Environmental Defenders describe human rights abuses linked with the mining industry at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights

CIEL holds Hearing at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) on the Situation of Environmentalists in Mesoamerica


On October 25, 2010, at 10.15-11.00am, the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL), along with five environmental defenders from Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Panama, provided testimony before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) about the troubling rise in human rights violations against environmental activists protesting mining operations in Mexico and Central America.

The IACHR is one of two bodies within the Organization of American States (OAS) authorized to oversee the operation of the OAS Inter-American Human Rights System.  CIEL, together with fourteen organizations,* asked the IACHR to hold a thematic hearing on this issue.

Panelists discussed the regional trend of increasing attacks on environmental activists throughout Mexico and Central America, and highlighted the lack of effective State mechanisms to protect environmental defenders from human rights violations.  Panelists included representatives from CIEL, Red Mexicana de Afectados por la Minería (Mexico), Frente de Defensa Miguelense (Guatemala), Asociacion de Organismos No Gubernamentales (Honduras), Mesa Nacional Frente a la Minería Metálica (El Salvador), and Centro de Incidencia Ambiental (Panama).  In particular, panelists [link to testimonies and biographies] discussed their dangerous experiences resulting from their work to defend themselves, their families and communities from abuses by the mining industry, how they have witnessed assassinations, kidnapping, arbitrary detention, public defamation and the criminalization of activists.

During the hearing and in the report, Environmental Defenders in Danger, Marcos Orellana of CIEL provided four recommendations to address the violence against environmental defenders:

  • States must strengthen institutional mechanisms to protect environmental defenders;
  • States must reinforce the legal regimes governing the environmental and social impacts of the mining sector;
  • States must recognize and implement the right of mining-affected communities to free, prior, and informed consent; and
  • Both individual States and the international community must recognize the responsibility of home countries for the harms caused by the foreign operations of their mining companies and take measures to meet that responsibility. 

The hearing raised awareness of how governments in the region have been complicit and sometimes active participants in these abuses.  IACHR Commissioner Rodrigo Escobar Gil commented on the lack of State investigations into these violations and lack of consultations in communities.  He requested that the panelists provide further information regarding alleged State failures to investigate and punish responsible parties for acts of violence.

IACHR President Felipe González requested further information about the murder of a particular human rights activist in Mexico, and inquired as to whether a case would be brought to the IACHR.  González asked the panelist from Honduras, Francisco Machado Leiva, who is in the United States on political asylum after learning of an assassination plot in his native Honduras, to discuss further the persecution he faced because of his environmental activism.

In discussing the next steps after the hearing, Marcos Orellana of CIEL “expects the Commission to take into account the information provided, as it discharges its functions as an organ of the Organization of American States, in the promotion of human rights in the region.”  He further explains that the information we provide “will better allow the IACHR to act in respect of cases involving violence against environmental defenders, on the one hand, and in respect of the impacts of mining on human rights, on the other.”  Accordingly, CIEL will follow-up with distinct initiatives in the various countries, such as:

  • In El Salvador, working with the affected communities in an investment arbitration initiated by the mining company Pacific Rim before the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID);
  • In Mexico, following- up with the debate over consultations;
  • In Panama, denouncing how the failure to require the environmental assessment of projects is incompatible with human rights obligations; and
  • In Guatemala, monitoring compliance with the precautionary measures indicated by the Commission, especially the suspension of the mine.

Environmental Defenders in Danger: Human Rights Abuses against Mining Opponents in Mexico and Central America

In the days following the hearing, CIEL organized various events to further raise awareness of the human rights violations against environmental activists protesting mining operations in Mexico and Central America.  On October 26, 2010, CIEL and the Due Process of Law Foundation (DPLF) organized a discussion on Environmental Defenders in Danger: Human Rights Abuses against Mining Opponents in Mexico and Central America.  Environmental defenders from El Salvador, Guatemala and Mexico further discussed their experiences and the situation in Mexico and Central America with participants from environmental and human rights organizations in Washington, DC.

Seams of Injustice: Mining Impacts and Resistance in Guatemala, El Salvador and Appalachia

On October 26th, 2010, CIEL and various student groups at American University Washington College of Law sponsored a panel at the Washington College of Law entitled:  Seams of Injustice: Mining Impacts and Resistance in Guatemala, El Salvador and Appalachia.  Panelists affirmed that human rights and environmental abuses against communities and environmental defenders are on the rise in the Americas, and mining companies and States are complicit in threats, violence, assassinations, and criminalization of activists.  Environmental advocates Jim Hecker and Austin Hall who work on anti-mountain top removal campaigns in Appalachia joined environmental defenders Aniseto López from Guatemala and Saúl Baños from El Salvador to discuss their comparative perspectives on the impacts of mining in their communities and share stories about the experiences and risks they face for resisting mining projects.  Professor David Hunter moderated the discussion and facilitated a thought-provoking question and answer period following the presentations.

Additional Resources:

  • To read the Executive Summary in English, please click here.

*Petitioners:  CIEL, Asamblea Departamental de Huehuetenango en Defensa de los Recursos Naturales Renovables y no Renovables (ADH), Asociación de Organismos No Gubernamentales (ASONOG), Asociación Interamericana para la Defensa del Ambiente (AIDA), Centro de Incidencia Ambiental (CIAM), Centro Mexicano de Derecho Ambiental (CEMDA), Comité en Solidaridad con el Pueblo de El Salvador (CISPES), Coordinadora Nacional de Viudas de Guatemala (CONAVIGUA), Frente de Defensa Miguelense (FREDEMI), Fundación para el Debido Proceso Legal (DPLF),  Movimiento de Jóvenes Mayas (MOJOMAYAS), Mesa Nacional frente la Minería Metálica, Red Mexicana de Afectados por la Minería, sección Chiapas, and Waqib Kej.

For more information, please contact Marcos Orellana.