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Significant focus on extractive industries at IACHR meetings in Washington

March 26 2015

Jorge Hueque from the Mapuche Koz Koz Parliament (left) and Hernando Silva from Observatorio Cuidadano (right) discussing extractive industries in Chile. Photo: Daniel Cima.
Alejandro Parellada & Annemiek Wilson / IWGIA

In recent years, cases involving indigenous peoples have become a focal point of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights sessions’, and continued to take up a large proportion of the hearings this year. The 154th IACHR Session was held from 16 to 20 March 2015 in Washington, D.C., and included 55 public hearings as well as a series of working meetings.

All the indigenous cases presented were related to the presence of extractive industries on their territories or infrastructure megaprojects, like the Nicaragua Canal. Indigenous representatives from Peru, Columbia, Panama, Mexico and Guatemala were heard, and a joint hearing focused particularly on the cases of Nicaragua, Chile and Ecuador.

‘Growing number of cases being heard is significant’

“Considering the temporary halting of the Belo Monte hydroelectric power plant in Brazil, which was facilitated by the Inter-American system, the growing number of cases being presented to the Commission is significant,” explains IWGIA South America Coordinator, Alejandro Parellada, who attended the session.

The Belo Monte power plant would affect the ecosystems and communities of among others, the Jurunas, Xingu and Arara peoples in Brazil. Following initiatives taken by Brazilian civil society through the Inter-American system, the IACHR issued precautionary measures (2011) that momentarily brought the project to a standstill. This drew a fierce reaction from the Brazilian Government, as well as other countries in the region, and resulted in Brazil withdrawing its financial contribution to the IACHR and its Ambassador to the Organisation of American States (OAS). In addition, reforms aimed at reducing the Commission’s power were promoted, including a reduction in hearings similar to the Brazil case.

Supporting a space for indigenous cases and voices

Despite the pressure to reduce its reach, the Commission and IACHR Rapporteur on indigenous peoples have continued to give substantial space to indigenous complaints. The Rapporteur was even asked to produce a special report on extractive industries.

IWGIA’s support to the IACHR indigenous rapporteurship office has been significant.

The Commission’s limited technical staff made it very difficult to deal with all cases appropriately, and resulted in delays that could drag on for years. IWGIA’s support to the Commission has therefore included legal advisors, which have sped up the process and considerably reduced the delay in responding to individual cases. The project has also supported a report on indigenous women in the Americas, as well as the development of the forthcoming report on extractive industries. In these cases, IWGIA supported an official visit of the IACHR Rapporteur on indigenous peoples, Marie Belle Antione, to Guatemala (2013) and Chile (2014), which involved wide civil society participation.

You can read the report on indigenous women here, and the report on extractive industries is expected in late summer 2015.