The Government of Honduras made some misleading and false statements in its recent submission to the International Labor Organization (ILO). In May-June of this year, the ILO held an international conference on Labor, during which the Government of Honduras submitted a report on its compliance with ILO 169, a treaty it signed in 1995. By Honduras’s own claims, it only began to implement the treating in 2011, and the Honduran courts claim that even that statement is false.
You can view the ILO report submitted by the Government of Honduras here on the ILO website. The Honduras specific section begins on page 152 of the report.
First up is Article 15 reporting, where Honduras reports on its consultations with interested indigenous groups before starting or authorizing any mineral prospecting or exploitation in their territory. This is what the government of Honduras wrote and submitted (page 153):
“Natural Resources: In the maritime zone of the Mosquitia, as part of the process of realizing a project to explore for oil and gas, a process a consultation during the period September to November 2013 was adopted; there were 10 consultative meetings with the territorial councils of the Mosquitia. This practice of previous free and informed [consent] has been implemented since 2011. Initially it was applied to hydroelectric projects in the Lenca indigenous zone (Intibuca and La Paz)…. “
If you didn’t know the actual timetable or anything about recent Honduran court decisions, you might be tempted to take those statement at face value. The government of Honduras did undertake a consultation, staging 10 meetings in the area of the Mosquitia where it planned to carry out oil and gas prospecting, during the months of September to November, 2013 as stated.
However, ILO 169 Article 15 requires that consultation to take place before any such exploration project is authorized or started. The Honduran Cabinet voted to approve a contract withBG group, a British oil and gas exploration company now a part ofRoyal Dutch Shell, to carry out oil and gas exploration on the 9th of April of 2013, a full six months before any consultation took place. The Honduran Congress approved the contract in May 2013, five full months before the first consultation. Thus the entire authorization process took place before any consultation took place, violating the intent and the letter of ILO 169 Article 15, which, to reiterate, calls for prior, free, consultation with interested groups prior to the start, or authorization of any such exploration or exploitation of a mineral resource. During the post-approval consultation, the Garifuna and Miskito communities involved soundly rejected the project.
Did Honduras carry out consultation? Yes. Was it as Article 15 requires, prior to the start or authorization of any such mineral exploration or exploitation? No. Honduras did not lie in its submission. It did however, stretch the truth to make it sound like it complied with the consultation requirements when it did not.
The government of Honduras goes on to state in the next sentence:
This practice of previous free and informed [consent] has been implemented since 2011. Initially it was applied to hydroelectric projects in the Lenca indigenous zone (Intibuca and La Paz)….
This time we have the word of a Honduran court and the Public Prosecutor’s office that this is not true.
This year, the Fiscalia de Etnias, a part of the Public Prosecutor’s office that is supposed to defend the rights of the indigenous peoples of Honduras, took the former vice head of SERNA, Marco Johnathan Lainez Ordoñez, and the Mayor of Intibuca, Martiniano Dominguez Meza to court over the approval process for the Agua Zarca dam.
A Honduran court ruled there was no prior consultation in the case of the Agua Zarca dam on the border between the municipalities of Intibuca and San Francisco de Ojuera. The court said that SERNA did carry out consultation with the residents of San Francisco de Ojuera on December 8 and 9, 2010, but they live downstream from the project. The residents of Rio Blanco, in Intibuca, where the dam was to be constructed, were never consulted, nor were they invited to the consultation session in San Francisco de Ojuera. On March 24, 2011, SERNA issued a 50 year Environmental License for the Agua Zarca dam without consulting the resident of the town most impacted by the dam.
This may have been because DESA, the company petitioning for the rights to build the project, listed its location as San Francisco de Ojuera, but the maps submitted with the project clearly show it being built on the border between the two municipalities, with most of the disruption falling to the upstream commmunity, Rio Blanco. Only the actual power generation facility was located in San Francisco de Ojuera. The dam, and a diversion canal that took water out of the river for power generation, were in Rio Blanco.
Ordoñez was convicted in June of this year of illegally giving the Agua Zarca project its environmental license in violation of the ILO 169 rights of the residents of Rio Blanco. A second charge of abuse of authority has been filed by the same Fiscalia de Etnias against Lainez Ordoñez in a second Lenca dam dispute, this one on behalf of the Lenca community of Gualjiquiro in La Paz.
The mayor was charged with abuse of authority for having given the municipal permission to construct the dam without consulting with the people in Rio Blanco. His case is still pending.
So the Honduran Courts demonstrate that the second statement, about beginning consultations in 2011 with the hydroelectric projects in the Lenca region is false. As the UN Relator on the Rights of Indigenous People noted in the ILO report (page 155):
even in the cases where the indigenous people have title to their lands, they are menaced by claims from third parties who make claims over indigenous land and protect park lands for development of mineral and energy projects, model cities, and tourism.
The ILO commission which took this testimony issued a set of conclusions that noted that in the 20 years since Honduras signed the treaty, there has been no progress to formalizing rules for prior, free, and informed consultation of the indigenous peoples of Honduras when development or exploitation projects will impact their communities (page 182). It urged the government of Honduras to develop policies, rules, and procedures to guarantee the prior, free, and informed consultation of indigenous groups in all cases where it applies.