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Access to Justice

EU and Latin America: Human rights cannot be the cost of trade

The EU has increased its imports from Latin America by 50% in the last decade. It is the region’s third largest trading partner.

But this increase in trade and wealth is not reaching ordinary people across Latin America. Instead, human rights abuses, land grabs and high rates of malnutrition are the results of these trade increases.

In Guatemala crop exports continue to increase while the child malnutrition rate is over 40%. Latin America is one of the most dangerous places in the world for human rights defenders. Hundreds have been killed in recent years trying to protect their land and families.

The EU must protect human rights defenders. The EU must also disclose exactly what EU companies are exploiting land and where, across Latin America. Human rights cannot be the cost of trade.

An EU-CELAC (Community of Latin America and Caribbean) Summit is taking place on 26 and  27 October 2017 in El Salvador. Its stated aim is to ‘discuss issues such as trade and development and common challenges such as fight against crime and climate change’.

This week, in preparation for that summit, members of CIFCA, a network of 33 Europe-based non-governmental development and human rights organisations, advocacy networks and others are coming together for a Civil Society Forum.

It is expected that more than 100 organisations from the European Union and Latin America and the Caribbean will meet to discuss human rights, women’s rights, and civil society participation among other topics.

The Forum will help shape demands from civil society organisations for the EU and CELAC when they meet next month. It is also expected that high-level representatives of both CELAC and the EU will participate in the CIFCA Forum itself.

Trócaire is an active member of the CIFCA network, and a representative from our Nicaragua office will be at the Forum. Trócaire works with organisations across Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua that defend land rights, human rights, and natural resources.

Dangers for human rights defenders

To illustrate the dangers faced by people defending their land and natural resources, The Guardian newspaper, in partnership with Global Witness, is tracking the number of people killed for defending the rights of their communities this year.

At time of writing it is 127 so far in 2017. A high number of these people have been killed in Latin American countries such as Brazil, Mexico, Colombia and Guatemala.

In March last year there was an international outcry when environmental activist and indigenous leader, Berta Cáceres, was murdered in Honduras.

Earlier this year, a group of MEPs voiced their support for Berta’s daughter, Berta Zúñiga Cáceres’, campaign to bring those responsible for her mother’s death to justice.

While this is a welcome development, a subsequent attempt on Berta Zúñiga Cáceres’ life in Honduras in July, underlines just how dangerous the situation is for those who dare to speak out against the practices of corporations and governments.

And how much more needs to be done by the EU collectively to defend the defenders.

It is also worth noting that Berta’s activism, through the organisation COPINH, was related to a hydroelectric dam project that involved a Chinese company, Sinohydro, the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation, and Honduran company Desarrollos Energéticos S.A. (DESA), rather than exclusively European-based interests.

Both Sinohydro and the International Finance Corporation withdrew from the project as a result of COPINH’s protests.

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