CLIMATE AND ENVIRONMENT

GJC Partners in Haiti and Guyana Testify Before IACHR on Detriment of Extractive Industry in the Caribbean

On October 26, 2021, advocates and experts from five Caribbean countries, Haiti, Jamaica, Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago, and The Bahamas, presented on the impact of extractive industry activities on human rights and climate change in the Caribbean in a hearing before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). Samuel Nesner, a founding member of Kolektif Jistis Min and long-time partner of NYU Law’s Global Justice Clinic, presented on the serious harm of extraction and land grabs in Haiti to the human rights of rural communities. Another Global Justice Clinic partner and member of the South Rupununi District Council, Immaculata Casimero, presented on the impact of extractive industries on indigenous women.

Samuel Nesner highlighted that for centuries land in Haiti has been expropriated and transferred to the elite with rural communities facing the brunt of the harm. Repeated expropriation of land, also known as land grabbing, has forced farmers and their families from their land, many times under threat of violence and almost always without adequate compensation for the loss of their land and sole source of income. Many believe that the land grabs relate to the content of the soil: much of the area that has been taken from farmers in the rural North is known for its mineral resources. Between 2006 and 2013, the Haitian government granted four U.S. and Canadian companies more than 50 mining permits. Many were granted in flagrant violation of Haitian law, without consultation of the dozen communities who live on the land under permit, and without first conducting an adequate environmental and social impact assessment. Residents of these communities have reported that company representatives entered their land without permission, taking samples and digging holes in their farmland. 

Immaculata Casimero noted that extractive industries pose a particular danger to indigenous peoples, who face longstanding land tenure insecurity. In Immaculata’s own Wapichan territory, many traditional indigenous lands are left unrecognized by the Guyanese government—and therefore vulnerable to big businesses looking to obtain agricultural leases on their land and extractive industries seeking to mine gold from their land. Immaculata emphasized that allowing mining on indigenous land harms their cultural heritage and way of life, and that women are especially affected as the main conveyors and protectors of this cultural heritage. Mining not only damages cultural heritage, but also the community’s health: it has led to mercury poisoning by contaminating crucial headwaters and has compounded the effects of climate change, with flooding, lower crop yields, and higher food insecurity. The presence of new miners has also raised social concerns, such as an increase in gender-based violence and prostitution.

Following the speakers’ presentations, IACHR Commissioners commended the speakers on their efforts to address the urgent issue of the impact of extractive industries in the Caribbean. IACHR Commissioner Margaret May Macauley (Jamaica) expressed her concern about the “complete lack of prior information and prior consultation before the majority, if not all, of these extractive industries commence. That is, the governments of these States enter into contracts with the corporations without prior information to the peoples who reside in the lands, on the lands, or by the seas, and they do not engage in prior consultation with them… The persons are left completely unprotected.” This certainly rings true in Haiti and Guyana, where foreign companies have repeatedly profited off the land of Haitian farmers and the Wapichan people without prior consultation about the use of their land.

This post was originally published on February 14, 2022.