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The assassination last week of Honduran activist Berta Cáceres – who championed the cause of indigenous land rights – shows that international companies have no place now in continuing their support for the Agua Zarca dam she was fighting against.
The regional development bank Banco Centroamericano de Integracion Economica, the Dutch development bank FMO, Finnfund from Finland, and the Voith-Hydro (Siemens) engineering partnership from Germany, who are building the dam, must withdraw, says Oxfam. The companies’ only involvement from now must be to push for justice for Ms Cáceres and her family, and for affected communities.
The proposed dam, which is not yet built, is causing worsening conflict with indigenous people. They face losing their access to the river Gualcarque, sacred to the Lenca people and a major source of their water and food. Ms Cáceres’ is the latest murder of land activists – both in Honduras and world-wide – “and it must be the last,” said Oxfam International executive director Winnie Byanyima.
Oxfam has condemned the murder of Ms Cáceres. In 2013, Agua Zarca activist Tomas Garcia was shot. Oxfam and 300 other groups have launched an international “Land Rights Now” campaign demanding the respect and legal recognition of indigenous land rights, which are under attack around the world.
Berta Cáceres, an indigenous Lenca, cofounded the National Council of Popular and Indigenous Organisations of Honduras (COPINH) in 1993, an ally of many international organisations including Oxfam. She was awarded the 2015 Goldman Foundation Environmental Prize for her campaign against the Agua Zarca dam project.
Both the World Bank’s private lending arm, the International Finance Corporation, and the world’s biggest dam builder, China’s Sinohydro, pulled out of the Agua Zarca project in 2013 because of the conflict between local communities and the company building the dam.*
“What the current investors are still doing in Agua Zarca beggars belief and their involvement is only worsening a conflict in which local people have been killed and injured. They must stop their plans and instead help to sort out the problems,” Byanyima said.
Oxfam says the companies’ justification for continuing the project is not based upon local realities or international law. Local people have not freely consented to the project nor consulted prior to its approval in 2010. They alone have been the targets of violence. Some of their farmlands have been destroyed. The companies’ due diligence has been lacking from the start.
“Agua Zarca is a litany of failure. However this is commonplace in projects all over the world involving large-scale land acquisition and the exploitation of natural resources in indigenous people’s territories. There are well established principles that investors should follow including that of free, prior and informed consent before land is acquired.” she said.
Oxfam is also calling for the UN Human Rights Commission to investigate the murder and for transparency in the ownership of DESA, the owners of the Agua Zarca project.
* 9 March 2016 clarification: IFC's client, CAMIF, had approved and was actively considering an investment in the project but decided not to invest shortly after COPINH filed a complaint with IFC's grievance redress mechanism. It was followed by Sinhydro which cited publicly that the reasons for its withdrawal were because of conflict between the company and communities.
Notes to editors
Download the report: Common Ground: Securing Land rights and safeguarding the earth