Commentary: Digital consultations amid COVID-19 pandemic demonstrate investment-opportunism & risks indigenous communities’ survival

Author: Sam Szoke-Burke, Thomas Reuters Foundation, Published on: 28 May 2020

 Community supervision of mineral prospecting in Tsumkwe District West, Namibia

“Land and resource investment consultations in the time of COVID-19: The hazards of pressing on”, 24 May 2020

[T]he Philippines, Liberia, and Colombia are experiencing increased pressures on their lands and resources…, from governments…, [c]ompanies and connected elites…seeking to forge ahead with investments on community lands or even take advantage of the [COVID-19] pandemic to avoid the usual authorization. [Similarly]…, investment-related opportunism in Liberia [was reported] during the Ebola crisis. [Recently], Colombia…announced a plan to use digital technology for community consultations on extractive industry projects…, despite…90% of Indigenous lands [having a]…lack of internet access.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights…has noted the “impossibility” of obtaining community consent…during [COVID-19]…and urged governments to suspend procedures for authorizing resource investments in or around Indigenous territories. Mining companies continuing operations are experiencing strong community resistance [and]…may risk…liability for exposing employees to unnecessary risks or breaching quarantine laws. 

Communities need to organize, deliberate, access legal empowerment and technical support, and make their voice heard despite power imbalances. Technology government or companies seems unlikely to address such challenges [and]...may even exacerbate them, introduce security risks, and intensify gender inequality, all while increasing pressure on the community to acquiesce. Resort[ing] to digital consultations when the stakes are as high as signing away lands and resources that community members rely simply too precarious. 


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