Five years ago, Indigenous communities in northern Colombia whose lives have been deeply affected by one of the world’s biggest thermal coal mines won an important court decision to stop expansion at the mine.

The Colombian Constitutional Court sided in favor of the Wayúu people’s rights to water, health, and food sovereignty, ordering the suspension of the Cerrejón coal mine.

The proposed expansion would destroy the Bruno River, one of their most important sources of water and a place of irreplaceable spiritual and cultural value to the Wayúu, who have already lost dozens of other water sources as a result of the mine’s operations.

In response, the mine’s owners — UK-based Anglo American and Swiss giant Glencore — turned to a little-known mechanism called Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS), which is available to foreign investors alone in free trade agreements and other such treaties, to sue Colombia.

There is evidence that their claims may be having a negative impact on the implementation of the court’s decision, so partners in Colombia asked the IPS Global Economy Program and a group of allied organizations to submit a brief and urge the court to stay its course.

We have done just that. Our submission urges the court to respect Wayúu rights and protect their vital water supply, despite the companies’ unjust claims.

Our brief also describes the injustices of the ISDS system that enables foreign firms to sue governments and undermine judicial independence, national sovereignty, and the few available protections for Indigenous peoples, mining-affected communities, and the environment in Colombia and around the world.

In Colombia’s case alone, transnational mining companies have brought or threatened a total of 10 arbitration cases, with active cases totaling almost $2.5 billion claimed. In the majority of these claims, investors are suing the country over Constitutional Courts decisions favoring a healthy environment and the well being of communities.

Read a summary of our brief here and see our press release here.

Jennifer Moore is an associate fellow on the Global Economy Project at the Institute for Policy Studies.

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