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1 Dec 2022

Minera El Abra lawsuit (re sulfuric acid damage from copper mine in Chile)


Date lawsuit was filed
1 Dec 2022
Indigenous peoples, Community
Location of Filing: Chile
Location of Incident: Chile
Type of Litigation: Domestic


Codelco Chile Mining
Freeport-McMoRan United States of America Mining


Snapshot Box

Indigenous community members from northern Chile filed a lawsuit against mining company Minera El Abra in December 2022. The community argues the company contributed to environmental, territorial and archaeological damage through sulfuric acid spills. The case is ongoing.

Factual Background

The town of Conchi Viejo, located in northern Chile, has a history of mining dating back to the 17th century. It also possesses historical significance for local indigenous peoples, as the area is home to pre-Hispanic sites that are thousands of years old. The copper mining company Minera El Abra, owned by Freeport-McMoran and CODELCO, allegedly discharged sulfuric acid in the area, causing damage to the environment and historical sites.

Legal Argument

The Atacameña Indigenous Community of Conchi Viejo argues that Minera El Abra is guilty of damaging territory, environmental and archaeological sites in the area. Representatives for the community assert that the harm suffered in this case is not an isolated incident but is the result of multiple harmful actions over time. The community seeks to hold the company accountable for its environmental damage through remediation and argues that the spills resulted in “irreversible patrimonial damage.”

In response to the lawsuit, Minera El Abra released a statement asserting that the company had not been made aware of an environmental case brought by the community. The company also stated that it asked the community to have experts investigate the alleged damage in the area and highlighted its collaboration agreement with the community.

Legal Proceedings

The community filed a lawsuit against the company in December 2022 at the First Environmental Court of Antofagasta, Chile. The Deputy of Antofagasta also asked the State Defence Council (CDE) to intervene in the case to develop further background information and determine if the state should become involved in the lawsuit.

In July 2023, the Court of Appeals ordered Minera El Abra to cease engaging in work that impacts the community and refrain from working on the land without authorisation. The company denied that any harm or subsequent constitutional violations occurred. However, the Court noted it was not in a position to grant relief pertaining to "necessary and indispensable measures" sufficient to protect to the community.

News Items

Corte de Antofagasta ordena a empresa minera El Abra abstenerse de realizar trabajos que afecten a comunidad atacameña de Conchi Viejo, Diario Constitucional, 14 July 2023

Comunidad de Conchi Viejo demandó a Minera El Abra por daño ambiental, Radio Maray, 5 Feb 2023

Demandan a minera El Abra por daño ambiental y patrimonial, Antofagasta TV, 29 Jan 2023