Protecting Communities from Toxic Mining Waste in San Mateo de Huanchor, Peru

The communities in San Mateo de Huanchor, Peru, have been fighting to protect their health and environment from the disastrous effects of mining operations for many years. Pollution from mining wastes have leached into community waterways and air, causing a number of health, social, and environmental problems, interfering with the enjoyment of their human rights.

In 2003, CIEL received a formal request from the National Coordinator of Peruvian Communities Affected by Mining (CONACAMI) for legal assistance in its complaint to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) against the Peruvian government for the violation of fundamental human rights due to contamination from toxic waste at various foreign and domestic mining sites across the country.

CIEL submitted an appeal for precautionary measures for the benefit of the citizens of San Mateo de Huanchor to the IACHR, requesting the immediate removal of the toxic waste and implementation of medical programs.

In August 2004, the IACHR granted precautionary measures, requesting that Peru take immediate steps to provide medical assistance and prepare an environmental impact assessment for the subsequent removal of the toxic waste. This landmark moment set a precedent for the widespread recognition of pollution’s adverse effects on human rights, and especially children.

In 2006, CIEL again interceded on behalf of San Mateo at the IACHR. First, in June, CIEL submitted a brief on the merits of the case to IACHR, which detailed why the Peruvian State should be held responsible for the violation of the human rights of the community members of San Mateo. This document brought to light the State’s actions and omissions, such as allowing a private company to dump toxic mine tailings in San Mateo despite foreseeable harms and without basic safety measures.

Second, CIEL informed the IACHR of the threats against community leaders that have supported the IACHR case, including Margarita Pérez Anchiraico, the president of the Comité de Defensa del Medio Ambiente y Desarrollo Sostenible- San Mateo de Huanchor and requested measures be taken to protect the life and safety of Margarita Pérez and others. As a result, the IACHR granted precautionary measures, and Peru has provided police protection for Margarita Pérez.

Despite this series of preliminary rulings in favor of the citizens of San Mateo, the State has not compensated the victims for the physical harms and material losses involved, including lost crops, animals, and time at work. After many years, the IACHR is still deliberating the merits of the case.