BOGOTA — Colombian justice officials are investigating the deaths of 37 children from suspected mercury poisoning in a jungle area rife with illegal mining, authorities said yesterday.
An ombudsman for the protection of human rights said it detected "significant illegal mining" in Choco, a department in the northwest of Colombia that has large indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities.
Colombia's constitutional court on Wednesday accepted a legal complaint by representatives of those communities against the Colombian state suing over the deaths of the children. Another 64 people suffered suspected mercury poisoning.
Mercury is used in mining.
The deaths and illnesses stretch back to 2013 and 2014.
The court also ordered an investigation into the impact of mining and logging on the environment in the municipality of Quibdo and in the Atrato River valley and its tributaries.
According to the latest available official statistics, from 2012, legal mining activity represents 2.3 per cent of Colombia's GDP. But many of the mining sites in the country are illegally exploited and used as a source of financing for armed groups. — AFP