Last week, the third chamber of the Chilean Supreme Court issued its ruling in a case which sought to halt the “Catanave mining project” in northern Chile on the basis that the government had not carried out consultation with the affected Aymara indigenous people. The Arica Court of Appeals had rejected the claims of the Aymara communities that filed the suit and the Supreme Court upheld that decision.
The case arose in 2010 after the Regional Environmental Commission (COREMA) in Arica issued a favorable resolution for the Catanave mining exploration efforts to proceed. The proposed project is located in far northern Chile within the National Vicuña Reserve and has been widely criticized by Aymara organizations, most notably one dedicated to environmental defense (the Coordinadora Aymara de Defense de los Recrusos Naturales).
While the Supreme Court’s decision allows the project to proceed, the sentence did include a dissenting opinion which focused on the right to consultation recognized in Convention 169 and the environmental commission’s failure to carry out consultation in line with international law. According to the dissent, the lack of adequate consultation raises questions about the arbitrariness of the commission’s decision and is a violation of the indigenous communities’ right to equality.
Following the Supreme Court’s decision, the Coordinadora Aymara issued a declaration denouncing the court’s decision for its failure to uphold Convention 169 and specifically the right to consultation. The declaration generally criticized the Chilean government—and most notably its judicial system—for its lack of commitment to its international legal obligations related to human rights, environmental protection and indigenous peoples. The declaration also acknowledged the dissenting opinion and its interpretation of the right to consultation. The Aymara organization has stated it will take its complaint to international levels, including the ILO and the United Nations.