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Dams, Mines Threaten Indigenous Rights

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View Jessica Lawrence's blog posts
23 September 2013, 3:18 PM
Recommendations from UN human rights expert
James Anaya is the United Nation's Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples. (UN Photo / Jean-Marc Ferré)

A longstanding goal of Earthjustice and the Interamerican Association for Environmental Defense (AIDA) has been to sound alarms at the United Nations, in national courtrooms and in international fora such as the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights about environmental and human rights violations associated with mines and dams. Indigenous peoples are particularly vulnerable to the harmful effects of such extractive and energy industries in their territories.

Last April, Earthjustice and AIDA provided evidence of these harms, as well as recommendations about how to avoid them, to U.N. indigenous rights expert James Anaya, who recently issued a report on extractive and energy industries and indigenous peoples.

Comments from Earthjustice and AIDA focused on mine closure, describing how inadequate closure, restoration or monitoring can cause severe, long-term environmental contamination that can violate indigenous and human rights. We identified steps that countries can take to prevent these problems, including enacting strong laws on liability of mine operators and requiring operators to provide financial guarantees to ensure adequate clean-up during and after mine closure. Such measures can help protect human rights to health, clean water and a clean environment, as well as indigenous rights to culture, food, a means of subsistence and their lands and natural resources.

Anaya’s report includes a number of recommendations with environmental and health implications. Key recommendations include:

  • Guaranteeing indigenous communities’ right to oppose extractive and energy projects without fear of reprisals, violence, or coercive consultations. If a government decides to proceed with a project without their consent, indigenous communities should be able to challenge that decision in court.
  • Rigorous environmental impact assessment should be a precondition. Indigenous communities should have the opportunity to participate in these assessments, and have full access to the information gathered.
  • Governments should ensure the objectivity of impact assessments, either through independent review or by ensuring that assessments are not controlled by the project promoters.
  • Measures to prevent environmental impacts, particularly those that impact health or subsistence, should include monitoring with participation from the public, as well as measures to address project closure.

If governments and project operators followed Anaya's recommendations, it would substantially reduce the harm caused to indigenous peoples by the often shameful and irresponsible conduct of extractive and energy industries.

AIDA, to which Earthjustice provides significant support, works with local communities to address human rights violations from extractive industries throughout the hemisphere, including the Barro Blanco dam in Panama, the Belo Monte dam in Brazil, the La Parota dam in Mexico, and mines in the Andean ecosystems of Colombia.

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