EU/CELAC Days of Mobilization, building the way toward a binding Treaty

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On the occasion of the official EU/CELAC Heads of States Summit (10-11 June) which brings together 61 Heads of States from the European Union and Latin America and the Caribbean, CIDSE joined several civil society organizations and social movement from both continents who came together during the "Days of Mobilization" (8-10 June) to reclaim sovereignty against corporate-led trade and to discuss possible alternatives.

While European and Latin-American presidents were discussing migration, climate change and possible new Free Trade Agreements (FTA) between both regions, civil society organisations gathered to discuss alternatives to the neoliberal agenda and more specifically how an internationally binding treaty on transnational companies (TNC) could ensure that States effectively protects Human Rights, but also that companies are made legally responsible to respect them. For cases of Human Rights violation, a binding treaty could also help to ensure that victims have an access to remedy.

The Days of Mobilization started on Monday 8th June with a public debate together with representatives of Trade Unions; representatives of NGOs working on the relations between the EU and Latin America; some Members of the European Parliament and the Head of the Ecuador Permanent Mission to the UN in Geneva. For CIDSE and other Brussels based networks working on Latin America, it was the opportunity to launch a short animated videohttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5-kkwHpCe-A which explains how a trade relationship - mainly based on the extraction of raw materials - is contributing to depletion of non-renewable natural resources, global warming and social conflicts.

Link to the video : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5-kkwHpCe-A

On the second day, the participants had to divide into two parallel sessions. One was dedicated to "Reclaiming Peoples Sovereignty for Access to Justice" and the other to "New generation of Free Trade Agreements and its impacts in Latin America and Europe". In this session, participants widely recognized that the benefits of FTAs between EU and Latin America are increasingly ending up in the hands of a small group of privileged people instead of serving the common good. In the session dedicated to "Peoples Access to Justice", the audience had the chance to listen to several testimonies highlighting the complicity of TNCs and corrupted States in many Human Rights abuses and environmental crimes. The Brazilian organization MAB (Movimento dos Atingidos por Barragens - Movement of People Affected by Dams), partner of several CIDSE members, explained how the government's < green energy > policy is affecting several indigenous communities still living in voluntary isolation from the western world. The session continued with civil society movements explaining what kind of alternatives they have been experimenting. MAB told the public about when they brought the case in front of the Permanent Peoples Tribunal in Madrid and how this helped raise awareness within the Brazilian society on the impacts of so called "green energy".

The third and last day of the Days of Mobilization was also the opening for the official EU/CELAC summit when all Heads of States gathered in Brussels and, as usual during official EU summits, the city was drowned in the roar of the helicopters in charge of the security. For civil society members, the day started with a session on the UN transnational corporations Treaty as a new potential avenue for justice. During the opening session, panellist highlighted the worldwide asymmetrical judicial system. While some communities have been reclaiming justice for years, a growing number of TNCs are using the Investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) to sue developing countries for lost benefits due to social and environmental laws. Panellists also recalled that though some countries have ratified the convention 169 of the International Labour Organisation (ILO), many governments don't respect this convention that provides indigenous population the right to a free prior and informed consent before the start of any kind of project that might affect their way of life. On the contrary, States too often collude with private sector interests at the detriment of affected communities, and the examples abound:

  • In Guatemala, the opening of the Marlin mine was accompanied by the militarisation of the province. Local communities are now more divided and violence against women has increased. Many feel cheated because the jobs promised by the companies are inexistent while the land and the water is polluted.

  • In Ecuador, the 22 year long legal case against Chevron-Texaco for the massive oil spill in the Amazon still have not been resolved, partly because of obstacles concerning jurisdiction and international legal cooperation between Ecuador and the United States. An international binding Treaty on TNCs could help the victims to access justice.

  • In South Africa, the government is accused of complicity in the massacre of mining workers who declared strike to reclaim higher wages and better working conditions in 2012.

  • In Honduras, Human Right defenders who reclaim access to the land of their ancestors are criminalized and extra judicial killings are legion.

  • In Mozambique, Vale, a Brazilian Mining TNC, is extracting coal at the expenses of local population who no longer can access arable land and clean water.

The cases above are just a few named in the room but they are enough to highlight the urgent need for a binding treaty to control the impacts of TNCs. Participants highlighted that individual countries often don't have the legal instruments to address the issue of crimes with extraterritorial dimensions. Many governments around the world might be complicit in this situation but those who would like to act miss the legislative tools to enforce their will.

The abundance of examples needs to be more visible in order to enhance the pressure on governments from the EU and Latin America to join the first session of the UN Human Rights Council open-ended intergovernmental working group on transnational corporations and other business enterprises with respect to human rights, whose mandate shall be to elaborate an international legally binding instrument to regulate, in international human rights law, the activities of transnational corporations and other business enterprises.

The closing activity of the Days of Mobilization was an "Impunity Tour in the EU Quarter in Brussels" during which Civil Society Members from both continents could walk around in the world's second largest lobby city (Washington DC being the first city in the world in terms of lobby presence). It was again the opportunity to expose the financial, political and judicial power of multinational corporations.

CIDSE, June 2015