PBI-Guatemala comments on the UN Guiding Principles in the context of extractivist and exclusionary economic models

Published by Brent Patterson on

Maria Caal Xol

PBI-Guatemala recently published a feature article titled: 10th anniversary of the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights: challenges for their implementation in Guatemala. Excerpts from that article include:

June 2021 marked the 10th anniversary of the unanimous endorsement by the United Nations Human Rights Council of the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.

However, the implementation of the Principles remains a challenge at the global level and, particularly, in countries rich in natural resources such as Guatemala. The expansion of the private sector and the intensification of competition for these goods have contributed to the strengthening of extractivist and exclusionary economic models.

The implementation of these models has serious consequences for rural communities, indigenous peoples and human rights defenders who are very often the target of all kinds of attacks and threats when they dare to raise their voices against large-scale projects of various kinds: hydroelectric, mining, agribusiness, logging, etc.

The lack of guaranteed land rights experienced by indigenous communities makes them vulnerable to possible human rights violations caused by the implementation of transnational extractive projects.

“Many of our compañeros in different territories in Guatemala who have been imprisoned, sometimes sentenced to more than 30 years, are falsely accused of trespassing, when we are the legitimate owners of our territories,” comments María Caal Xol, leader of the Peaceful Resistance of Cahabón (Alta Verapaz), who has experienced human rights violations caused by the installation of hydroelectric projects on the Cahabón River.

Another problem is the lack of transparency, information and consultation with communities during the installation of projects in their territories.

Number 18 of the Guiding Principles establishes that companies should identify and assess the negative human rights impacts of their activities through substantive consultation with potentially affected groups.

However, the right to consultation is constantly violated and information on project impacts does not reach the communities.

The Guiding Principles establish access to justice as one of their fundamental pillars. However, the difficulties faced by communities affected by corporate projects in accessing an effective remedy remain significant.

Widespread impunity for attacks on human rights defenders and for illegalities committed within the context of economic projects also demonstrates how communities face serious challenges in securing effective access to justice.

In this sense, the genuine application of the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights continues to be a relevant challenge and an urgent necessity for respecting the human rights of communities affected by economic projects.

For María Caal Xol, the effective implementation of these Principles and human rights norms must begin with raising awareness among communities about their rights.

“It is in the interest of the State and the companies that the brothers and sisters do not speak out and do not demand their rights. But today, day by day, girls, young people, women and men are realizing that these rights do exist. It is necessary to raise awareness in each community, teaching them their rights.”

The full article by PBI-Guatemala can be read at 10th anniversary of the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights: challenges for their implementation in Guatemala.

Maria Caal Xol’s brother Bernardo was sentenced to seven years and four months in prison in November 2018 in retribution for opposing the construction of  hydroelectric dams without free, prior and informed consent on the Cahabón River.

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