Human Rights and Small Nations Environmental Impact Assessment

by Paula Cortes

The constantly changing world direction in politics and economy and the speed given by new technologies are continually modifying human lifestyle, environmental conditions and life perspectives. Many human rights (HR) have been transformed through the last century; rights have appeared, as the right to vote for women or to go to school in some countries. The primary meaning of a right is what it is given, and it seems natural to people; like natural events as the right to be born, to have a nationality or the right to water (1). In the history of human rights, changes and challenges happen every day. Women, for example, saw the modification of their rights the last century, those rights that now females possess were different in 1930. There wasn’t a baseline for female participation in politics 80 years ago. After this simple example of transformation, I wonder what is going to be the baseline in terms of water, air, or land rights in the future? Can big projects such as the construction of a dam or a tar sands operation exterminate a small nation’s lands and culture?


In 2011, leaders of the world with the UN released the guide to human rights in EIA and management (1). One of its aims was to determine under which circumstances it should be used; it targets what they have called the umbrella of rights. The guide recommends that it be used as an instrument for numerous cases where human rights   are compromised: such as weak governance zones; areas where human rights are poorly implemented, and areas with high environmental and social risks (1).  It presents steps to follow under different situations in projects and shows how to implement fair approaches in HR. It has a clear structure an it offers detailed mitigation examples for HR when they have been impacted. It also has HR identification exercises that can be applied to real cases. The use of the guide is optional for those cases when human rights are under threat.


HR in EIA and management are meant to protect, and provide protection for human and natural resources, they shouldn’t be treated as low-value items expecting to be considered as an option. Developing countries shouldn’t be left in a marginal situation. The weakness of their governments normally does not guarantee protection for small communities, especially for the ones that are isolated. Human rights have been notably forgotten during the implementation and decision of many environmental projects in Canada, as well as in Latin America in countries like Peru, Colombia and Ecuador in addition to other countries across globe. In Canada, for example, the First Nations were isolated for years. They did not participate in projects for years before the James Bay agreement. In the Ecuadorian Amazon, the communities were ignored, and their rights over their lands not recognized for almost 50 years, leaving people without access to potable water and with very poor soil conditions. The use of a guide of Human rights should be a frame for EIA’s and in the management of natural resources. It should also be part of international protocols and agreements.

It is well known that there are gaps in the approaches and assessments in the management of human rights (1), as well as in EIA projects (2). Therefore ensuring mega projects adhere to  real regulations in terms of the future human conditions and sustainability should be mandatory for big corporations and companies in all countries. The inclusion of all of a community’s needs, principles and cultural backgrounds should always be addressed in the execution of the EIA’s for new projects. Human rights are an issue today in many countries around the world, but how is this going to change in the next century? Are future generations of an entire nation at risk for what big companies have left them, in terms of land, environment and rights?



  1. Guide to human rights impact assessment and management, 2011 . International Business Leaders Forum, the International Finance Corporation, and the United Nations Global Compact.
  2. International study of the effectiveness of environmental assessment. Final report. Environmental assessment in a changing world. Evaluating practice to improve performance, prepared by Barry Sadler. CEAA and IAIA. June 1996
  3. Environmental Assessment in Canada: Encouraging decisions for sustainability pg 478 in in Resource and Environmental Management in Canada Bruce Mitchell Oxford University Press.
  4. Bram, Noble 2010. Applying adaptive environmental management pag 458 in Resource and Environmental Management in Canada Bruce Mitchell. Oxford University Press .



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