Water has spiritual meaning for almost all indigenous people. In some countries rivers have their own constitutional rights, their own persona. Granting of legal personality to waters is an important development that underlines the vision of indigenous people that water has a spiritual meaning. In the worldview of indigenous people, water is life and thus should be protected.
The river Atrato case in Colombia shows that a river has a legal personality and has bestowed upon it certain constitutional rights. In the case, ethnic community organizations (Cocomopoca, Cocomacia, Asocoba, FISCH) in the Choco region, who are represented by the Centre for Social Justice Studies Tierra Digna sued the Presidency and Ministry of Environment in Colombia. The reason being to failure to protect the right to health, life, food security and a healthy environment of ethnic communities in the context of illegal Gold mining in Colombia. The court establishes that the right to water in the Atrato basin is defined as a source of water and biodiversity in the world that has a right to protection by its own right. The rivers rights need to be protected by communities and government.
The Atrato River, its basin and tributaries are recognized as an entity subject to rights of protection, conservation, maintenance and restoration by the State and ethnic communities. The right to food security is infringed because the illegal mining activities pollute and seriously threaten water resources and forests.
Indigenous and afro descendent people have the oldest rights to territory. That is recognized in the Charter 169 of the International Labour Organization with the Right to Free Prior and Informed Consent.
This convention has been ratified by the majority of states in the world, and is therefore the most important instrument in the struggle for their territorial, environmental and other rights. With this instrument indigenous and afro descendent people have a say in important environmental questions regarding their historic ancestral lands. This means that indigenous and afro descendent people are at the forefront of the struggle against further deterioration of environment.Additionally, the corporate interest they fight, go more often than not also hand in hand with corruption, human rights abuse. Sadly, the amount of people getting killed in the process is unquestionably high, right because of their position in the forefront of this struggle.
Multinationals and their economic interests in mining and other megaprojects are imposing their desire for “development” on local and indigenous communities. Multinationals are generally, directly or indirectly, on the wrong side of the environmental struggle, turning a blind eye to human rights abuses, corruption and violations of land and other ancestral rights.
Business and human rights is the part of law that tries to accommodate businesses to grow and develop megaprojects and to accommodate human rights as well via so called Due Diligence processes.
There are all sorts of Due Diligence rules that have been agreed to, most of them applied as “soft law” meaning that states and businesses don’t want to be pinpointed at them and just seeing them as good practices. Obviously there are many national and international rules that oblige states and businesses to human rights and environmental laws and also proper Due Diligence. There are initiatives to put all the Due Diligence standards in binding treaties, which is a matter of time before that will be applied.
Environmental law is the part of law that deals with the environmental protection. Most of these laws are governed by the national laws. However, more and more the rules are being set in the international arena.
Paramilitary groups, mafia groups, private armies, guerilla, all examples of groups that can try to violently influence the status of peoples property and violate human rights and environmental rights to further their illegal economic activities. Many times we see that these groups are working in close proximity with (corrupted) state actors like politicians and army and also multinationals. Illegal armed groups sometimes pretend to be state actors, dress like state actors and act like army or police personnel to be able to confuse and dominate the facts on the ground.
In Latin America issues with land ownership are at the heart of many conflicts. There is a strong divide between rich and poor, Indigenous and non Indigenous. When land has been stolen, confiscated or fled by way of force or conflict, there are national and international laws that regulate the restitution of these lands.
In Latin America and all over the world human rights defenders are in standing for our values. They also risk more. Human rights defenders are prone to killings, harm, harassment, threats. Front-line defenders, reported 304 Human Rights Activists killed in 2019. Colombia, Philippines, Brazil, Honduras and Mexico count for the top countries. There are protection systems in place for these defenders on national and international level. We can advise and help protect..
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