Increasingly in many conflict-affected areas, mining is a central factor, whether it is a reason or funding source for armed conflict, a context for violating human rights or indigenous communities, a driver of economic insecurity, or a cause of ecological damage leading to displacement or other forms of environmental violence. How can those working for peace incorporate the challenges posed by mining and how can actors associated with the Catholic Church add value to that effort?
The worldwide Catholic community has distinct contributions to make to the multilayered work of peacebuilding, which is an approach to conflict transformation that tries to focus on the factors that lead to and sustain violent conflict. The church has a vast on-the-ground network that touches even the remotest areas and is anchored by local roots; an institutional organization that can connect and coordinate lower and higher orders of social structures and political power; moral authority that provides standing and legitimacy with multiple sides of conflicts; and a deep well of spiritual and intellectual traditions that can evoke personal transformation, promote reconciliation, and underline norms of a just and integral peace. Recently, the Catholic Peacebuilding Network published Catholic Peacebuilding and Mining: Integral Peace, Development, and Ecology, which examines how these strengths can be leveraged in cases of conflict related to mining. Catholic peacebuilders have engaged mining because on the ground reality dictates it. For example, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), mining plays a key strategic role in the violent conflict in the country’s eastern regions, which will likely accelerate with a new push for minerals to drive green energy technologies. In the Philippines, draconian security at mine sites to prevent extortion from armed groups has led to violence and criminalization of people who protest mines to defend indigenous rights or the environment. In Colombia, mining was expected to provide a return on the government’s investment in a 2016 peace agreement, but mining threatens vulnerable Amazon regions and the marginalized communities that live there, and there is a risk of exacerbated criminal activity in the mining sector post-peace agreement. Colombia has also become one of the most dangerous countries in the world for environmental and human rights defenders, particularly women.
In these areas and others, the Catholic Church has a demonstrated track record of peacebuilding that integrates concerns over mining. In the Philippines, the Catholic Church was actively engaged during the Marcos dictatorship in denouncing human rights violations, promoting non-violent resistance, and leading mediation in areas of inter-religious tension. In the 1980s, concern about land-grabbing and deforestation impacting peasant communities led the Philippine Church to gradually weave ecology into its established peace and justice advocacy. Since the mid-1990s, it has been a leading voice defending nature and indigenous communities from mining. In the DRC, the Jesuit-run Centre d’Etudes Pour l’Action Sociale was centrally involved in reviewing mining contracts that were signed during the country’s civil war and deemed exploitative. Also, the Congolese bishops’ commission on natural resources has been organizing to conscientize local communities about the mining industry and helping them try to secure fairer agreements with companies. In Colombia, the bishops’ conference has pushed a pastoral emphasis on a “theology of creation” to help people in territorial parishes understand the importance of environmental protection, and Cáritas Colombiana has been involved in projects to create environment-based economic development alternatives to mining.
Mining is a point of intersection for myriad types of challenges, including development, ecology, governance, human rights, and violent conflict. And there are no one-size-fits-all answers. In one place, a “no” to mining may make sense. In another, there may be compelling reasons to try finding the most just and peaceable way possible to develop and operate mines. The bottom line is that mining must serve a just peace, especially for the communities most directly impacted. That involves a complicated and nuanced calculus that must account for numerous impacts at various levels, and requires being context specific and responsive to particularized economic needs, environmental conditions, and cultural histories. With its vertical and horizontal reach, its institutional capacity, and its rich tradition of ethical reflection, the Catholic Church is one of the few institutions in the world with the scope, scale, and sophistication needed to match the scope, scale, and sophistication of the challenge and marshal the kind of integrated response needed to ensure peace and integral human development in the mining sector.
This is not to say that the Catholic Church is the only institution that possesses these capacities. Nor is it to say that the church could not exercise them much more effectively, nor that it is capable of fixing problems of mining and conflict without a wide coalition of partners. But the Catholic community is capable of offering distinct value to the effort of addressing such problems because of the distinct way in which it can array and marshal these resources.