sharing in governance of extractive industries

Interview with Claudia Ituarte-Lima on Biodiversity and Human Rights

This is the first 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).

  • How can mining effect people’s human rights? Why is protecting biodiversity a human rights issue?


The conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity is vital to ensure that ecosystems remain healthy and resilient. Humanity as a whole depends on biodiversity and ecosystem functions such as wetlands providing freshwater in the short and long term. Mining can impact the health of ecosystems, the environmental services they provide and the resilience of the social-ecological system. The resilience of the socio-ecological system entails its capacity to support human wellbeing in complex dynamics including in a context of sudden and unexpected events. For example, the migration of pollutants from mining waste sites to nearby agrodiverse sites or downstream fishing grounds can affect freshwater which is a provisioning ecosystem service. The impact of mining in ecosystem services can in turn affect the constituents of human wellbeing such as health, basic materials for a good life, freedom of choice and action to continue developing a specific livelihood such as farming or fishing. As the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Environment, John Knox, highlights international law recognizes that everyone has human rights to what the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment describes as the constituents of human well-being derived from ecosystem services such as right to health and right to food. Biodiversity is a human rights issue because people, individually and collectively, can contribute to addressing the systemic socio-ecological challenges that affect life support systems through exercising a broad range of human rights, such as the right to information, participation, freedom of expression and association. Hence, when mining affects these procedural human rights also the conditions for fostering the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity and ecosystem are affected.


  • How can large scale mining affect biodiversity? When biodiversity is affected by mining, how does this affect people exerting their rights? 


When biodiversity is affected by large scale mining by for example impacting endemic species or soil diversity through pollution, clearing of land or blasting, the ecosystems’ health and resilience are also affected. As the World Health Organization and Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity (2015) recognise, more diverse ecosystems are more resilient to unexpected and sudden events such as natural disasters as well as to the long-term and progressive threats posed by climate change. Large scale mining can affect ecological niches with rich biodiversity which also play a key role in the hydrological cycles connecting the mountain areas such as the Andes with rainforest ecosystems such as the Amazon. The impacts of mining often affect disproportionally the possibilities of local communities such as subsistence farmers, fisherfolks and indigenous peoples who directly use biodiversity for their livelihoods and are more vulnerable to changes in ecosystem services to exercise their human rights such as land tenure related rights. Although local communities and indigenous people may have recognised property rights over land and forests under their respective national legal system, that does not mean that they necessarily have property rights over subsoil resources such as minerals. Biodiversity and human rights need to be mainstreamed in the different legal instruments regulating the mining sector for an enabling environment to exercise human rights.

  • What role do government institutions have in preventing social and environmental harms in mining? 


Governments, as main duty bearers of human rights, have the obligations to respect, protect and fulfill human rights in mining. As part of their obligations to respect human rights, government actors shall not violate for example the right to freedom of opinion and expression in the consultation process concerning an environmental impact assessment of a mining project. The obligation to protect entails the development and enforcement of national biodiversity and human rights laws and policies. This obligation to protect also involves making State-owned as well as non-State owned mining companies accountable, which in turn will have effects on the enjoyment of human rights within and outside their own territory.  In addition, government institutions have the duty to implement commitments agreed at the international level. The implementation of the Resolution on Human Rights and the Environment adopted by the Human RightsCouncil in 2017,[1] the Aichi Biodiversity Targets and the Cancun Declaration on Mainstreaming the Conservation and Sustainable Use of Biodiversity adopted by the Conference of the Parties on Biological Diversity on 2016[2] could help prevent the social and environmental harms of mining. 

Stay tuned for the second part of the interview that will be published shortly on Goxi.

[1] Resolution A/HRC/RES/34/20 on human rights and environment, Human Rights Council, Thirty-fourth session, http://ap.ohchr.org/documents/dpage_e.aspx?si=A/HRC/RES/34/20. This resolution stresses the need for enhanced cooperation by regularly exchanging knowledge and ideas and building synergies in the protection of human rights and the protection of the environment, bearing in mind an integrated and multisectoral approach.

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