sharing in governance of extractive industries

Interview part 2 with Claudia Ituarte-Lima on Biodiversity and Human Rights

This is second  part of the interview with Claudia Ituarte-Lima. Claudia is an international law researcher at the Stockholm Resilience Centre (SRC), and serves as Advisor at SwedBio at SRC. Her work focuses on the transformation of international law, in particular biodiversity, climate and human rights law into new governance forms at the national and local levels. Claudia acts as an expert advisor for the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and is a member of the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services' (IPBES) Expert Group on policy tools and methodologies. She has provided expert advice to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Environment and the International Development Law Organization (IDLO)

  • Please give an example of an instance where human rights obligations were implemented into biodiversity policies or programs, at either the national, local or municipal level


Instruments that make the connection between safeguards, human rights and socio-ecological resilience such as the Convention on Biological Diversity Voluntary Guidelines for Safeguards in Biodiversity Financing Mechanisms (BFMs) can help address the risks of those most affected by environmental degradation, prevent conflicts that disrupt biodiversity, finance mechanisms as well as prevent harm to the people that projects are supposed to support. In countries where ecological compensation in mining is part of the national legislation, it is relevant to consider that its implementation may impact the provision of ecosystems services, thereby impacting the wellbeing and rights of distinct individuals and groups. There are two groups of right holders whose rights may be at risk: specifically, those at the impact site that may face reduced access to biodiversity and ecosystem services during and after the mining has taken place and (secondly), those at the compensation site that may suffer if exclusionary conservation approaches are applied. Hence, the rights of these two groups of people need to be taken into account when implementing ecological compensation in mining. Some countries have national legislation in this respect including the mitigation hierarchy that requires to avoid, minimize and restore biodiversity and social impacts before resorting to compensation off-site. More work is needed though to implement these kind of policies in a way that safeguards both biodiversity and human rights in practice.


  • With relation to large-scale mining, what is the way forward in safeguarding human rights whilst maintaining healthy ecosystems and biodiversity? Can you give one key recommendation?

A key recommendation would be mainstreaming biodiversity and human rights in laws and policies that regulate large-scale mining because of significant risks posed to biodiversity integrity and human rights by the mining sector and associated infrastructure such as dams that provide water to large-scale mines. Mainstreaming biodiversity and human rights involves integrating these two key issues into relevant sectors such as mining and infrastructure as well as into cross-sectoral plans, programs, policies and decision making.  Furthermore, mainstreaming biodiversity in the mining sector responds to the need to overcome inequality especially in many emerging and middle-income countries with significant challenges and with existing strong social inequalities towards certain groups within these countries.  An especially urgent issue to address is safeguarding the rights of environmental human rights defenders and fostering an enabling environment to exercise their rights individually and collectively. Defending biodiversity, integrity and human rights of local populations has become risky and even a deadly endeavor especially in some places in Latin America and South-east Asia. This has been highlighted by three UN Special Rapporteurs on human rights and various civil society organisations. The situation of environmental human rights defenders becomes especially challenging where strong economic interests such as in the case of mining, co-exist with weak institutions and corruption.  One strategy is connecting next steps for safeguarding the rights of environmental human rights defenders with action for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, as these have cross-cutting biodiversity and ecosystems dimensions and seek to realise the human rights of all, leaving no-one behind. The  Convention on Biological Diversity  Akwé: Kon Voluntary Guidelines for the conduct of cultural, environmental and social impact assessments regarding developments proposed to take place on, or which are likely to impact on, sacred sites and on lands and waters traditionally occupied or used by indigenous and local communities are an example of a  tool that can be helpful. These Guidelines refer to prior informed consent, community protocols and how to conduct baseline information; legal empowerment methodologies such as paralegals as well as principles such as the Maastricht Principles on Extraterritorial Obligations of States in the Area of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights can be helpful in these processes.


How would you describe the situation in your native country, Mexico, for human rights defenders working on biodiversity issues? Have any steps been taken to better protect these human rights defenders?

The situation in Mexico for environmental human rights defenders is very serious. According to a 2016 report by the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Mexico is among the ten most dangerous countries for environmental human rights defenders. In the international arena, Mexico was one of the countries that supported the resolution at the United Nations Human Rights Council on environment and human rights and the Cancun Declaration on mainstreaming biodiversity, above mentioned. Yet, these commitments need to to be implemented in practice to have concrete results on the life of environmental human rights defenders who continue to risk their lives to protect biodiversity and healthy ecosystems, (given that) Mexico is one of the megadiverse countries in the world. For doing so, there is scope for increased collaboration between the vibrant Mexican civil society working for human rights and biodiversity issues and existing institutions such as the National Commission for the Knowledge and Use of Biodiversity (CONABIO) and national and subnational human rights commissions. Their efforts need to be coupled with a strong support and political will of the central government’s various relevant ministries to effectively mainstream biodiversity and human rights within the mining sector.  

While actions within countries such as Mexico are very important, it is worth highlighting that the issues of environmental human rights defenders are not only a national but a global issue. A wide range of organisations working at different scales and in distinct parts of the world have a role to play to address the global crises of biodiversity loss and the crisis faced by environmental human rights defenders that go beyond national borders.

In a joint statement, the United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, and the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous people, frame the risky and even deadly undertaking faced by environmental defenders as a “global crisis”. They consider that ‘the international community has reached consensus on the new sustainable development goals as a roadmap to a more sustainable, prosperous and equitable future. But those goals cannot be met if those on the front line of protecting sustainable development are not protected’ (ibid.).


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