control of water

Honduras: justice at last for Berta Cáceres?

A court in Honduras convicted seven men in the 2016 murder of indigenous rights activist Berta Cáceres on Nov. 29. Until her assassination on March 2, 2016, Cáceres had been leading a campaign against the Agua Zarca dam in western Honduras, a joint project by Honduran company Desarrollos Energéticos SA (DESA) and Chinese-owned Sinohydro. The dam was being built on the Rio Gualcarque without prior consultation with the Lenca indigenous community that depends on the river for their food and water. Cáceres, who won the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize in 2015, had received numerous threats for her activism against the dam before she was killed by gunmen at her home in the town of La Esperanza. Mexican environmentalist Gustavo Castro was also shot, but he survived the attack. Two of those convicted are former DESA managers.

Brazil: Bolsonaro threatens genocide —openly

Brazil's far-right president-elect Jair Bolsonaro campaigned on a plan to privatize vast swaths of the Amazon rainforest, turning it over to agribusiness and mining. In addition, he seeks to expand hydro-power and other energy mega-projects the region. Since his election in an Oct. 28 run-off vote, Bolsonaro's team has announced that his administration will merge the ministries of agriculture and the environment into a new "super ministry" to oversee the plan. Brazil now has some 720 indigenous reserves, ranging in size from a single hectare to nearly ten million hectares. Bolsonaro has said he wants to put all of those lands—13% of Brazil's territory—on the auction block. "Minorities have to adapt to the majority, or simply disappear," he said on the campaign trail, adding that under his administration, "not one square centimeter" of Brazil will be reserved for the country's indigenous peoples.

Canada's high court deals blow to treaty rights

The Supreme Court of Canada ruled Oct. 11 that the federal government does not have a responsibility to consult with First Nations before introducing legislation, even in cases when it would impact their lands and livelihood. The 7-2 ruling in Chief Steve Courtoreille et al vs Governor in Council et al ends a challenge by the Mikisew Cree First Nation of Alberta to a 2013 reform of Canada's environmental laws by the administration of then-prime minister Stephen Harper. The reform altered the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, the Fisheries Act, the Species at Risk Act, and the Navigable Waters Protection Act, reducing the number of projects that require environmental assessment studies and narrowing the scope of those assessments. The Mikisew Cree contended that the reform violated constitutionally-protected treaty rights of Canada's indigenous First Nations.

Guatemala: ex-VP sentenced in water scandal

Guatemala’s special anti-corruption Court for High Risk Crimes on Oct. 9 sentenced former vice president Roxana Baldetti to prison for 15 years and six months for her role in the so-called "Magic Water" scandal. The case concerned the awarding of an $18 million dollar contract to decontaminate Lake Amatitlán, an important water source for peasant communities outside the capital. The contract went to Israeli firm M. Tarcic Engineering Ltd. The company claimed it had a "special formula" that could clean the lake within months. An investigation revealed that the "formula" consisted of water, salt and chlorine. The Authority for the Sustainable Management of Lake Amatitlán (AMSA), establsihed by the government to oversee the clean-up, documented illegal dumping of agricultural and municipal waste into the Río Villalobos, which empties into the lake. The UN-backed International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) supported Guatemalan prosecutors in the conspiracy case against Baldetti and 12 others. Baldetti is also accused of involvement in “La Linea” scandal, in which Guatemalan officials brought imports into the country at a discounted tariff. (Jurist, BBC News, Al Jazeera,Oct. 10; Times of Israel, Prensa Libre, El Periódico, EmisorasUnidas, Guatemala, Oct. 9; Prensa Libre, May 18)

Climate change report draws UN call for action

UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment David Boyd called Oct. 8 for accelerated action to combat climate change. The statement comes after the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5°C. Boyd said that climate change is "one of the greatest threats to human rights" and will have devastating effects on the "rights to life, health, food, housing, and water, as well as the right to a healthy environment." In order to meet human rights obligations, Boyd called on counties to exceed their Paris Agreement obligations. If the temperature is allowed to increase 2.0°C, it would result in "human rights violations upon millions of people."

Peru: Fujimori pardon revoked; struggle continues

Peru's Supreme Court of Justice on Oct. 3 overturned (PDF) the December 2017 pardon of ex-dictator Alberto Fujimori, and ordered that he be returned to prison. Human rights advocates hailed the ruling, but the ex-dictator's supporters and his politically powerful daughter, Keiko Fujimori, gathered outside his home in Lima to condemn it. "This is persecution against my family," Keiko said. Alberto himself implored President Martín Vizcarra not to return him to prison, saying his "heart would not cope." The former strongman spoke in a video address from a private clinic where he is undergoing treatment for heart disease and under police guard. Fujimori's attorney has appealed the pardon's annulment The fujimorista bloc in Congress is drafting a law to make the pardon permanent, but this is on dubious constitutional grounds and arguably violates the Inter-American Convention on Human Rights. (Jurist, Diario Uno, Oct. 6; Reuters, Oct. 4; NYT, Oct. 3)

ICJ rejects Bolivia ocean access claim against Chile

The International Court of Justice ruled (PDF) on Oct. 1 that landlocked Bolivia cannot force neighboring Chile to grant it access to a portion of its Pacific coast. "The Court is unable to conclude, on the basis of the material submitted to it, that Chile has the obligation to negotiate with Bolivia in order to reach an agreement granting Bolivia a fully sovereign access to the Pacific Ocean," reads the judgement. Chile and Bolivia have long contested access to the Pacific. Bolivia controlled a portion of coast until 1904, when Chile successfully annexed the territory. The day has since been commemorated each year by lamenting Bolivians, and the nation has attempted to renegotiate coastal access for over 100 years.

Colombia: 'systematic' attacks on social leaders

Thousands of Colombians took to the streets July 6 to protest the mounting wave of assassinations of social leaders in the country.  The protests and vigils were largely ignored by the country’s political leaders, who have come under international pressure for their failure to respond to the wholesale killing that has claimed the lives of 311 community leaders since 2016, according to official figures from the country's rights obudsman, the Defensoria del Pueblo. In the capital Bogota, protesters converted the central Plaza Bolivar into a sea of candlelight. The same happened at the Parque de los Deseos in Medellin and at the Plaza de Caycedo in Cali. Vigils were also held in at least 25 cities around the world, from Sydney to New York. (Colombia Reports, July 7) Days after the mobilization, the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights issued yet another call for the Colombian government to take urgent measures to call a halt to the ongoing attacks. (El Espectador, July 19)

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