In Latin America, few indigenous peoples’ rights have received as much attention as the right to free, prior, and informed consultation and consent (FPIC). In a region with enormous cultural diversity and high levels of social conflict associated with extractive and investment projects, indigenous peoples have used FPIC as a tool to resist the impacts of those projects on their territories. State authorities, the private sector, financial institutions, and other actors have also viewed prior consultation as a key tool for preventing social conflict.
An important part of DPLF’s work, through its Human Rights and Natural Resources program, has been to reinforce the inclusion of international standards on free, prior, and informed consultation (FPIC) in the norms, public policies, and case law of Latin American states. We have worked to provide legal support to civil society organizations (CSOs) and indigenous movements that are working to incorporate these standards into the laws and practices of their States. To this end, we have carried out advocacy activities, published case law digests, prepared specialized studies and analyses, monitored judicial proceedings, and filed amicus curiae briefs in emblematic cases.
Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador recently embraced an unfounded smear campaign against civil society organizations (CSOs) and international foundations that have supported initiatives and decisions that—on legal grounds—challenge or oppose the “Mayan Train” mega-project in the Yucatán Peninsula and other states in southeastern Mexico. It seems that the president is beginning to suffer from the binary and decidedly authoritarian political syndrome seen in many Latin American rulers: either you’re with me or you’re against me.
The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on indigenous peoples, along with the context of violence and territorial dispossession to their detriment, forces us to think of solutions from the most varied legal and political spheres. On the occasion of the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, celebrated on August 9, this essay summarizes the way in which international law has addressed self-determination, with an emphasis on the need to strengthen its application to indigenous peoples. This is because of the imperative to preserve the existence of such peoples and their cultures, and the need to mitigate the effects of environmental crises of which the exposure to pathogens displaced from their natural habitat – such as SARS-COVID-2 – is only one manifestation.
In 1994, the UN General Assembly chose August 9th as the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples. This day serves a moment for civil society, states, and the international community to reflect on the challenges in ensuring respect for indigenous peoples’ rights. This essay will focus on the right to free, prior and informed consultation (FPIC), which faces major challenges in its implementation. This right was recognized in constitutions that established a new model for the participation of indigenous peoples in state decisions. In the 80’s and 90’s, various states in the Western Hemisphere began to define themselves as multicultural societies and abandoned the previously dominant integrationist constitutional paradigm. This paradigm was based on two main premises: i) indigenous peoples’ cultures tend to extinguish due to their unsuitability to the economic and social order; and ii) public authorities must mediate the assimilation of indigenous peoples to the rest of society, guaranteeing them minimum economic and social rights.