Indigenous peoples are threatened. The “development” plans of countries and companies collide with the territories where indigenous communities live and the situation has already reached justice.
Following the ruling of the Ecuadorian court, the struggle of the Waorani indigenous people had its repercussions in the international press. From now on, oil companies are prohibited from developing their activities in Amazonian territories due to the negative impacts that this industry has produced in the region.
In addition to this case that has come to justice, in Latin America there are 56 lawsuits filed by states and companies against indigenous peoples, according to data from the Information Center on Business and Human Rights (CIEDH).
These are produced "in the context of the growing criminalization of indigenous resistance and negative narratives from the highest levels of government in several Latin American countries, currently most notably in the case of Brazil”, Comments Ana Zbona, manager of the CIEDH Civil Liberties and Human Rights Defenders project.
Only a small part of the existing conflicts reach the courts. "In South America there is indigenous participation in 345 conflicts of the 626 registered and in 125 of the 200 in Mexico and Central America”Explained Joan Martínez Alier, from the Atlas of Environmental Justice. This platform registers 2,850 environmental conflicts around the world in which the indigenous component is present in 40% of the cases.
“Indigenous people defend themselves more than other populations against environmental depredations”Martinez argued. "This resistance is due to the absence of meaningful consultation with the communities, the lack of respect and understanding of the worldview of the communities and the lack of respect for their rights to free, prior and informed consent”Zbona added.
The region is the one with the most countries that have ratified Convention 169 of the International Labor Organization, which includes this principle of prior consultation. "Unfortunately, Latin America had this tradition of hyperlegalization that later remains on paper"Said Georg Dufner, Director of the Indigenous Political Participation Program at the Konrad Adenauer Foundation (KAS). However, he acknowledged that “Peru, Chile, Colombia and Costa Rica have made efforts to have clearer procedures and have made some progress in the implementation of the Convention.”.
Rich territories create conflict
Another reason for the high participation of indigenous communities in environmental conflicts is the wealth found in their territories. "The main environmental conflicts that result in litigation have to do with land and subsoil use: mining, oil, dams and agro-industries. States have international obligations related to protecting the environment that they are not complying with; litigation is a form of accountability in which judges force them to comply“Said Carlos Lozano Acosta, lawyer for the Inter-American Association for the Defense of the Environment (AIDA).
For this reason, Dufner was satisfied with the outcome of the Waorani case. "Evidence that it is possible to obtain judgments favorable to indigenous communities through the constitution and that political will is necessary for the States to be true guarantors of the prior consultation processes in the region”Said the head of the German foundation, which since 2006 has been working to ensure that legal mechanisms are respected.
Waiting for new successes
In addition to that of the Waorani, Amanda Romero Medina, CIEDH representative for Latin America highlighted other recent judicial victories that indigenous peoples have achieved in the region, among which is the ruling of a Canadian court against Pan American Silvercompany. The company was found responsible for a shootout against local indigenous communities protesting the operations of a Escobal mining project in 2012. Similarly, courts in Colombia ruled that indigenous peoples who were dispossessed of their lands by landowners, including the group Kanalitojo indigenous people in Vichada, have the right to receive them back. Finally, a Chilean court ruled that industrial salmon farms should stop their operations in the southern part of the country because they are harming Mapuche livelihoods.
If justice at the national level does not work, indigenous peoples can go to higher international courts. In 2011, AIDA, together with other organizations in Brazil, filed a formal complaint against this country with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) to request precautionary measures in favor of indigenous peoples affected by the construction of the Belo Monte dam. On the other hand, the environmental defense association also requested precautionary measures for the Commission to ask Mexico to adopt actions to protect life in the indigenous territories of Campeche and Yucatán, where farmers and companies such as Monsanto are growing genetically modified soybeans. Both cases are pending resolution. Will they be the next to make the headlines for the region?