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Bloodstained coal from Colombia

Massacres, targeted killings, expulsions: Raw material companies in Colombia are believed to have taken part in crimes for years. Even German utilities have received coal supplies from them.

It was around 2 a.m. on February 19, 2002, when about 30 masked paramilitaries appeared in the village, recalls Marina Barbosa. "They stopped at our house and knocked on the door, but I did not let them in. 'Hurry up' or we will throw a grenade!' the men shouted. Later they entered the house and screamed: "You support the guerrilla fighters!"

Marina and her two children, Rafael Arturo and Maira Marleny were forced to lie on the floor while the men searched and destroyed everything in the house. They took away everything of value.

"After they had searched the house, the paramilitaries accused my husband to be a member of the trade union, which was not true. He worked for Drummond and drove trucks. But at the end they dragged him outside and shot him in front our children."

Numerous victims

Marina Barbosa is just one of the many victims of human rights violations by paramilitaries in the coal region Cesar in northeastern Colombia. In its recently published report "The Dark Side of Coal," the Netherlands-based NGO Pax for Peace raised serious allegations against the mine operator Prodeco, a subsidiary of the Swiss Glencore Group and the American family-run firm Drummond.

Kolumbien Paramilitär Archivbild 2000

The NGO accuses the raw material companies of collaborating with the paramilitaries for years

The NGO accuses the companies of collaborating with the paramilitaries for years. Even German energy companies such as E.ON, RWE, EnBW and Vattenfall - as buyers of Colombian coal - are involved, albeit indirectly.

"No one had an interest in extracting coal in the Cesar region in the 1990s except Drummond and Prodeco. But back then the area was a war zone and the companies faced problems such as physical attacks and kidnappings," explained the study author Marianne Moor.

"So the companies collaborated with paramilitaries and created their own security services." They were then stationed near the mines and along the railway lines, the report noted. "While they originally started with 40 men, the number jumped to 600 in the end."

Support for the paramilitary groups

In the administrative district of Cesar alone, conservative estimates point to around 2,600 targeted killings, 500 victims of massacres and at least 240 missing persons between 1996 and 2006, according to the study. Furthermore, the paramilitary violence caused more than 59,000 forced displacements in the mining region.

"The land was appropriated by mine owners," says Moor. "After a few years, the guerrilla forces disappeared from the area and it became safer for mine operators." The report underlines that the companies failed to act against human rights violations, despite being aware them. They instead provided logistical and financial support to groups like Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (AUC) and Frente Juan Andres Alvarez (JAA Front), it alleged.

"Numerous accounts indicate that Drummond and Prodeco actively cooperated with the paramilitaries. We have nine different sources in the case of Drummond and four in the case of Glencore/Prodeco which prove that these companies financed the paramilitaries, initially through cash payments and later through transfers via suppliers and lawyers," explains Moor.

"In addition, there was information exchange between the companies, the country's army and the paramilitaries." Despite the AUC's dissolution in 2006, paramilitary violence has continued in the region.

Companies benefit

And to this day the mining companies have seemingly benefitted from these gross human rights abuses. "The trade unions have been systematically weakened by lethal violence and any critics have been silenced by threats. Moreover, the paramilitaries have driven away tens of thousands of people from the areas where Drummond and Prodeco are operating."

PAX conducted interviews with victims of human rights violations, former paramilitaries, employees of the mining companies and their suppliers. Furthermore, evidence from court proceedings was examined. "The research was difficult as many of our interlocutors had been intimidated," says Moor.

The former members of the paramilitaries had long remained silent about their involvement in human rights violations. They started talking, but are falling silent again out of fear for themselves and their families."

Allegations rejected

Both Drummond and Glencore categorically denied the accounts of ex-paramilitaries, ex-employees and former contractors about the alleged cooperation with paramilitary groups. We tried to involve Drummond early on in the investigation, points out Moor. But instead of answering them, the firm threatened legal action.

Glencore, on the other hand, appeared willing to take part, but the results were disappointing. Upon request, both companies referred to the open letters in which they commented on the allegations leveled against them by PAX. These can be found in the appendix of the study.

Even German companies such as E.ON, RWE, EnBW and Vattenfall procure Colombian coal and therefore carry responsibility. After more than three years of dialogue, communication with the German companies is still difficult, stresses Moor, adding that they only have had contact with the companies' press officers and that the firms always try to shift the responsibility to the Colombian government.

German energy utilities

Moor said that EnBW is the only firm in Germany that seemed to be in favor of providing a serious clarification. Although the company has not directly engaged in any business activity with Drummond, it took the allegations seriously.

Marianne Moor PAX Niederlande

Moor says there was information exchange between the companies, the country's army and the paramilitaries

"In March 2014, EnBW sent a team of experts to Colombia to learn firsthand about the conditions and circumstances. As a first step, we appointed a representative on-site to conduct talks with representatives of all stakeholders in Colombia," the company said.

While Vattenfall has not responded to the queries, E.ON cited confidentiality clauses and referred to the Bettercoal initiative, which sets ethical, social and environmental standards to suppliers of coal. Another utility, RWE, pointed out that the company had no direct engagement with Drummond and Prodeco in the period between 1996 and 2006.

"It was difficult from the beginning," says Moor. "There has never been a real dialogue, which is why we decided to make the study public in the first place."

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