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ARGENTINA | 23-03-2023 17:43

United Nations report criticises ‘structural discrimination’ against indigenous community in Argentina

United Nations Working Group on Business and Human Rights highlights repeated “evictions and violent interventions” in new report.

The UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights, an independent monitoring program of the Human Rights Council, has denounced the “structural discrimination” affecting the Indigenous population in Argentina.

In a report, released after the culmination of a 12-day visit by inspectors to Argentina, the delegation highlighted the unequal effects of Argentina’s high poverty rate. 

“Poverty is concentrated in certain regions, especially in the northern provinces of the country, with indigenous peoples being especially affected by social inequality, economic marginalisation and structural racism,” the report reads. 

The working group reported receiving a “worrying number of complaints of evictions and violent interventions, repressions, raids, criminalisation, and prosecution,” over the course of their visit, it revealed.

“The stigmatisation of the invisibility of indigenous peoples and communities in society in general, and in the media that exacerbate highly racist discourses, is unacceptable and accounts for an enormous historical debt of the State and the Argentine society with the native peoples,” the group concluded.

The delegation, led by committee chairwoman Pichamon Yeophantong and Fernanda Hopenhaym, called for “the authorities to address these episodes and the companies to refrain from any action that could be seen as harassment or pressure on indigenous peoples.”

This demand comes in the midst of repeated territorial disputes with local indigenous groups, such as the Mapuche. 

The report also criticised the management of a number of fast-growing industries – including so-called “mega-mining,” shale gas and lithium – for their tendency to perpetuate human rights abuses.

“Underlying these realities is a development model based on the overexploitation of natural resources that has resulted in, inter alia, a growth in mega-mining, the conventional and non-conventional extraction of hydrocarbons, and agro-industry. Although these sectors generate considerable economic activity, they have also led to serious human rights violations.”

The widespread use of biocides in locations with nearby populations was one human rights violation spotlighted in the report. 

“In the towns of Presidencia Roca and Pampa del Indio in the Province of Chaco, some 700 people were hospitalised in 2021 after aerial and ground fumigations carried out in the establishment of Don Panos from the company Unitec Bio,” reported the UN team. 

Unitec Bio, after carrying out these fumigations despite a 2012 precautionary measure limiting such action, has since been ordered to suspend all types of fumigation with agrochemicals in Don Panos by local courts. The rise in digestive, skin, respiratory, and reproductive health issues in areas impacted by biocides is a source of concern.

The Working Group also highlighted a concern with effects of water contaminated with heavy metals in mining and oil regions. They identify a clear harm “to the psycho-social-emotional health of the people who live with these industries and the permanent uncertainty regarding their physical health, territorial, economic, and water security and food.”

This comes as the increasing demand for lithium increased prices by almost 500 percent last year, making the mega-mining industry especially lucrative for Argentina. 

The UN team identified, “irregularities and systematic failures produced during the environmental impact assessment procedure, the effects of which could be irreversible for the planet and generate negative consequences for human rights.”

The Working Group identified the increase in the harmful extraction of hydrocarbons and minerals like lithium as coupled with repeated complaints regarding the “displacement of traditional communities and indigenous peoples caused by renewable energy projects, including hydroelectric dams and wind farms.”

The report also revealed “repeated violation of the right of indigenous peoples to consultation and to Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC).”
FPIC, a standard set by the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, requires that every member of an affected community is able to be consulted without any perception of pressure, such as private security or police. 

According to Yeophantong, “when it comes to consent, it’s not just about the outcome. The issue we’ve been seeing is fundamentally about the process” of ensuring FPIC. 

In regards to the state’s obligation to ensure human rights protections in the corporate sphere, the United Nations acknowledged that the National Business and Human Rights Action plan (PAN), a public policy strategy aimed at enacting the Guiding Principles, was a promising start. However, the working group pointed out a gap in accessibility to PAN, citing that many sectors — including indigenous communities, civil society, private actors, and provincial authorities — were unaware of its processes. 

An overarching thread throughout the report was a concern regarding the gaps in awareness of the Guiding Principles and a “lack of coordination” between national and local actors. 

As it pertains to the responsibility of businesses in ensuring human rights protections, the UN team stated that most companies tend to focus on “corporate social responsibility or philanthropy” as opposed to “business conduct that respects human rights.” 

Yeophantong complimented efforts toward advancing gender equality, but clarified that “inclusion doesn’t just mean gender inclusion, it’s a lot about that, but it’s not just only about that. It’s also about intersectionality. It’s about interculturality. It’s about speaking in their language.”

Furthermore, the report notes concerns from stakeholders regarding the intersection of business and political interests and the potential negative impact on “independence of judicial and human rights mechanisms at the provincial and municipal levels, with a lack of clarity on corporate responsibility leading to human rights abuses.”

The working group urged the government to do more to meet their responsibility by “raising awareness, providing guidance, and ensuring implementation and compliance” in the sphere of business and human rights.

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