Inter-American Commission on Human Rights Examines Impacts of Large Dams in Latin America | Interamerican Association for Environmental Defense (AIDA) Skip to content Skip to navigation

Inter-American Commission on Human Rights Examines Impacts of Large Dams in Latin America


Inter-American Commission on Human Rights Examines Impacts of Large Dams in Latin America

Washington, D.C. - On November 2, 2009 the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights will hold a hearing on the impacts that large dams in Latin America have on human rights and the environment. Dam-affected peoples and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) will present information showing that Latin-American governments are building dams at great social, environmental and economic costs, often disregarding national and international laws and violating human rights.

“More than a million people have already been affected by large dams in Latin America, many of whom are from indigenous and small farming communities,” said Rafael González, Board Member of the Interamerican Association for Environmental Defense (AIDA). “More than 300 new dams are being planned throughout the region, which could destroy the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of people and harm precious ecosystems.”

The over 40 national and international NGOs requesting this hearing will present findings from AIDA’s forthcoming publication, Large Dams in the Americas: Is the Cure Worse than the Disease?, to the IACHR documenting the poor track record of dam construction in the hemisphere. They will also encourage the Inter-American Commission to make recommendations to member States on how to avoid major environmental damages and human rights violations.

“The granting of this hearing by the IACHR is a positive demonstration of their interest in examining the link between large dams and human rights violations,” said Astrid Puentes co-Director of AIDA. “We hope that the IACHR will begin an investigation and recommend that States strictly enforce international standards and human rights law, to avoid major environmental impacts and human rights tragedies.”

The human rights impacts of large dams are numerous. Affected communities and stakeholders—mostly indigenous, fishing and farming communities—rarely have the opportunity to participate in decisions on dam developments, and frequently are subjected to intimidation, harassment and even military actions when they oppose projects.

Families displaced by large dams often receive inadequate or no compensation. Equally troubling are poorly developed resettlement plans that do not account for lost livelihoods or lack of access to medical attention, fishing areas and farming land, leaving families worse off as a result.

Large dams have also had profound environmental impacts. Enormous reservoirs inundate biodiverse wildlife habitats and fertile farmlands. Dams and river diversions also harm fish populations, and are the main cause for the extinction or endangerment of one-third of the world’s freshwater fish species.

“We are not against development.” said Father Gabriel Espinoza, spokesperson for communities affected by the El Zapotillo dam in Mexico, and who will speak before the Inter-American Commission. “We understand that a country’s needs for energy and water should be met as a fundamental right of all peoples.”

“But governments cannot proceed without consulting and providing information for local communities, according to national and international law. That would violate our fundamental freedoms and disrespect our lives, history, culture and livelihoods.”

“There are often better, cheaper, and less-destructive alternatives to building a large dam, whether to meet energy or water needs, or to reduce the impacts from floods,” said Monti Aguirre of International Rivers.

“Small-scale, decentralized water supplies and new renewable energy sources, as well as large-scale efficiency and conservation plans are only some of the options available. Unfortunately, governments and corporations frequently ignore these choices or dismiss them out-of-hand when a large dam project is on the table.”

The World Commission on Dams, in its ground-breaking report on large dams, Dams and Development, recommends using a comprehensive, participatory process to evaluate needs for water and energy and to assess the full range of available options.

The hearing is open to the public and will take place on November 2, 2009, from 5:30 to 6:15 p.m., Room Rubén Darío, 8th Floor of the OAS General Secretariat Building, 1889 F Street NW, Washington, D.C. Guidelines for press coverage of public hearings at

Opportunities for interviews with presenters after the hearing.

For more information on large dams in the Americas: International Rivers, Redlar

Connect With Us