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220+ organizations call on Colombian government to withdraw international investment treaties that enable million-dollar corporate claims

“In Colombia, the defense of life, nature and territory has cost leaders and movements assassinations, threats and stigmatization, being the most dangerous country in the world for environment defenders. In this context, there is an urgent need to prevent the sabotage by this system of the tortuous search for justice over the abuses of multinational corporations, including socio-environmental and labor harms, paramilitary financing, threats and assassination of union leaders.” 

Today, more than 220 organizations, with strong representation from groups involved in the defense of water, life and territories, including networks, organizations and unions from Colombia, Latin America and around the world, launched a petition urging the Colombian government to withdraw from treaties that enable transnational corporations to sue the country in tribunals designed to favor their interests.

The extractive sector uses this system more than others and companies such as Glencore and Eco Oro have sued Colombia over decisions to favor the protection of the páramo ecosystem (high altitude wetlands), water and Indigenous rights. Currently, the National Agency for the State’s Legal Defense reports that there are thirteen such suits against Colombia and eight more in earlier stages with roughly US$2.5 billion dollars in known claims. 

The petition calls on Colombian President Gustavo Petro, Vice President Francia Márquez, the National Agency for the State’s Legal Defense, the Ministry of the Environment, the Ministry of Energy and Mines, the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Tourism, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to “withdraw from this unjust, arbitrary and colonialist system.” 

The signatories argue that the arbitration system is incompatible with human rights and environmental protection, has been designed for and by transnational corporations, and is used as a form of blackmail when governments or their courts put limits on corporate abuse and protect the environment or the rights of their people. 

The text, which will be delivered to the government, points out that: 

“In Colombia, the defense of life, nature and territory has cost leaders and movements assassinations, threats and stigmatization, being the most dangerous country in the world for environment defenders. In this context, there is an urgent need to prevent the sabotage by this system of the tortuous search for justice over the abuses of multinational corporations, including socio-environmental and labor harms, paramilitary financing, threats and assassination of union leaders.” 

The signatories further emphasize precedents from other countries that have reviewed and withdrawn from this arbitration system, without affecting their trade relations. The United Nations has also recommended renegotiating or withdrawing from such treaties. 

Read the full declaration here: https://terra-justa.org/dc_2017/wp-content/uploads/2023/02/National-and-International-Statement-recover-Colombian-Sovereignty-in-Defense-of-Water-Life-and-Territories-March-2023.pdf