Land defenders’ human rights continue to be violated – this must change


Dozens of heavily armed RCMP breaching the checkpoint during the Nov. 18 militarized raid. Credit: Dan Loan / Gidimt’en Checkpoint
Dozens of heavily armed RCMP breaching the checkpoint during the Nov. 18 militarized raid. Credit: Dan Loan / Gidimt’en Checkpoint

On February 6, Gidimt’en land defenders made a submission to the UN denouncing Canada’s violation of Indigenous rights in the development of the Coastal GasLink pipeline.

In recent days, there have been several key events pertaining to water and land defenders in Canada and worldwide. The events point to the importance of a human rights and feminist approach to corporate accountability.

This becomes even more pertinent and urgent as Canada sets to formalize a feminist foreign policy. The climate crisis and long-term economic impacts of the pandemic will most likely increase interest in large-scale resource extraction — particularly for critical minerals for renewable energy — in the years to come.  

On February 4, the Constitutional Court of Ecuador ruled that Indigenous communities must have the final say on extractive projects

The ruling reads, in part: “…under no circumstances can a project be carried out that generates excessive sacrifices to the collective rights of communities and nature.”

Moving forward, the state is required to obtain consent for resource development from Indigenous communities. The ruling sets a precedent that reaffirms Indigenous self-determination and the constitutional rights of nature just as the new administration was eyeing large-scale resource extraction to address some of the economic impacts of the pandemic. 

On February 6, Gidimt’en land defenders made a submission to the UN denouncing Canada’s violation of Indigenous rights in the development of the Coastal GasLink pipeline. They are urging the UN to visit Wet’suwet’en territory to assess the situation. 

Gidimt’en land defenders outlined in their submission how the provincial and federal government use civil injunctions to engage public security forces to protect corporate interests. In this way, governments are sanctioning the surveillance, racial profiling, harassment, and criminalization of Indigenous water and land defenders. 

The submission also articulates the gendered impacts of the human rights violations in Wet’suwet’en territory.

“As a result of the increasing militarization of our lands and increased policing and private security companies on our territories, Indigenous women, girls, and trans people face fear and intimidation, as well as suffer from a loss in our livelihoods and cultural practices,” states Gidimt’en the land defenders. “A militarized environment makes it difficult for us to access our territories to harvest food and medicines due to displacement, checkpoints, and other types of surveillance and criminalization.”

On February 7, members of Alianza Colombia Libre de Fracking, an alliance of more than 100 groups and organizations against fracking in Colombia, was part of a non-violent protest during an informational meeting being held on one of two pilot fracking projects planned near Puerto Wilches, in the Magdalena Medio region of Colombia. 

In an effort to create a narrative and media strategy to stigmatize and criminalize land and water protection, the state-run company, Ecopetrol, accused protestors of inciting violence. While at the protest, several social leaders received death threats from a paramilitary group, reinforcing the UNFront Line Defenders, and Global Witness reports that describe Colombia as the most dangerous place in the world to be a human rights defender. 

Lastly, the Justice and Corporate Accountability Project published a report that describes how Canadian government officials promote and protect Canadian extractive companies. In the process, officials undermine Indigenous communities who mobilize to protect their rights. 

Using the land defense struggle against the Marlin Mine in Guatemala, the report highlights coordinated efforts from ministers of cabinet, ambassadors, and other state officials to lobby on behalf of Goldcorp to influence the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights. 

Among other recommendations, the report calls for: 

“…more ambitious and visionary interrogations of the appropriate relationship between the Canadian state and the Canadian private sector in the overseas context. This includes the question of whether or not it is appropriate at all for Canada to provide diplomatic support to Canadian companies in light of existing power relations between companies and affected communities, and in light of the ways in which domestic corporate law and international economic law currently constitute, enable, and protect the transnational corporation from accountability.”

KAIROS agrees with the Justice and Corporate Accountability Project’s conclusion that “Canadian missions abroad should prioritize Canada’s duty to protect human rights over economic objectives.”

There are several ways that Canada can put human rights first, particularly through:

  • Adherence to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples inclusive of Free, Prior, and Informed Consent as it applies to the extractive sector operating in Canada and abroad; 
  • The implementation of the Final Inquiry report’s Calls to Justice pertaining to the extractive sector and governance; 
  • Mandatory and transparent measures that hold Canadian companies and their business partners accountable for corporate misconduct, such as the adoption of mandatory human rights and environmental due diligence legislation;
  • Strengthening, evaluating, reporting on the use of Voices at Risk at Canada’s embassies; and 
  • Providing details on the dedicated refugee stream for human rights defenders announced in 2021 by the then Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship of Canada.

In the meantime, KAIROS encourages people in Canada to sign a petition to the House of Commons calling on Canada to pass mandatory human rights and environmental due diligence (mHREDD) legislation. This type of legislation would require companies to prevent, report on, and face consequences for wrongdoing in terms of human rights and environmental violations. 

For more on mHREDD legislation, read KAIROS’ primer. To learn about the intersection of gender, Indigenous rights, and ecological justice, visit MERE Hub, a digital hub on the gendered impacts of resource extraction created and maintained by KAIROS


Gabriela Jiménez is KAIROS’ Latin America Partnerships Coordinator.

This article was originally published on Rabble on February 25, 2022.


Filed in: Gender Justice/Women of Courage, Op Eds & Rabble

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