It is well known that the extraction and use of coal, crude oil and natural gas negatively affect people and the environment. But renewable energy projects must also adhere to human rights standards. Nonetheless, big energy companies disregard human rights and environmental protection standards time and again – as in the case of Électricité de France in Oaxaca, Mexico.
French energy giant EDF has been developing the Gunaa Sicarú wind park project since 2015. The problem: wind power stations were planned for construction on the territory of the indigenous Unión Hidalgo community. While EDF tried to secure authorization permits from the Mexican state for the project, the indigenous group was, however, not sufficiently consulted in the process. This is why Unión Hidalgo representatives, the Mexican organization ProDESC and ECCHR filed a civil suit against EDF in France in October 2020. The company was supposed to halt construction on the wind farm project until it is able to guarantee human rights standards. In June 2022, however, the Mexican energy ministry itself shut down the project before its completion. This decision is a great success for the indigenous group – but due to prior damages, the proceedings in France continue.
According to international human rights conventions, indigenous peoples have the right to free, prior and informed consent before an infrastructural or similar project can be developed on their land – a human right that companies like EDF are obliged to respect.
This was precisely the problem in Mexico: the community was not sufficiently included in the decision-making process concerning the project. Those critical of the project were stigmatized, threatened and even physically attacked, while EDF did nothing to intervene and even allegedly offered benefits to supporters of the project. The company thereby neglected the community’s right to free, prior and informed consultation and consent.
Proceedings initiated by Unión Hidalgo and ProDESC at 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 due diligence. When 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 historical and cultural connection to their land. At the same time, since the colonial period, they have often been discriminated against, oppressed and deprived of their rights. This is why international law – like the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples – regards them as especially in need of protection. This is, for example, manifest in their right to free, prior and informed consent – which may even become a veto right if indigenous territories are directly affected.
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.