Indigenous human rights defenders and NGOs call on EDF Group to comply with its duty of vigilance regarding human rights prescribed by the French “Duty of Vigilance” law
Paris, France. October 1st 2019. Indigenous human rights defenders, communal representatives from Unión Hidalgo, Oaxaca (Mexico), Mexican human rights organization Proyecto de Derechos Económicos, Sociales y Culturales (ProDESC), and Berlin-based human rights organization European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR), sent a formal letter urging French company Électricité de France (EDF) to comply with its duty under French law to identify risks of violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms in their global operations and provide appropriate measures to prevent such violations. Since 2011, Unión Hidalgo human rights defenders have been actively protecting their rights to land, territory and natural resources from repeated violations and threats by extractives projects – many of them implemented by transnational companies based in Europe.
Even though wind farms aim to produce “green” and “clean” energy, violations of indigenous people’s rights in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec –where Unión Hidalgo is located- has been systematic since the start of the installation of such projects.
The letter stresses the lack of human rights risks’ identification and appropriate measures in EDF’s vigilance plan effectively preventing the violation of the rights of indigenous peoples to free, prior and inform consent, to defend human rights, as well as to access to information and public participation in decision-making processes related to EDF’s wind power project “Gunaa Sicarú”. This project represents a $353 million USD investment in a power plant comprising a 115 wind turbines to be developed in the land of the community of Unión Hidalgo.
The petitioners deeply regret that the Gunaa Sicarú project was initiated in an adverse context hindering indigenous community’s right to self-determination. Several administrative measures have been submitted by and granted to EDF’s Mexican subsidiary, Eólica de Oaxaca. Contracts were signed before the community was even informed of the project and able to give its consent, as provided by international human rights standards.
In addition, the letter points out that the Hidalgo community has been excluded from decision-making processes related to the project planning as well as the elaboration of environmental and social impact assessments. EDF’s environmental and social impact assessments do not identify nor propose effective preventive and mitigation measures with respect to EDF project’s cumulative human rights impact in the region, despite operating 27 wind energy projects in the same region.
The petitioners are particularly concerned by the divisions that have emerged within the community since the arrival of the Gunaa Sicarú project. Aggressions and security incidents have increased with the indigenous consultation process led by the Mexican government on the project. Similarly, human rights defenders of Unión Hidalgo have been stigmatized, harassed, threatened and publically criminalized by supporters of the Gunaa Sicarú project.
This situation has led both local and national human rights commissions to issue precautionary measures seeking to avoid conflict and secure the life and integrity of human rights defenders in the region. More recently, the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders issued an Urgent Appeal expressing serious concerns by the increasing level of risk for human rights defenders in Unión Hidalgo.
The petitioners are seriously concerned that these risks posed to internationally recognized human rights have not been effectively addressed in EDF’s Vigilance Plan. Hence, the petitioners formally request EDF to comply with its duty of vigilance as established in the French Law No 2017-399 of March 27, 2017 by specifying in its Plan the specific appropriate measures to be carried out in order to prevent and mitigate its impacts on human rights and environment caused by its activities thorough the world, particularly in Mexico
It is the first time that Mexican indigenous community seeks the exercise of its rights under the framework of French Law on the Duty of Vigilance. It is also the first action on the basis of this Law involving a company majorly state-owned.
ProDESC has been supporting the community of Unión Hidalgo through strategic litigation and advocacy promoting the exercise of the community’s rights to self-determination, free, prior and informed consent, as well as its public participation in matters concerning development and the environment.
The ECCHR, has collaborated with ProDESC in developing transnational litigation strategy and legal analysis on the respect of human rights by transnational companies in Oaxaca. In 2019, the ECCHR was interviewed as a legal expert by the French National Contact Point (NCP) at the French Ministry of Economic Affairs, after the community filed an OECD complaint to the NCP. However, in July 29th, 2019, the complainants stepped out of the procedure, after almost a year and a half of mediation with no substantial results.
 Project of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.