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VIEW: ‘Listen to the women of Honduras and concerns about mining’, says Jody Williams

Nobel Peace Prize winner Jody Williams writes in the Ottawa Citizen, “This weekend thousands of mining industry people from across Canada and around the globe are in Toronto for one of the world’s premiere mining investment conferences. Two speakers at the conference are from Honduras…who will talk about ‘developing a new mining act for Honduras (a new law the government hopes will encourage big companies to establish more mining operations in Honduras).”

“Up until recently, this small fact would not necessarily have caught my attention. But a few weeks ago I led a delegation of prominent women from Canada and the U.S. — lawyers, women’s rights experts, journalists and artists — to Honduras, Guatemala and Mexico.”

Violence against women
Williams notes, “There we heard testimonies from more than 200 women affected first-hand by the increasing levels of violence in the region.”

“Last year, in the first six months, 195 women were murdered — most were under 30 years old. It was hard to find a woman who had not been beaten, or beaten and raped. Sadly, the very people who are supposed to be protecting women in Honduras pose the greatest threat to them, namely state security forces. And increasingly, private security firms being hired by mining companies, mega projects and the business elite in Honduras are also behind the extreme violence against women.”

Goldcorp in Honduras
“In Honduras, our delegation met with women who have been impacted by the San Martin mine in the Siria Valley. The mine is owned by a subsidiary of Canadian Goldcorp. The women talked about how the mining operation has contaminated local water supplies. They blame the poor water quality for mysterious skin rashes on children and adults in the community, and attribute findings of high arsenic in the urine and lead in the blood of residents living near the mine to the gold operations (now in the process of closing). Despite having spoken out about their concerns over the mine’s effects on health for years, residents in the Siria Valley have yet to receive much medical attention or compensation.”

Journalists in danger
“Journalists trying to cover the story are also at risk. Since the coup in 2009, 18 journalists in Honduras have been killed. At least another 25 have faced death threats. …Recently a journalist in Santa Rosa de Copan, where the Canadian company Aura Minerals operates, also reported receiving threats for having reported on concerns over mining operations in the area.”

New mining law backed by Canada
“The proposed law would accelerate the licensing process for new mines in Honduras, including open-pit mines, and simplify the rules for mining companies planning to operate in Honduras. It would also reduce environmental standards and privilege water use by mining companies. At the same time, the new law would open the door for foreign states to become title owners of mining concessions, and it fails to ensure the communities that will suffer the most direct impact from the mining have any meaningful say over mining developments.”

“It appears that the Canadian government is eager for the deal. The Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade was involved in bringing the two government officials (from Honduras) to Toronto this week to attend the mining convention. They seem quite undeterred by high levels of insecurity in Honduras, which likely helped put the country almost at the bottom of the list of the world’s attractive places for international mining investments.”

“In creating this new law, the Honduran government has bent over backwards to meet the needs of Canadian and other mining companies, but has carried out almost no consultations with Honduran civil society and community organizations. A recent survey shows that the majority of Hondurans reject open-pit mining and associate it with harmful affects to the environment and human health. These communities are now asking that the process to approve the proposed mining law be slowed down and their legitimate concerns be taken into account.”

“A few days after we left Honduras, the Canadian Embassy in Honduras sponsored a workshop on ‘corporate social responsibility’ at which the ambassador said the Canadian government is working toward ensuring ‘benefits for communities where mines operate’. Yet, the Canadian Embassy remains silent on the human rights abuses committed by mining companies, while playing a prominent role in facilitating high-level meetings for corporations that would be the beneficiaries of this law.”

Williams concludes, “Empty pronouncements (by the Canadian government) will do nothing to respond to the needs of the communities affected by existing mines and opposed to new ones. Canada must ensure that the Honduran government consults with its own people, insist that the environmental and health impacts of existing Canadian operations are adequately addressed, and urge Honduran authorities to protect the right of Hondurans to dissent and freedom of expression. Honduran women, their families and their communities deserve nothing less.”

Shout Out!
The Council of Canadians is currently organizing a ‘Shout Out against Mining Injustice’ that will take place June 1-3 in Vancouver.

It will focus on the harmful role of Canadian-based mining companies in Latin America, the impact their mines have on the UN-recognized human right to water, and strategies for popular opposition to change this current reality.

To read William’s full commentary, please go to http://www.ottawacitizen.com/touch/news/story.html?id=6247931.