BP pays out millions to Colombian farmers

A group of Colombian farmers has won a multimillion pound settlement from BP after the British oil and gas company was accused of benefiting from a regime of terror carried out by Colombian government paramilitaries to protect a 450-mile pipeline.

Many of the 1,000 farmers and their family members who worked on 52 farms affected by the development, say they have been since been forced to live in destitution in the surrounding towns.

They alleged that BP benefited from harassment and intimidation meted out by Colombian paramilitaries employed by the government to guard the pipeline. It was never alleged that BP had any involvement in any of the paramilitaries' activities.

Last year, the farmers instructed British lawyers to bring a human rights challenge in the High Court in London to support their claim for compensation of £15m. In settlement of the dispute, BP Exploration Company (Colombia) has agreed to set up a trust fund to pay compensation. BP will also pay for workshops to help the farmers cope with environmental management, business development and the company will also supply other support requested.

The total package is not believed to be as much as the £15m first claimed, but is a substantial multimillion pound payout.

The mutually agreed deal means that BP does not have to admit any liability and has avoided a costly and potentially embarrassing court case in London.

Colombian lawyers who tried to help the farmers claimed they faced intimidation by local paramilitary groups. Marta Hinestroza, one of the farmers' lawyers, fled Colombia for Britain when she discovered that her name was on a paramilitary hit list. In November 2002, the Home Office granted Ms Hinestroza political asylum after she told of the threats she faced while working in the region.

Last year, a team of solicitors from British firm Leigh Day & Co flew out to meet the farmers. Martyn Day, the lead partner, said after the meeting that it was clear that the families were once respected and well-off members of the local community who had been financially ruined.

But BP insisted throughout that it has acted responsibly and that landowners were fairly compensated during the construction of the pipeline.

BP Exploration was the driving force behind the consortium that owns the Ocensa oil pipeline, which runs 500 miles from the Cusiana-Cupiagua oilfields in the region of Casanare to the port of Covenas, and has a pumping capacity of 620000 barrels per day.

As soon as the construction work began more than 10 years ago, the farmers said they noticed an impact on the local water table. Natural springs that local people had relied on for hundreds of years began to dry up, while other farmers complained of flooding. Crops failed, fishponds became unsustainable and livestock perishedin the fields. Colombia's oil pipelines have also become targets for insurgent groups. To stem the attacks, government-aligned paramilitaries have been deployed close to the pipelines. The soldiers have killed farmers' livestock for food and, when the farmers objected, soldiers claim they were threatened.

A joint statement, issued by BP Exploration Company (Colombia) Limited and the British lawyers acting for the farmers, said: "The Colombian farmers group are pleased to say that after a mediation process which took place in Bogotá in June 2006 at the joint initiative of the parties, an amicable settlement of the dispute in relation to the Ocensa pipeline has been reached, with no admissions of liability."

It added: "The precise terms of the amicable settlement are based on the establishment of an environmental and social improvement trust fund by BP Colombia for the benefit of the farmers, in conjunction with a programme of workshops for the farmers dealing with issues such as environmental management, business development and other topics requested by the farmers.

"Colombian farmers are pleased with the outcome of the mediation and are of the view that BP Colombia has acted in a fair, committed and sympathetic manner in dealing with their situation during the course of the mediation."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Lead Web Developer (ASP.NET, C#) - City of London

£45000 - £50000 per annum + Excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Lead Web Develo...

Tradewind Recruitment: Key Stage 2 Teacher Required in Grays

£21000 - £40000 per annum + Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: Key Stage 2 tea...

Recruitment Genius: Software Development Manager

£40000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Tradewind Recruitment: Humanities Teacher

£120 - £180 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: The Humanities Department of this ...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee