Progress on the Recognition of Indigenous Peoples' Rights in relation to the proposed Diquís Dam

Progress on the Recognition of Indigenous Peoples' Rights in relation to the proposed Diquís Dam

In 2010, the Teribe indigenous people of Costa Rica decided to speak out in response to what they consider gross human rights violations to their people in relation to the proposed Diquís Dam in the country’s South Pacific region. This project will lead to the partial flooding of two indigenous territories and other grave impacts on 5 indigenous territories. In defence of their rights, the Teribe filed their first claim to the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) in mid 2010 and to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. These actions have resulted in progress both nationally and internationally. 

To-date the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (hereafter ‘CERD’ or ‘the Committee’) has communicated on three occasions[i] with Costa Rica under its Early Warning and Urgent Action Procedure. Furthermore, this year, the Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples visited Costa Rica on an official mission. After his visit, the Special Rapporteur issued a note[ii] with a series of observations and recommendations regarding the situation of indigenous peoples' rights in Costa Rica, and specifically regarding the rights of indigenous peoples potentially affected by the proposed Diquís Dam project.

During its 79th session held in August/September 2011, CERD continued to analyse the situation of the Teribe indigenous people[iii] in light of the recent events, including the note of the Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples issued on the 30th of May 2011. In the letter of September 2nd the Committee expressed its concern “on information received about statements made by the State party on the situation of El Diquís hydroelectric dam as a reason for not adopting the Autonomy Bill of Indigenous Peoples, which has been waiting the approval in Congress for 16 years”. Furthermore, it “urges the State party to stop all operations on the ground while waiting for the celebration and results of the mentioned consultation. It also urges the State to ensure that the Teribe indigenous communities are not subject to any pressure before, during or after the consultation.”

Costa Rica is a Party to the Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Racial Discrimination and therefore has the obligation to implement the Convention as well as the recommendations coming from the Committee. Recommendations from the Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples bear authority in guiding Costa Rica on how to deal with the issue of the proposed Diquís Dam.

The Teribe people have taken a proactive approach to this situation and have formally communicated to the Special Rapporteur their willingness and commitment to work on the implementation of the recommendations made in his report. This includes the creation of an expert team, with multidisciplinary skills, knowledge on intercultural dialogue, indigenous peoples’ rights, technical expertise on hydroelectric projects, among others to facilitate all the phases of the consultation process in order to reduce the asymmetry of power between the state and indigenous peoples. This is a significant step forward for defining the Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) and consultation procedures.

As stated by the Teribe in their response to the Special Rapporteur, “we consider this is a great opportunity to advance in the implementation of the rights enshrined in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, ILO Convention 169, and the jurisprudence of the Inter-American human rights system. We shall work so that the recognition of our rights is a reality in each of our territories.”

 

[ii] Full note available only in Spanish “La Situación de los pueblos indígenas afectados por el proyecto hidroeléctrico el Diquís en Costa Rica”: http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Issues/IPeoples/SR/A-HRC-18-35-Add8_sp.pdf