350.org report on Climate Defenders and Human Rights Abuses by Fossil Fuel Companies

Published by Brent Patterson on

The environmental group 350.org has released a 65-page Climate Defenders Report titled Human Rights Abuses by Fossil Fuel Companies.

The report connects with Peace Brigades International in several areas, including our accompaniment of the Front of Peoples in Defence of Land and Water (FPDTA) in Mexico, community opposition to fracking in Colombia (PBI had a tour in Canada on this last year), and our support for a proposed United Nations Binding Treaty on transnational corporations with respect to human rights.

The Executive Summary highlights:

“Some of the most severe corporate human rights abuses worldwide may be attributed directly or indirectly to the operations of fossil fuel companies.”

“The physical impacts of extracting and refining fossil fuels often affect the enjoyment of substantive human rights – like the right to health, life, private life, water, and property. Burning fossil fuels has similarly profound impacts on the enjoyment of the same rights.”

“Similarly, breaches of procedural rights – such as the right of access to remedy and access to justice – often affect those that try and resist the operations of fossil fuel companies.”

“Human rights abuses are often not committed by the corporation alone or directly, but alongside the involvement of a third party (often, the state itself), with the direct or indirect support of the company.”

The Business and Human Rights Abuses section notes:

“The UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders points out, the Declaration of Human Rights Defenders establishes that non-state actors – including corporations – ‘have a responsibility to respect the rights enshrined in the UDHR [Universal Declaration of Human Rights], and consequently, the rights of human rights defenders.’”

Under Fossil Fuel Companies and Human Rights, the report adds:

“According to the Guiding Principles [on Business and Human Rights], states have an obligation to provide for remedies for human rights abuses caused by corporations, and corporations themselves have a responsibility to respect human rights.”

The section on Loss of life (both general population and environmental defenders) tells the story of Samir Flores:

“In Mexico, Samir Flores – a member of the grassroots collective ‘Front of Peoples in Defence of Land and Water for the states of Morelos, Puebla and Tlaxcala (FPDTA)’ – was killed, after receiving death threats for his role in protests against a project comprising of two new thermal-electric plants, a 170 km natural gas pipeline, and an aqueduct.”

“His death came just one day after the government convened a public forum, where Flores and other activists voiced their opposition. Mexico’s state prosecutor had initially posited that the murder was unrelated to the project. However, FPDTA said in a statement that Flores had been threatened several times since 2012, and that he had no enemies besides those behind the project, blaming the state for the deadly attack.”

The story of Samir Flores is also profiled on page 22 of the report.

In the section on the Harassment of activists, the report notes:

“The UN Special Rapporteurs on human rights and the environment have noted that those who work to protect the environment on which the enjoyment of human rights depends are among the human rights defenders most at risk, and the risks are particularly acute for Indigenous Peoples and traditional communities.”

Under Access to remedies, the report states:

“In line with the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, the responsibility of fossil fuel companies to respect human rights includes the responsibility to identify, prevent, mitigate and account for how they address their environmental impacts on human rights, and enable the remediation of any adverse environmental human rights impacts they cause or to which they contribute.”

In the section on Preventative Action, the report notes:

“Even though human rights remedies are more frequently used to react to human rights abuses, rather than to prevent these, state and corporate actors’ duties to prevent environmental harm and the associated human rights violations have come under increasing scrutiny in recent years.”

“In Colombia, anti-fracking activists have obtained important court victories. In 2018 the Council of State – a tribunal with jurisdiction over administrative issues – put on hold planned exploratory fracking activities, ruling that the precautionary principle and due diligence override any other concerns or priorities.”

“In 2019 the Council of State upheld its earlier decision, suspending administrative acts by which the government had set the criteria for the exploration and exploitation of non-conventional deposits through fracking. Despite these promising developments, it remains to be seen whether in the next stages of the lawsuit, the Colombian courts will confirm or lift the moratorium on fracking developments.”

The Conclusions in the report highlight:

“Human rights obligations are therefore no replacement for effective legislation concerning environmental harm, and human rights remedies are no replacement for effective preventive and remedial measures against environmental harm caused by fossil fuel companies. Yet, past experience suggests that successful human rights complaints can help to bring about a change in attitude by courts and lawmakers, as the anti-fracking movement in Latin America clearly demonstrated.”

“The ongoing negotiations of a new UN treaty on human rights responsibilities of business may furthermore open the door to better and more streamlined prevention and remediation avenues in this connection.”

For more on the report, please see the 350.org webpage Stand With Climate Defenders. Photo from the 350.org Climate Defenders Report by the Gastivists Network, 2019.

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