Colombia: Oil industry's impacts on community in Puerto Gaitán

 oil industry META Colombia - photo credit FIDH

 Photo credit: FIDH

In 2014, FIDH, its member organisation in Colombia the Jose Alvear Restrepo Lawyers Collective (CCAJAR) and the Project for Accompaniment and International Solidarity in Colombia (PASO) began a community-based human rights impact assessment (HRIA) to document and analyse the impacts that oil exploration and extraction activities have had on the human rights and the environment of local communities in Puerto Gaitán, in the Meta department, Colombia, with a particular focus on the Rubiales-Piriri and Quifa oil concessions, operated by the Canadian company Pacific Exploration & Production Corp. in association with the majority state-owned Colombian company Ecopetrol, using the methodology known as Getting It Right. The assessment was designed to gather information on and assess four core human rights principles: labour rights, criminalisation and repression of social leaders and human rights defenders, infringements on indigenous peoples right to prior consultation, and environmental impacts. The assessment involved interviews with all relevant stakeholders including affected sectors of the population by means of group discussions and nearly 600 surveys with residents of the affected area, employees of Pacific and it subcontracted partners, and indigenous communities. FIDH carried out 2 international missions to hold meetings with national, regional, and local authorities, embassies, international institutions, trade unions and NGOs, one subcontracting company, and representatives of Ecopetrol and Pacific (with whom information was exchanged through written letters, and who were also provided with the opportunity to comment on the report prior to its launch).

Over the course of 2 years, with FIDH’s support and guidance, a team of researchers from the Jose Alvear Restrepo Lawyers Collective (CCAJAR), the Project for Accompaniment International Solidarity in Colombia (PASO) and the Escuela Nacional Sindical(ENS) used the HRIA as a tool to document the impacts that oil exploration and extraction activities have had on the human rights and the environment of local communities in Puerto Gaitan. The research findings revealed several violations of labour rights including limitations on the freedom of association and a practice of illegal subcontracting; significant number of judicial prosecutions and situations of excessive use of force against human rights defenders and community leaders; irregularities in consultation processes with Sikuani indigenous peoples including the lack of support from state entities in order to avoid asymmetries of power during the dialogues; and irregularities with regard to environmental licenses coupled with inadequate monitoring which have caused water pollution and has seemingly contributed to increased systemic activity in the region.

The project’s concluding recommendations focus on the responsibilities of Pacific E&P and Ecopetrol as well as the Colombian and Canadian states’ human rights obligations: Pacific should provide effective reparation for the adverse impacts of past and present activities in Puerto Gaitán; Ecopetrol should ensure due process in relation to human rights upon taking over operations in the Rubiales oil concession; the Colombian State should establish appropriate regulatory frameworks and fulfil its obligations to control, monitor, prevent and remedy human rights violations, as well as conduct human rights due diligence as Ecopetrol’s majority shareholder; finally, Canada should regulate the activities of its companies operating abroad and ensure that the export development agency (EDC) clients respect human rights before financing their activities in Colombia. Following the assessment, the final HRIA report (executive summary in English here - full report in Spanish here) was launched through a press conference in Bogota, a public forum and a closed round table to which all relevant stakeholders were invited to discuss the findings, unfortunately neither Pacific E&P nor Ecopetrol participated. The public forum was widely attended, and provided an opportunity for affected communities to voice their concerns and demands. Community leaders and labour activists including Hector Sánchez Gómez who was recently criminalised and threatened (see Urgent Appeal, Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders) shared findings of the HRIA with affected communities and communities that will be affected by the expansion of oil activities through mass meetings in the municipalities around Puerto Gaitán.

Pacific E&P is currently undergoing insolvency proceedings in Canada to avoid bankruptcy, and dialogue is interrupted. Following the publication of the report, CCAJAR held a meeting with one of Pacific E&P’s subcontractors, ISVI. It also met Ecopetrol on several occasions, including in relation to an environmental regulation and mitigation plan. FIDH, CCAJAR and PASO are moreover exploring the different possible avenues to seek redress, including via the use of judicial recourse mechanisms.

Timeline:

  • 2014 – HRIA begins
  • December 2014, December 2015 and July 2016 - FIDH international missions
  • December 2015 - January 2016 - Written answers from companies and state authorities to FIDH questions 
  • May-June 2016 - Meetings with Ecopetrol to adopt a strategy in order to assess human rights and environmental impacts before taking over operations of the Rubiales oil concession
  • July 2016 – Launch of the HRIA report, though a round table with some of the stakeholders to discuss the findings of the HRIA, a press conference and a public forum
  • August 2016- Discussions with Ecopetrol regarding an environmental regulation and mitigation plan

FIDH infographic Puerto Gaitan Colombia