The extraction and use of coal, crude oil and natural gas negatively affect people and the environment. This is well-known. But renewable energy projects must also adhere to human rights standards. Nevertheless, big energy companies disrespect human rights and environmental protection time and again – as in the case of Électricité de France in Oaxaca, Mexico.
French energy giant EDF has been working on the Gunaa Sicarú wind park project since 2015. The problem: wind power stations are planned on the territory of the indigenous Unión Hidalgo community. EDF is trying to secure a construction authorization from the Mexican state – but until now, the indigenous group was not effectively consulted. This is why Unión Hidalgo representatives, the Mexican organization ProDESC, and ECCHR filed a civil suit against EDF in France on 13 October 2020. The company should halt the wind farm project until it can meet human rights standards.
Indigenous peoples have the right, as recognized in international human rights conventions, to free, prior and informed consent if an infrastructure or similar project is planned on their territory – a human right that EDF is obliged to respect.
This is exactly the problem in Mexico: the community so far was not effectively included in the decision-making process concerning the project. Some of the project’s critics are stigmatized, threatened and even physically attacked. EDF does not intervene and is said to have offered benefits to project supporters one-sidedly. The company thereby ignores the community’s right to free, prior and informed consultation and consent.
Proceedings initiated by Unión Hidalgo and ProDESC before the OECD National Contact Point in France were unsuccessful. For this reason, indigenous representatives, ProDESC and ECCHR sent a formal letter to EDF, demanding that the company strengthen its efforts to carry out human rights diligence. Since the energy company did not comply, ECCHR and its partners filed the lawsuit at the Paris civil court in October 2020.
Indigenous peoples have a special historic and cultural connection to their land. At the same time, they have often been discriminated against, oppressed and denied their rights since colonialism. This is why international law – like the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples – regards them as especially vulnerable. This, for example, manifests in their right to free, prior and informed consent – which can even become a veto right if indigenous territories are directly concerned.
In addition to the case against EDF, ECCHR supports the indigenous population in Western Sahara, whose right to self-determination has been repeatedly violated by Morocco, with the help of European companies. ECCHR also worked with indigenous communities in Zimbabwe to defend their land rights against European investors.