Sep 17, 2018

Latin America: Indigenous Delegation Meets MEPs to Discuss Human Rights Abuses Caused by Extractive Industries

From 3 to 13 September 2018, indigenous representatives from Central America travelled to Brussels, Geneva and Copenhagen in order to shed light on human rights violations caused by extractive industries in their local communities. During their two days in the European capital, the delegation was jointly welcomed by UNPO and Oxfam, which helped set up a round of advocacy meetings, in particular with Members of the European Parliament (MEP). The delegation’s visit to Brussels marked an occasion for its members to denounce unlawful activities by transnational mining corporations and their damages on indigenous communities, whilst calling for MEPs’ support and action. As a concrete result of these advocacy meetings, a written question will soon be submitted to the European Parliament about the implementation of the United Nations (UN)’s Principles on Business and Human Rights by EU institutions and members.

Financed by the European Commission, the project “Extractive industries and human rights in Central America: promoting dialogue and implementing UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights in the context of conflicts and risks for human right defenders” is a two-year long initiative which gathers indigenous representatives and key actors to discuss the implementation of UN standards related to extractive industries’ activities. From 3 to 13 September 2018, as part of this project, the delegation travelled to Geneva, Brussels and Copenhagen in order to meet with EU and UN politicians, as well as human right defenders.

On 3 and 4 September, UNPO and Oxfam jointly welcomed to Brussels the delegation made up of four members belonging to three countries: Liliana Isabel Hernández Estrada and Carlos Lacán from Guatemala, Rosalinda Dionicio Sánchez from Mexico and Alva Dominguez from Honduras. Despite their different titles and positions in multiple organisations – including Oxfam Guatemala and the International Platform against Impunity – they all have in common their dedication to the protection of the rights of indigenous peoples from the extractive industry and the detrimental effects of TNCs’ mining projects.

In particular, UNPO took on the task of organising meetings between the four indigenous rights defenders and several MEPs and their assistants. During one of the meetings, MEP Molly Scott Cato (Greens/EFA) expressed her discontent with the “hypocrisyof the EU”, most of whose members denounce human rights violations in countries hosting destructive foreign corporations, but, at the same, do not regulate their overseas operations and continue consuming their goods. MEP Julie Ward (S&D) elaborated on experiences made during her past visits to indigenous communities in Brazil, while also mentioning the significance of working with left-wing parties to ensure the protection of indigenous rights, specifically seeing the potential for change with the recently elected new Mexican president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, whom MEP Ward expects to be more sensitive towards unrepresented indigenous communities. Lastly, MEP Xabier Benito Ziluaga (GUE/NGL), much like MEP Cato, emphasised the relevance of international trade and how the EU Commissioner for Human Rights could pressure governments to implement and enforce fair regulation of companies overseas. Furthermore, MEP Ziluaga pointed out as a sign of progress that on 3 July 2018 the European Parliament had adopted a resolution on violation of the rights of indigenous peoples in the world, touching on issues such as land grabbing.

Overall, the meetings centred around the framework of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and, in particular, served as an occasion to discuss how the EU could ensure that companies respect human rights-based standards not only at home, but also abroad. The delegation placed particular emphasis on the issue of corruption in their respective home countries, stressing that the widespread occurrence of bribery, nepotism and neopatrimonial structures makes unrepresented indigenous populations more vulnerable to the effects of decision-making processes that largely exclude them, but whose impacts severely affect their livelihoods and the land they inhibit. Therefore, the demands put forward by the delegation included the recognition of indigenous groups and the right to preserve the sacred land that they have historically occupied, while combating the international legal loopholes of what Mr Lacán describes as “double regulation”, subjecting companies to different legal standards depending on the country where they operate.  

Supported in this endeavour by the Nando and Elsa Peretti Foundation, UNPO has a long history of being involved in and working on issues related to indigenous rights in Latin America: in December 2016, UNPO coordinated a fact-finding mission to Brazil to document human rights violations suffered byGuarani-Kaiowá indigenous communities; in May 2017, a conference on the rights of the Guaraní-Kaiwá indigenous people examined how the EU could assist in the promotion of respect for indigenous rights in the country; in November 2017, a European Parliament conference entitled “Friends of Indigenous Peoples of Latin America” took place to discuss the situation of indigenous rights in general, focusing in particular on Brazil. Picking up on the presentation of UNPO’s work in collaboration with indigenous peoples in Brazil, the delegation from Honduras, Mexico, and Guatemala reiterated how the stories of the violation of indigenous rights in this Amazonian country echo those of their own communities at the hand of transnational mining conglomerates (so-called TNCs), most of which are based in Canada, Europe and the United States.

As they left Brussels and continued on their ten-day advocacy tour through Europe to raise awareness about the plight of indigenous peoples’ rights, the delegation expressed gratitude towards UNPO and Oxfam for co-organising their mission in the European capital as well as their willingness to deepen cooperation.