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Indigenous Rights

Indigenous Voices Ignored in Financing Panamanian Dam Project

AMSTERDAM, Jun 2 2015 (IPS) - Indigenous people who would be directly affected by the impact of a hydroelectric project in Panama were not consulted despite national and international human rights obligations to obtain their free, prior and informed consent, according to a just-released report.

Acting on behalf of communities in Panama’s Ngöbe-Buglé indigenous territory, the Movimiento 10 de Abril (M-10) had filed a complaint with the Independent Complaints Mechanism (ICM) of the Dutch FMO and German DEG development banks alleging that the Barro Blanco dam project which the banks were financing would lead to the flooding of the communities’ homes, schools, and religious, archaeological and cultural sites.

The two banks were accused of failing to adequately assess the risks to indigenous rights and the environment before approving a 50 million dollar loan to GENISA, the project’s developer.

The independent panel’s report, released May 29, found that the “lenders should have sought greater clarity on whether there was consent to the project from the appropriate indigenous authorities prior to project approval,” adding that “the lenders have not taken the resistance of the affected communities seriously enough.”

“We did not give our consent to this project before it was approved, and it does not have our consent today,” said Manolo Miranda, a representative of the M-10.  “We demand that the government, GENISA and the banks respect our rights and stop this project.”

According to the ICM’s report, “significant issues related to social and environmental impact and, in particular, issues related to the rights of indigenous peoples were not completely assessed.”

The environmental and social action plan (ESAP) accompanying the project “contains no provision on land acquisition and resettlement and nothing on biodiversity and natural resources management. Neither does it contain any reference to issues related to cultural heritage.”

Ana María Mondragón, a lawyer at the Interamerican Association for Environmental Defense (AIDA), said: “This failure constitutes a violation of international standards regarding the obligation to elaborate adequate and comprehensive environmental and social impact assessments before implementing any development project, in order to guarantee the right to free, prior and informed consent, information and effective participation of the potentially affected community.”

In February this year, the Panamanian government provisionally suspended construction of the Barro Blanco dam and subsequently convened a dialogue table with the Ngöbe-Buglé, with the facilitation of the United Nations, to discuss the future of the project.

The Barro Blanco project was registered under the Clean Development Mechanism, a system under the Kyoto Protocol that allows the crediting of emission reductions from greenhouse gas abatement projects in developing countries.

“As climate finance flows are expected to flow through various channels in the future, the lessons of Barro Blanco must be taken very seriously,” said Pierre-Jean Brasier, network coordinator at Carbon Market Watch. “To prevent that future climate mitigation projects have negative impacts, a strong institutional safeguard system that respects all human rights is required.”

The ICM will monitor the banks’ implementation of corrective actions and recommendations, while M-10 said that it expects FMO and DEG to withdrawal their investment from the project and ask that the Dutch and German governments show a public commitment to ensuring the rights of the affected Ngöbe-Buglé.

Edited by Phil Harris   

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