Human rights groups have accused a proposed hydropower project on Guatemala’s Icboray River of serious human rights violations.
The 24-megawatt Santa Rita Dam is scheduled to be built in the Alta Verapaz department in central Guatemala. The construction is backed by the World Bank, several European banks and the Guatemalan government. Despite allegations of human rights violations, the dam’s owners have been granted carbon offset credits under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change’s Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) for projected power generation. Several projects, including this one in Guatemala, which is in a state of political unrest over government corruption, are at the helm and are forcing the CDM to reform its system.
The project has been the subject of controversy since 2008, when the contract was awarded to the Guatemalan company Hidroeléctrica Santa Rita SA to build the Santa Rita Dam, and construction is currently suspended. Human rights groups say the plans were approved without open, prior informed consent from the Maya Qekchi and Pokomchi indigenous peoples who live on the site. Human rights groups say the dam will deprive indigenous communities of their communal lands and prevent them from accessing the Ikboray River, which they rely on for drinking water and agriculture, while providing no compensation for them. Most of the villages do not have electricity, but the project will not electrify the villages, and the electricity will only be sent to the national grid, he said.
“In this region, the Santa Rita hydropower plant is a very egregious violation of collective and individual rights,” said Maximo Ba Tiul, spokesman for the Tesultlan People’s Council, an indigenous activist group in Guatemala.
Groups, including Thiur, have accused the peaceful protests and blockades of the community of violent measures, including multiple killings, forced evictions, and the unlawful detention of community leaders.
For example, in 2013, activists accused an employee of Santa Rita Hydro Power Company of shooting dead Mayan children aged 11 and 13 . The perpetrators are said to have targeted the children’s uncle, David Cheng. Cheng is an activist against the Santa Rita Dam and was the victim of a previous kidnapping attempt.
The murder of children caused outrage. Reportedly, 17 local groups issued a joint statement on the day of the incident, accusing Santa Rita Hydro and the Guatemalan government of being responsible for violating people’s rights and causing conflict in this region.
Later in April 2014, a landowner associated with Santa Rita Hydro and his security guards opened fire on members of the indigenous community participating in a religious ceremony, killing one and injuring five. issued, human rights groups report. A few months later, in August, more than 1,500 police officers were dispatched to the area to use tear gas on some 200 indigenous families who were peacefully protesting the dam. Three women and two men were also illegally detained and humiliated by police. These cases were documented in a letter to the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples sent in October 2014 by more than 20 national and international human rights groups.
Seven people were killed and 70 injured in these clashes, according to the letter. In addition, 30 people have been illegally detained, 30 houses have been burned down, and several families have been forced to flee their homes.
In Guatemala, new scrutiny of government-led projects with high environmental impacts, such as dams and mines, is attracting public attention. Violence and intimidation linked to infrastructure projects are routinely uncovered. Guatemala recently held mass demonstrations against a corruption scandal. The scandal has led to the resignation of a number of senior government officials, including Vice President Roxana Baldetti, Environment and Natural Resources Minister Michel Martinez, Energy and Mines Minister Edwin Rodas and Interior Minister Mauricio López Bonilla.
sloppy consultation process
The government and UN CDM officials approved the construction of the Santa Rita dam without proper consultation with the local population, human rights groups such as the Testoltlan People’s Council claim.
In 2014, the UN CDM Executive Board approved the hydroelectric dam, despite long-standing criticism of its human rights abuses. This gave the project a green seal of approval and a carbon offset credit for Santa Rita Hydro. The credits can be traded on the European carbon market, where participating countries can purchase credits to meet their emission targets and reduce their nominal emissions.
The construction cost of the hydroelectric dam is estimated at about $67 million according to the planning design document . The private equity fund behind the project is funded by the World Bank and by four European development agencies (DEG: German Investment and Development Agency; FMO: Dutch Development Finance Corporation; AECID: Spanish Agency for International Development and Cooperation; SIFEM (Swiss Emerging Markets Investment Fund) is also backing the project, says Carbon Market Watch, a Belgian watchdog group that analyzes carbon markets.
Under CDM regulations, project proponents must consult with affected local communities and take their views into consideration. But in the case of the Santa Rita dam, rights groups say the negotiations were sloppy.
In a letter sent to the CDM Executive Board in May 2014, it was noted that the project’s formal public consultation process would involve dialogue with only a select few community members, most of whom were already part of the project. The People’s Council of Testollan claims that it supported Moreover, out of the more than 30 communities affected by the Santa Rita hydroelectric project, only nine participated in consultations. At public meetings, 24 communities rejected the project.
The CDM Executive Board conducted its review on the basis of complaints made by local stakeholder groups. According to Carbon Market Watch , this is the first time the CDM Executive Board has conducted a formal project review based on allegations of improper local consultation. However, according to its response letter dated 5 June 2014, the Board concluded that the project “is in accordance with relevant CDM standards, including a consultation process with local stakeholders.”
It’s a big step for the CDM Executive Board to take the issue of local consultations seriously, said Eva Filzmoser, head of Carbon Market Watch.com that she had no explanation from the CDM board on how it conducted a review of the protest. For example, one CDM official said the project complied with all CDM standards because the competent authority within the Guatemalan government had assured the board of this, she said. In an October 2014 letter to the UN special rapporteur, the CDM Executive Board granted certification based solely on the reports of government officials involved in the project, Carbon Market Watch and several human rights groups report. .
Activists say it is not uncommon in Guatemala for large environmental projects to go without consultation. Former UN special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, Dina Shelton, expressed her concern in a press release when she visited Guatemala in 2013: The authorization was given to affected indigenous communities without the prior free and informed consultation required under international treaties to which Guatemala is a party.”
The deep-seated problem of the entire green certification project
Santa Rita isn’t the only green-certified project plagued with human rights violations. A number of other CDM-certified power generation projects, both in Guatemala and elsewhere, were named in a 2013 case study report by Carbon Market Watch.
For example, at least two other hydropower projects in Guatemala have also witnessed human rights abuses, according to human rights groups and the media. There was a failure to give informed consent to affected indigenous communities, and violent evictions were carried out in response to community protests. The projects mentioned are the 85-megawatt Paloviejo dam (San Juan Cotzal city) and the 94-megawatt Sacbal dam (Chafr city).
In July 2014, one month after deciding that the Santa Rita Dam was in compliance with the local stakeholder consultation rules, the CDM Executive Board met and agreed to amend the rules. The amendments are in response to criticism of many CDM certification projects for irregularities in the consultation process. The revised regulation redefines the guidelines for local stakeholder consultations. For example, changes have been made to the minimum number of stakeholder groups to participate in consultations, how consultations are conducted, and what information must be disclosed to stakeholders.
“Formally, this is a big step forward,” says Firzmoser. “Unfortunately, no consideration was given to a compliance mechanism or to the establishment of a commission of inquiry for suspected violations of domestic and international regulations.”
“At present, the CDM does not have a formal protest mechanism. says Mr.
With the stalemate situation in Guatemala disrupted by governmental and social turmoil and CDM rule reforms, a new opportunity has arisen in the struggle by communities in Alta Verapaz to reverse the Santa Rita dam. It may be said.