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2014- Citizen Transborder Treaty Drafting [Cerro Blanco]

For Salvadoran NGOs involved in the Mesa Nacional frente a la Minería Metálica (National Roundtable against Metallic Mining), the regulation of transborder water resources in Central America has been an issue for many years. Their concerns emerged out of the discovery that both Guatemala and Honduras have received requests for exploration and exploitation of minerals located in borderzones neighbouring El Salvador. The main instance of this is the Cerro Blanco mine, located in Guatemala (Municipality of Asunción Mita, Jutiapa Department), in the crossborder Trifinio biosphere reserve (See Enactment of Treaty for the Execution of Trifinio Plan). The reserve straddles the borders of Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, near the source of the Lempa River in Guatemala, which is El Salvador’s principle water supply. As a result, contamination of the watercourses in the reserve which eventually feed the Lempa river pose a direct threat to a large portion of El Salvador’s water supplies.  

The Treaty for the Execution of Trifinio Plan, signed in October 1997, established the reserve and a trinational commission to promote development and protect biodiversity, but failed to focus on the effective management of transnational watercourses to protect access to water in the three countries. National governments committed to the extractive industry model of economic development, such as Guatemala and Honduras, have resisted institutional initiatives to strengthen regional regulation of shared water resources. 

There is increasing awareness in civil society that transborder issues, such as the environment, cannot be managed fairly and effectively solely through the traditional principle of national sovereignty (Montoya, 2021). For this reason, civil society and church organizations in El Salvador, many of whom participated in citizen law-drafting and advocacy struggle to secure the ban on metallic mining in El Salvador (See 2017 El Salvador passes Legislative Ban on Metallic Mining), have worked with the Human Rights Ombudsperson for the Environment to promote a new regional transborder treaty to regulate the protection of shared waters (Oxfam Australia, 2014). 

The Centre for Research in Investment and Trade (CEICOM) in alliance with other Salvadoran organizations facilitated a citizen treaty drafting process from 2014. In 2015 the “Proposed Treaty for the integrated sustainable management of crossborder waters, focused on shared watersheds between the countries of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador” was presented publicly, and circulated widely. It draws inspiration from international instruments, such as the 1992 Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, and international human rights treaties, and is intended to be taken on and discussed by governments in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras (see Montoya, 2021). It is viewed by CEICOM and other organizations as a complement to the legislative ban on metallic mining in El Salvador and is supported by organizations in Guatemala and Honduras that are members of the Central American Network for Transboundary Waters Defense (RedCat). The draft treaty has been discussed extensively with Salvadoran public officers from the Foreign Office and other institutions, some of whom have made amendments to CEICOM/RedCat’s initial draft. However, Salvadoran institutions have not taken any steps to discuss it with their counterparts in Guatemala and Honduras as requested by RedCat.

Type of Action / Tipo de Acción:
International and Regional Treaties and Procedures, Popular Law Drafting and Procedures
Extractive Project / Proyecto extractivo:
Region / Región:
Central America
Country / País:
Guatemala, El Salvador
Natural Resource / Recurso natural:
Gold, Silver
Jurisdiction / Jurisdicción:
Central America
Category of Key Actors in Legal Action / Categoría de actores claves en la Acción Legal:
Civil Society Organizations, Grassroots Movements
Human Rights Violated/Claimed:
Right to water, Right to a healthy environment, Right to consultation
Key Legal Actors Involved / Actores jurídicos clave involucrados:
Human Rights Ombudsperson, Centre for Research in Investment and Trade (CEICOM) (El Salvador), Central American Network for Transboundary Waters Treaty (RedCat)
Year Action Started / Año de inicio:
References / Referencias:

Ainhoa Montoya, 2021, “On Care for Our Common Home: Ecological Materiality and Sovereignty over the Lempa Transboundary Watershed”, Journal of Latin American Studies 53(2): 297-322.

The National Roundtable against Metallic Mining (Mesa Nacional), “Comunidades exigen a gobierno de Guatemala el cierre de la Mina Cerro Blanco en frontera de El Salvador” (Spanish), dated 26 February 2013, online:, accessed on 2 September 2020.

Oxfam Australia, “Gold, water and the struggle for basic rights in El Salvador”, dated 15 September 2014, online:, accessed on 2 September 2020., ” Sanchez Ceren will prevent mining in the Trifinio region”, dated 4 March 2014, online:, accessed on 2 September 2020

Raúl Artiga, “The Case of the Trifinio Plan in the Upper Lempa: Opportunities and Challenges for the Shared Management of Central American Transnational Basins” (2003), Paris UNESCO, online:, accessed on 2 September 2020.