The Environmental and Social Impacts of Dams: Mapping the Issues
22 Pages Posted: 5 Jul 2014
Date Written: July 1, 2014
In 2011, the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (“Guiding Principles”) for the first time established an authoritative global standard for preventing and addressing the risk of adverse human rights impacts linked to business activity. These were the product of many years’ research and extensive consultations by UN Special Representative John Ruggie involving government, companies, business associations and civil society around the world. The Guidelines described how states can better manage business and human rights challenges based on the three pillars “Protect, Respect and Remedy” Framework: 1) the state duty to protect human rights, 2) the corporate responsibility to respect human rights, and 3) the need for greater access to remedy for victims of business related abuse. This common paper analyzes the challenges faced as a result of large-scale infrastructure projects, in particular dams. The experiences of five countries are considered – Turkey, Spain, Brazil, India and South Africa – in light of national and international law and the UN Guiding Principles.
Dams present particular challenges. They are long-term projects, unlike other businesses. Their impact on local communities is more enduring, ranging from environment to social issues, from national development policies to the resolution of the country’s energy and resource needs, and they have potential human rights impacts, arising from land expropriation, to forced eviction, and to the displacement and resettlement of local communities, and the compensation of victims. But most importantly, they fall beyond John Ruggie’s important UN Guidelines on Business and Human Rights, making this current study especially significant for that reason alone. As we will see, the interests of foreign investors, international treaty obligations, as well as the demands of global institutions such as the World Bank are in addition also further factors that complicate the state’s response – political and legislative – to the challenges raised by dams.
The experience of the five countries highlights how legislative, judicial, and executive initiatives have an increasingly important role to play in navigating around these myriad interests. Sections II and III of this paper focus on the legislative experiences of South Africa and Spain, respectively, while section IV explores the various challenges faced by Brazil in the protection of the rights of local population during the two phases of dam development: planning and bidding, and construction and outsourcing. Sections V and VI examine the legislative, political and judicial responses to the issues raised by large scale dam development in Turkey and India.
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