Peace & Justice

This is the blog of the Commission on Peace and Justice for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany, New York.

Monday, April 26, 2021

Follow-up to indigenous threats webinar

Many thanks to Franciscans International, the non-governmental organization that represents the Franciscan family at the United Nations, for organizing yesterday’s webinar on “Justice and Accountability in the Context of Extractive Industries: Indigenous Women Human Rights Defenders from Guatemala, Brazil, Indonesia, and Bangladesh.” 

Although there were some minor technical glitches, the session was an opportunity to appreciate the threats that indigenous people face from these industries and from corrupt officials who do not defend human rights.

For those who were not able to attend, several on-line resources are available. These include a backgrounder on efforts to create an international treaty to regulate, in human rights law, the activities of transnational corporations and other business enterprises that deal with indigenous people.

In 2011, the UN Human Rights Council adopted the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, which are voluntary or non-legally binding. These Guiding Principles prioritize three pillars: the State duty to protect, the corporate responsibility to respect, and the need for victims’ access to effective remedies. Respect for human rights by business enterprises means that “they should avoid infringing on the human rights of others and should address adverse human rights impacts with which they are involved.”  

Efforts to create a legally binding treaty are underway. Some of the issues that are being addressed include access to justice and protection of affected communities, due diligence and sanctions to be imposed when this is violated, legal liability and burden of proof when there are cases of violation. 

A separate document, Intimidation and reprisals for cooperation with the United Nations in the field of human rights, provides an insight into the threats faced by indigenous peoples and others who demand their rights. 

Over the past years, the number of reprisals against individuals and groups engaging with the UN have increased. They take on different forms, such as:

- Travel bans
- Threats and harassment, including by officials
- Smear campaigns
- Surveillance
- Introduction of restrictive legislation
- Physical attacks
- Arbitrary arrest and detention
- Torture and ill-treatment, including sexual violence or denial of access to medical attention
- Killings 

Other documents about abuses of human rights are available here and here.

Finally, we were provided with this document regarding the impact of hazardous wastes on indigenous peoples. The mandate on hazardous substances and wastes was first established in 1995 by the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. Based on decades of work under the mandate, these 15 principles have been developed to help States and other actors protect workers from toxic exposures, and provide remedies for violations of their rights.

Earlier this year, the Escazú Agreement entered into force. It is the first binding document of this kind in the Latin America and Caribbean region following the steps of the Aarhus Convention. Its importance lies with its innovative content as it binds States to provide access to environmental information, fosters public participation in environmental decision-making, and offers measures for the protection of environmental activists.

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