Indigenous Peoples against the Waste Pipeline: human rights

Fishers and indigenous people in southern Chile have petitioned the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in their 15-year conflict with Celulosa Arauco y Constitución (CELCO), a paper pulp company which plans to dump toxic waste in the ocean, and with the Chilean state for alleged human rights violations.

The Valdivia pulp mill, one of several owned by CELCO, is located 500 metres from the south bank of the Cruces river in the Los Ríos region, upstream from the Carlos Anwandter Nature Sanctuary and 40 kilometres from the Bay of Mehuín (or Maiquillahue), the home of communities that depend on fishing for a living.  The company wants to lay a 40-kilometre waste pipeline from the pulp mill to Mehuín, including a 2-kilometre undersea extension, that would discharge the plant’s effluents directly into the ocean at a depth of 18 metres.  Small-scale fishers and people belonging to the Lafkenche (“people of the coast”) branch of the indigenous Mapuche community, living on the Bay of Mehuín, 800 kilometres south of Santiago, have been fighting the pipeline project since 1996.

In 2004 the company began discharging its effluents into the local Cruces river, but after a massive die-off and migration of black-necked swans (Cygnus melancoryphus) in the Anwandter Nature Sanctuary, in 2006 it resumed its original plan to build the waste pipeline to the ocean.  The Valdivia pulp mill produces 550,000 tonnes of pulp a year for export. In March, however, production had to be suspended due to the low rate of flow in the Cruces river, which fell below five cubic metres a second – the lowest limit established by the authorities for pulp production, which consumes enormous quantities of water.  Chile provides six percent of the 48 million tonnes of paper pulp traded on the world market every year. Last year, it brought in export revenues of 1.79 billion dollars. The forestry sector as a whole contributes 3.1 percent of GDP.

CELCO was granted permission to build the waste pipeline Feb. 24, 2010 by the Regional Commission for the Environment (COREMA), and it is expected to be completed in two years’ time. The population that will be affected by the project includes 20 coastal communities of Lafkenche people and small-scale fishers in Mehuín, Cheuque, La Barra and Mississipí.  Another 20 or so native communities further south and associations of fisherfolk with nearly 1,000 members, in neighbouring bays and inland areas, could also suffer harmful effects….

The Committee for the Defence of the Sea, an organization of local people, lodged appeals in the courts against the environmental permit granted by COREMA, and demanded protection for the integrity and lives of fisherfolk and Lafkenche people, and for the right of the native peoples to live on the coast, which is guaranteed under Chilean law. But the Supreme Court denied the motion. When all efforts to obtain justice in the national courts failed, the Committee for the Defence of the Sea took its case to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), requesting urgent precautionary measures and a restraining order against any work related to the construction of the pipeline…[O]ne of the legal petitions has to do with the rights of native communities, who were not consulted over this project in their territory, as stipulated in International Labour Organisation (ILO) Convention 169 concerning Indigenous and Tribal Peoples, which came into effect in Chile Sept. 15, 2009…

CELCO, which owns five pulp mills in Chile and another in Argentina, has a record for polluting. Operations have had to be suspended at the Valdivia plant on several occasions because of judicial injunctions, among other reasons for exceeding its permitted production limit.

Excerpt, Pamela Sepúlveda, Fishing Villages Turn to Int’l Justice in Fight Against Waste Duct, Inter Press Service, May 5, 2011

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