San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Study Says Costa Rica Violates Indigenous Residents' Rights

A six-month study by the University of Texas School of Law’s Human Rights Clinic concluded that the Costa Rican government has repeatedly violated the rights of indigenous people living near the El Diquís dam project site, located south of the town of Buenos Aires in the country’s southern zone.

According to student researchers, the Costa Rican Electricity Institute (ICE) has not kept the local Teribe residents informed of its project plans and ongoing activities, even though international law requires them to do so. The project could flood 685 hectares of Teribe land and force the relocation of indigenous families.

“Costa Rica has failed to respect and protect the human rights of its indigenous peoples in the areas of information, property, representation and effective participation in decisions surrounding the [hydroelectric project],” the report reads. “Its national electricity authority, ICE, has not obtained the effective participation of the Teribe peoples as required under international law.”

The building of the hydroelectric dam is subject to completion of a feasibility study, expected be finished in 2011. However, the local tribe claims to have seen evidence of current construction, including blasting, road widening, drilling and other related activities.

“What does building a road have to do with feasibility studies,” asked Brandon Hunter, who was in Costa Rica this week and is a member of the study’s research team. “The tribe has not been consulted.”

Hunter says he submitted a request to ICE asking for a record of correspondence between ICE and the tribe, preliminary results of the feasibility study, and the minutes of all meetings between the two parties — all information Hunter believes should be public. So far, his efforts have been unsuccessful.

Other participants in the study told The Tico Times that Teribe residents are concerned about the impact the project will have on their community, not only with the loss of land, but also because of the influx of outsiders to the area. Authorities say the project will require 3,500 laborers, mostly men, which will result in increased traffic through indigenous lands and require improvements to infrastructure.

If the project moves forward, it would be the largest hydroelectric dam in Central America, generating electricity for more than one million consumers. But the project could also flood some 658 hectares and displace approximately 1,000 non-indigenous residents as well.

“For the purposes of this report, it’s not important whether or not the dam is built,” Hunter said. “That’s up to the community. Our goal is to ensure that the state protects the rights of the indigenous, which they haven’t,” he added.

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