Press Release

IACHR Presents Report on Extractive Industries and Human Rights

April 6, 2016

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Washington, D.C. - The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) presents the report "Indigenous Peoples, Afro-Descendent Communities and Natural Resources: Human Rights Protection in the Context of Extraction, Exploitation, and Development Activities." The report seeks to highlight the breadth and complexity of the problems caused by extractive and development activities in the region, and to set forth a comprehensive framework of Inter-American Human Rights standards on the subject.

Extractive, exploitation, and development activities, which are increasing in the hemisphere, are generally implemented in lands and territories historically occupied by indigenous and Afro-descendent communities, which host a great wealth of natural resources.  The Commission does not discourage these projects and recognizes the importance of these initiatives for the economic development of countries in the Americas. However, economic development of Member States cannot be undertaken in disregard of their ineluctable obligations to respect and guarantee human rights.

Host States (where the project takes place) and foreign States (where the business has its headquarters) have specific obligations in this context. The report spells out each of these obligations with a view to making sure that the economic development of countries in the hemisphere is not attained at the expense of the fundamental human rights of indigenous peoples and Afro-descendent communities. Host States must adopt appropriate and positive steps with due diligence to prevent, investigate, punish and redress human rights violations that result from the execution of these projects. Additionally, they must comply with international human rights standards through the adoption and implementation of effective policies, legislation, regulations and through measures to ensure adequate access to justice.

This State obligation includes the prevention of human rights violations, thus it is enforceable prior to the authorization of the project or the granting of permits, as well as during the implementation and the life-cycle of the project, via supervision and oversight methods. This duty includes the obligation to properly identify and assess the inherent impacts these activities would generate on internationally-recognized human rights prior to authorization.

In addition, the duty to act with due diligence requires States to adopt an appropriate regulatory framework for the protection of the environment and human rights which adequately contemplates the operation of foreign companies in a state’s jurisdiction, with an extraterritorial approach to human rights. Said duty also includes the fundamental obligation to consult potentially affected indigenous and afro-descendent communities, to ensure their effective participation and access to information; the obligation to supervise and monitor the activities of companies and other non-state parties; the duty to prevent illegal activities and forms of violence; and the duty to ensure access to justice and adequate reparation of human rights violations in these contexts. 

This broad duty also entails taking into account the differentiated impacts and adverse effects of these initiatives on specific groups such as indigenous leaders and authorities, women, children, elderly people and people with disabilities.

The report ends with a list of practical recommendations, ranging from general recommendations to ones specifically tailored to the protection of indigenous peoples and afro-descendent communities. The ensemble of recommendations aims generally at setting in place a framework for States to undertake their duty of due diligence, taking all the appropriate steps to prevent, investigate, punish and redress human rights abuses through effective policies, legislation, regulations and adjudication. The Commission insists especially on the drafting and implementation of domestic legislation to protect human rights, and on the setting in place of monitoring, control and supervision systems of the activities of extractive or development companies. The Report includes recommendations geared specifically towards host States as well as States of origin.  

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 048/16