Dutch energy firms will continue to buy coal from Drummond and Prodeco, two mining companies in the Colombian mining region Cesar. The firms stated as much in a reaction to a report published by peace organisation PAX last week, writes Jan Gruiters.
Between 1996 and 2006, when paramilitary groups were active in Cesar, at least 3,100 people were murdered while 240 disappeared and over 55,000 were driven from their land. Perpetrators as well as witnesses declared that the paramilitaries were paid by mining companies Drummond and Prodeco.
The Dutch energy firms’ reaction shows a fixed determination to ignore the call PAX made to all energy firms in Europe to stop buying blood-stained coal unless the victims’ right to compensation is acknowledged. The energy firms’ justification is two-fold: ‘If we stop buying coal now, someone else will; the Netherlands is too small to be able to exert influence. Pulling out would mean losing any control that we have on the situation on the ground.’
Essent, Nuon, E.ON, Electrabel and Delta conveniently forget the fact that European energy firms are buying up 70% (!) of Drummond and Prodeco’s output in Cesar. The threat of a pull-out by buyers of this magnitude would have a considerable effect. It could make Drummond and Prodeco decide to contribute to a fund to compensate victims in which the Colombian authorities and other parties would also participate.
But the Dutch energy firms prefer to play the Calimero card: ‘We are small and Drummond and Prodeco are big.’
The other reason for the firms’ reluctance to act is that they are ‘unwilling to act as judge’. To be absolutely clear: the energy firms have an obligation of their own not to contribute to the violation of human rights. As part of the coal chain they have neglected this responsibility for years.
Now they are being put on the spot, all they can do is point to the fact that there has been no court decision to grant compensation to victims. But the energy firms know very well that Colombian judges are very far from making any moves towards a preliminary investigation into the mining companies’ involvement, let alone a pronouncement on a compensation fund for victims. They also know that mining companies are actively hindering people’s efforts to stand up for their rights.
The energy firms say they want to do better in future. But in the meantime they are ignoring the victims, refusing to be clear about the provenance of the coal and avoiding all responsibility when it comes to compensation.
It is painful to see that all they can muster to justify their actions are two pathetically inadequate arguments. Abandoning people whose human rights have been violated in connection with coal mining will undermine their credibility and their reputations. The victims asked the energy firms to let their hearts speak and feel their pain. They didn’t get a single word of pity.
If energy firms lack the courage to take their responsibilities seriously it is up to the politicians to make them. Parliament should force them to be transparent and ask Dutch foreign minister Lilianne Ploumen to use the upcoming renewal of the sector covenant with the energy firms to include a clause which will legally bind them to compensate victims. This will at least provide them with a clear code of conduct and will rid them from their self-appointed role as Calimero.
Jan Gruiters is general director at Dutch peace organisation PAX.
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