García Sayán calls for policy on illegal gold to get serious

30 June 2018

As a respected lawyer specialising in human rights, a former justice minister and judge at the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, Diego García Sayán is someone whose views should be taken seriously. Last week he wrote a piece in La República on the growing trade in illicit gold. 

He makes a strong case for exports of illegal gold to be taken more seriously. He argues that the illegal exports of drugs gets far more attention but illegal gold both does more damage and is, in principle, easier to monitor and control.

First, the value of the trade is probably greater than the figure quoted for cocaine, at around US$1.8 billion a year.

Second, the social and environmental damage is huge, greater for Peru (as opposed to the consuming countries) than that of illegal drugs. He refers to the extensive pollution of the environment from illegal gold enterprises and to the scale of human rights abuse, above all through the associated spread of prostitution and exploitation of women.

Third, the fact that there is a legal export industry (through which much illegal gold is sold) means that there are stakeholders and, including companies, systems to monitor and control the origin of gold offered for export. Failure to implement control, he argues, is a level of negligence “which comes close to complicity”.

And the UK needs to take note here. He cites a company in the British Virgin Isles which processes gold from a large number of exporters, at least some of whom are linked to the illegal mining activity in Madre de Dios. And the UK is one of several large importers of legal gold who need to be brought into the battle by tracing the origin of the gold they sell.

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