Colombia: ecology, indigenous rights in the balance as high court strikes down mineral code

Mining projects in Colombia face an uncertain future following a May 11 ruling of the country's Constitutional Court that struck down a mineral code passed last year—although the regulations will remain in effect for two years to give Congress time to draft and approve a replacement bill. In its 7-1 ruling, the court found that the mineral code was unconstitutional because indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities on potentially impacted lands weren't consulted. Under the international convention known as ILO 69, approved by Colombia in 1991, indigenous inhabitants have the right to prior consultation on any decisions affecting their territories. However, the ruling is controversial because the code—known as Law 1382—included new environmental restrictions, including a ban on mining in the fragile highland ecosystems known as páramos (alpine grasslands).

Canada's Greystar Resources Ltd. recently abandoned its plan for an open-pit silver and gold mine, partly because the site at Angostura (Antioquia department) is located on páramos. South Africa-based AngloGold Ashanti Ltd. this month announced delays to development of its project at La Colosa (Tolima department), following long negotiations with the Colombian government over environmental permits.

María Victoria Duque of the non-governmental organization Razon Publica told Radio Nacional de Colombia she hoped that rather than overturn Law 1382's environmental provisions, lawmakers would take the opportunity to overturn the code's Article 13, which gives the state the power to expropriate land for mining projects. (Bloomberg, May 25; Semana, May 22; MarketWatch, Radio Nacional de Colombia,