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Oxec S.A. lawsuit (re consultation for hydroelectric plants, Guatemala)

In 2015, a complaint was filed in the Guatemalan Supreme Court of Justice on behalf of the indigenous community Q'Echi against the ministry of Energy and Mining (MEM) which challenged the construction of two hydroelectric dam projects. The plaintiffs contended the dams would violate their rights to life, health, environment, and access to water. The Court ordered a communal consultation process by conducted before the projects can proceed. MEM submitted five agreements which resulted from the consultation process, however some communities contest the validity of these agreements.

 

Para la versión en español de este perfil de las demandas judiciales, haga clic acá.

Factual Background

Two Guatemala-based companies, Oxec S.A. and Oxec II S.A., oversaw two hydroelectric dam projects to be built along the Cahabon river. Both companies are owned by Energy Resources Capital Corporation, registered in Panama. Local indigenous communities claimed that they were not formally consulted and expressed concern that the dams would damage their environment and violate their rights. 

Legal Argument

Bernardo Caal Xól filed a complaint on behalf of indigenous community Q´Eqchi against the Ministry of Energy and Mining (MEM), alleging that construction of the dams would violate community members’ rights to life, health, environment & ecobalance, access to water, as well as principles of legality and consultation with indigenous peoples.  The plaintiffs demanded that the licenses for hydroelectric projects be suspended until the indigenous community in the Santa María Cahabón municipality was formally consulted in accordance with the ILO Convention concerning Indigenous and Tribal Peoples in Independent Countries.

Legal Proceeding

In December 2015, Bernardo Caal Xól filed a complaint with the Guatemalan Supreme Court of Justice. On 22 April 2016, the Court allowed the case to proceed and issued a provisional suspension order for the construction works.  On 29 April 2016, Oxec and MEM presented the documents to the Court, presumably confirming that the community consultation had been carried out.  As a result, the Court revoked the previous provisional order.  The community members claimed that the consultation had never taken place and scheduled their own consultation for 31 July 2016.  The company petitioned the civil court of Coban to suspend the consultation, only 48 hours before the scheduled date.  The judge granted the petition, thereby preventing the consultation from happening.

In January 2017, the Supreme Court of Justice pronounced a final decision on the complaint in favour of Bernardo Caal, halting the construction until the question of community consultation was addressed.  In February 2017, the Constitutional Court upheld the suspension of the Oxec hydropower plants construction due to alleged irregularities in the community consultation process.  In May 2017, the Constitutional Court lifted the suspension and granted Oxec permission to resume the works, at the condition that adequate consultation would be carried out within 12 months.

In August 2017, indigenous communities held their own consultation in the municipality of Santa Maria de Cahabon, voting against the dam construction by a large majority.  However, the results of this community-led consultation were not considered as valid by the authorities as the consultation did not comply with the consultation procedure set out in the Constitutional Court’s ruling. 

Latest Update

In December 2017, the MEM announced that a consultation with 11 indigenous communities had been carried out in September 2017, resulting in five agreements submitted to the Supreme Court for approval.  The agreements tackle the company’s environmental obligations, elaborate a sustainable development plan for the communities and establish a monitoring mechanism.  The implementation of the agreements will be subject to periodic control by the authorities.

Civil society organisations argue that the consultation process was inadequate because it violated the legal requirement of anteriority and did not  involve all affected communities. The Oxec hydroelectric plant is currently in operation, while Oxec II is still in construction.

Additionally, four workers of Netzone S.A., a company in charge of Oxec construction, pressed charges against Bernardo Caal, accusing him of illegal detentions and robbery.  In February 2018, the Cobán Tribunal ordered his pre-trial detention.  Bernardo Caal claimed that the accusations were false and were an attempt to silence criticism.  He led the opposition to the dams’ construction and had filed two lawsuits against Oxec, one alleging illegal cutting of trees and one alleging illegal use of national property in the area where the construction would be taking place.  Alianza por la Solidaridad and Greenpeace Spain launched a campaign demanding to free the imprisoned indigenous leader. On 9 November 2018, the court of Alta Verapaz sentenced Bernardo Caal to 7 years and 4 months in prison.

[EN]

- "Guatemala – Oxec Case", Legal Consortium, August 2017
- "Guatemala: Oxec Hydroelectric Station to Resume Operations", Central America Data, 29 May 2017
- "Rivers at Risk in Guatemala", Revue Magazine, 27 Feb 2017
- "Guatemala: Hydroelectric Dam Conflicts Bring Back Past Horrors for Indigenous Communities", Upside Down World, 23 Feb 2017
- "Real Madrid Boss Involved in Dam Threatening 30,000 Mayan Lives", Telesur, 21 Feb 2017
- "Guatemala: Hydroelectrics and Legal Uncertainty", Central America Data, 20 Feb 2017
- "Victory for Guatemala's Mayan People", Telesur, 15 Jan 2017
- "Guatemala’s indigenous water protectors organize to challenge hydroelectric projects", Waging Non-Violence, 30 Nov 2016

[ES]

- "Bernardo Caal es sentenciado a más de siete años de cárcel por dos delitos", Prensa Libre, 9 November 2018
- “MEM finaliza consultas a 11 comunidades por caso Oxec”, Prensa Libre, 12 December 2017
“La votación contra la hidroeléctrica, en el día en que Jimmy Morales provocó su peor crisis”, Plaza Pública, 28 August 2017
“Consulta de Oxec no fue convocada por el Ministerio de Energía y Minas", Prensa Libre, 24 August 2017
-  “Cacif pide intervención de OIT sobre consultas a comunidades, La Prensa, 24 July 2017
-  "La Corte de Constitucionalidad de Guatemala le permite a la hidroeléctrica Oxec seguir trabajando", El Economista, 26 May 2017
-  ”Hidroeléctrica Oxec reanudará operaciones por orden de la CC”, El Siglo, 26 May 2017
-  “Comité Coordinador de Asociaciones Comerciales, Industriales y Financieraspide a Corre Constitucional que resuelva recursos que mantienen suspendida la hidroeléctrica Oxec”, El Siglo 21, 3 May 2017
-  “Guatemala: Informe sobre violaciones de derechos humanos y ataques a defensores/as por proyectos hidroeléctricos”, Business and Human Rights Resource Centre, 19 March 2017
-  “Potencial cancelación del proyecto hidroeléctrico Oxec causa reacciones perversas”, Centro de Medios Independientes, 27 Feb 2017
-  "Dejan vigente suspensión de hidroeléctrica", El Periodico, 2 February 2017

Court documents

- [PDF] [Available in Spanish] Bernardo Caal vs. Ministerio de Energía y Minas, Decision on the appeal , 26 May 2017
-  [PDF] [Available in Spanish] Bernardo Caal vs. Ministerio de Energía y Minas, Decision on the complaint, 4 Jan 2017

  

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