NGOs testify before IACHR regarding violation of the right to water by extractive activities

Hearing on the right to water

Credit: Daniel Cima / IACHR.

October 23, 2015

In a hearing before the Commission, advocates explained how extractive activities, especially mining and energy projects, restrict individual and community water use. They also documented the failure of states to protect the right to water and effectively control companies and projects that affect this right.

Washington, DC, United States. Civil society organizations[i] drew the attention of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) to the growing pressure to use natural resources for the development of extractive activities in the Americas, including the construction of dams and mining projects. They did so at a hearing in which they showed how this situation has resulted in the systematic violation of the right to water in the region.

"We have identified four patterns that characterize this problem: the use of judicial frameworks that favor the appropriation of water resources for extractive projects, ownership of the resource that favor its use for mining projects over human use and consumption, pollution and deterioration of water sources, and the lack of consultation and free, prior and informed consent in the implementation of these projects," explained Maria José Veramendi Villa, lawyer from the Interamerican Association for Environmental Defense, at the beginning of the hearing.

The organizations presented cases of appropriation, pollution and irreversible damage to water sources due to the implementation of extractive projects. This situation not only affects water rights but also infringes upon other rights such as health, decent life, integrity, healthy environment, food and culture. The participating organizations noted the impacts both on individuals and communities that are in areas directly influenced by projects for which there was no prior consultation, as well as for those who are outside of the immediate project area but depend on affected water sources for their livelihood. Such cases have been documented extensively in a report that was delivered to the IACHR.

"In Argentina, the exploitation of the Alumbrera mine has caused the leakage of toxic waste into three rivers and, although a court case on the pollution is open, measures to effectively remediate the damage have yet to be taken. We are concerned that none of our countries are implementing plans to prevent additional damage, nor are they taking measures to remediate the cumulative damage from the pollution," said Johana Rocha, of the Centro de Estudios para la Justicia Social “Tierra Digna” of Colombia.

The hearing before the IACHR highlighted the failure of States in the region to implement effective measures to ensure the right to water. The participating organizations reported that existing legal frameworks favor the appropriation of water for mining projects over the use and human consumption. They also explained the failure of national mechanisms to control and monitor the performance of companies that implement extractive projects - a situation which allows them to continue to commit gross violations of human rights.

"We have found a contradiction in the States' obligations to protect and guarantee the right to water, which has been incorporated into their Constitutions and legislation. They instead give preference to corporations, thus denying the right to water of the communities," stated Pedro Landa, of the Equipo de Reflexión, Investigación y Comunicación de la Compañía de Jesús (ERIC-SJ) of Honduras.

Raphaela Lopes, of Justiça Global, spoke of the easing of legal frameworks, which violates human rights. "With the energy reform recently approved in Mexico, for example, the right to water is undermined in favor of hydrocarbons and electricity."

Lastly, the organizations asked the IACHR, among other things, to reaffirm at a national level the recognition of water as a human right; to consider the importance of water as a fundamental element to the right to a healthy environment; to remind States of their obligations to protect the rights to water and environment above any extractive activity or infrastructure; to highlight the obligation of the states to effectively control the activities that could affect the right to water, including the companies that operate within their territory and the national companies that operate externally; and to remind states of the importance of the right to free, and prior, informed consent before the implementation of any project.

[i] Acción Solidaria para el Desarrollo (COOPERACCIÓN) – Perú, Asociación Interamericana para la Defensa del Ambiente (AIDA) – Regional, Asociación Pro Derechos Humanos (APRODEH) – Perú, Bienaventurados los Pobres (BePe) - Colectivo SumajKawsay – Argentina, Centro de Acción Legal Ambiental y Social (CALAS) – Guatemala, Centro de Derechos Humanos “Bartolomé Carrasco Briseño A.C.” (BARCA-DH) – México, Centro de Estudios para la Justicia Social ‘Tierra Digna’ – Colombia, Centro de Incidencia Ambiental (CIAM) – Panamá, Centro de Investigación sobre Desarrollo y Comercio (CEICOM) – El Salvador, Comité de Unidad Campesina (CUC) – Guatemala, Comitê Nacional em Defesa dos Territórios frente a Mineração – Brasil, Equipo de Reflexión, Investigación y Comunicación de la Compañía de Jesús (ERIC-SJ) – Honduras, Fundación para el Debido Proceso Legal (DPLF) – Regional, Grupo Internacional de Trabajo sobre Asuntos Indígenas (IWGIA) – Regional, Justiça Global – Brasil, Observatorio Ciudadano – Chile, Pensamiento y Acción Social (PAS) – Colombia, y Pax Christi – Internacional.