As one of the last of the annual commissions held during the spring at United Nations headquarters in New York, the Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) was just as much of a success as the previous commissions and forums held throughout February, March, and April. The CSD is one of the UN’s newest commissions, but was fairly well attended this year. The CSD took place this year from May 3 – May 14, and aimed to draw international attention to issues in sustainable development worldwide, specifically focusing on five main thematic issues: transport, chemicals, waste management, mining, and building a ten-year framework of programmes on sustainable consumption and production patterns.
During the CSD this year, many NGOs were fortunate enough to hold many side events to correspond with the official UN sessions during the commission. VIVAT, along with several partner NGOs and other groups, organized two highly successful side events on the subject of sustainable development—one on the need for free, prior, and informed consent of indigenous peoples affected by mining, and one on the ecological, social, and political dangers of dam construction, specifically in Latin America.
Mining: Calling for Free, Prior, and Informed Consent
The first of the two side events hosted by VIVAT, organized with the Maryknoll Sisters and other NGO groups, was entitled “Mining: Calling for Free, Prior, and Informed Consent,” and was an event meant to highlight the need for free, prior, and informed consent of indigenous communities affected by mining. Through focusing on three specific grassroots communities in Peru, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Bolivia, the event presented the lessons learned in campaigns to advocate for the indigenous people left out of major mining decisions in their communities.
Members in Flores, Indonesia, elected Ms. Octaviana Hemmy Asamsama, a clinical psychologist from Indonesia, to speak in regards to local efforts to bring voices to the marginalized of Indonesia’s rural indigenous population. Along with presentations from grassroots voices, the event also involved the active participation of the Consellor Alan Coelho de Sellos of the Brazilian delegation who presented the process for developing mining for lithium, an example of developing a pattern of sustainable production.
All in all, the mining event hosted by VIVAT was a great success, raising awareness about sustainable development issues in mining through the use of examples from specific VIVAT members. With the UN’s particular focus on issues of mining, VIVAT is hopeful and optimistic that the topic will become a mainstream idea in future discussions and international actions on the subject of sustainable development.
Land Yes! Dams No! Building Cycles of Mobilization
One highly charged topic, specifically with many VIVAT members in Brazil, is the controversy surrounding dam construction, as governments often decide to begin new, massive dam projects with-out the free, prior, and informed consent of the native population who will be directly affected by a dam in their water source, and who will ultimately suffer huge environmental, social, and economic crises at the direct hand of the dam. To bring this rarely discussed controversy to light at the international level, VIVAT along with partner NGOs hosted a side event at the CSD entitled “Land Yes! Dams No! Building Cycles of Mobilization.”
The event boasted a diverse, truly informative panel with a range of guests to speak on the topic. The first panelist, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, a member of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, spoke of specific and horrific stories of indigenous peoples in her country who resisted the government when it was ordered that dams be build in their lands. The results of which led to many bloody massacres of countless innocent mothers, fathers, and children, who only wished to stay living in their indigenous lands. The next panelist, Frederico Menino, a Brazilian political scientist, shared the success story of VIVAT’s member group in Brazil, MOAB (Movement of Peoples Affected by Dams), to resist a massive Brazilian dam construction project for decades. Mr. Menino used both a presentation and short DVD to illustrate the struggle of the indigenous peoples of the land. Next, Mary Corbett presented a moving story of the struggles of a Guatemalan boy who saw his family slaughtered when they resisted a dam project on their land. Finally, Judith Kimerling presented the international and environmental laws that support resistance movements against dam construction projects.
Not only was the side event a great success in terms of attendance, panelists, and persuasive information given, but it was a particularly special success thanks to the active participation of diplomatic missions in attendance, particularly the Brazilian delegation. While we had originally hoped and anticipated that some governments would be in attendance, the Brazilian delegates who did come were not only attentive during the presentation, but they were genuinely intrigued and brought many questions and comments to the panelists. The active participation of such governments gives hope that one day, and one day soon, more and more governments and state delegations will pay attention to the plight of indigenous peoples in issues of sustainable development, specifically in the rarely discussed controversy surrounding dams.