights standards and fostering genuine dialogue, Argentina can chart a course that respects the rights of Indigenous communities while pursuing sustainable development. The future holds promise if all stakeholders engage in good-faith negotiations, prioritizing the well-being of the Peñas Negras community and the environment.

Source: Mining.com

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