July 15, 2020 / 7:59 AM / a month ago

U.N. urges Venezuela to dismantle criminal gangs running gold, bauxite mines

GENEVA (Reuters) - Some gold, diamond and bauxite mines in the Venezuelan Amazon are largely controlled by criminal gangs who exploit, beat and even kill workers, a United Nations investigation has found.

FILE PHOTO: Delegates wearing protective face masks attend the 44th session of the Human Rights Council at the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, June 30, 2020. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

Venezuelan security and military forces fail to prevent crimes and have participated in some violence against miners, the U.N. human rights office said in a report on Wednesday.

“Authorities should take immediate steps to end labour and sexual exploitation, child labour and human trafficking, and should dismantle criminal groups controlling mining activities,” Michelle Bachelet, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, said in a statement.

Her deputy Nada Al-Nashif will present the report later on Wednesday to the Human Rights Council, where Venezuela’s ambassador Jorge Valero is expected to speak. There was no immediate response from Venezuela, one of the U.N. body’s 47 members, to a Reuters request for comment.

The U.N. report, referring to an area known as the Orinoco Mining Arc, said: “Much of the mining activity within and beyond AMO is controlled by organised criminal groups or armed elements.”

Nearly 150 men and women are reported to have died in or around the mines from March 2016 to 2020, with security forces implicated in half of the incidents, it said, adding that the government had not replied to its request for information.

“According to accounts received ... bodies of miners are often thrown into old mining pits used as clandestine graves,” it said.

The miners, who include young children, lack employment contracts and are exposed to mercury contamination and malaria, the report said.

It called for the government of President Nicolas Maduro to regularise mining activities and ensure that they meet international legal and environmental standards.

Created by a government decree in 2016, the area of some 42,800 square miles (111,000 sq km) in ​​the Venezuelan Amazon is equivalent to 12 per cent of national territory.

Gold, diamonds, coltan, iron and bauxite are mined.

Venezuela’s central bank has not published data since 2018 on gold and other mineral supplies exports, their destination or foreign currency earnings, the report said.

The Maduro government has supported small-scale mining since 2016 to bring in revenue amid an economic crisis. Operations have expanded as the United States has increased sanctions meant to force him from power.

Criminal groups have become more active since concessions for foreign mining companies were terminated in 2011, the report said.

Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Alexandra Hudson and Alex Richardson

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