International Law

Ca. Int'l Law Journal VOL. 23, NO. 2, WINTER 2015

The Application of International Human Rights Law to Extractive Energy Projects on Indigenous Lands in Latin America

By Heather Rosmarin*

I. INTRODUCTION

Extractive energy projects, such as oil and gas drilling and hydroelectric dams, are encroaching into ever more remote and environmentally sensitive regions of Latin America including the Amazon rainforest. For example, oil and gas blocks now cover 283,173 square miles of the Amazon, an area larger than Texas,1 while more than 400 hydroelectric dams are in operation, under construction, or proposed across the Amazon basin and its headwaters.2

Many of the regions targeted for new large-scale energy extraction overlap indigenous peoples’ lands and territories, and indigenous leaders are raising concerns about the impacts of this new wave of proposed extractive energy projects on their communities and the environment.3 Their concerns are well grounded: indigenous peoples have suffered and continue to suffer from human rights violations associated with extractive activities, including displacement,4 severe environmental contamination,5 and violence.6 In fact, Latin America is the most dangerous place in the world to be an indigenous land or environmental defender. According to a study by Global Witness, in 2014 approximately 75% of killings of land and environmental defenders worldwide took place in Latin America, and 40% of the victims were indigenous, most of whom died amid disputes over the ownership, control, and use of land.7

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