New report examines rights violations by Chinese business activities in Latin America

Efraín Ramos

Within the framework of the 49th session of the UN Human Rights Council, more than 60 civil society organizations -among them the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)- released a new report today that evaluates 26 Chinese projects in nine Latin American countries, finding a pattern of non-compliance with international standards on human rights and the environment by the Chinese government.

China has become a strategic actor for the financing and construction of large development projects in Latin America, generating a direct impact on the lives and rights of Latin Americans. This is worrying, even more so, knowing that 21 countries in the region have already joined the China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI)– a global infrastructure development strategy to invest in nearly 70 countries and international organizations.

The Chinese government has participated in three cycles of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR: 2009, 2013, and 2018) and in the last one, the Collective on Chinese Financing and Investments, Human Rights and the Environment (CICDHA) [1] prepared eight “Shadow Reports” on its extraterritorial responsibility regarding the activities of its companies and banks in Latin America. Thanks to this advocacy process, China assumed several commitments accepting six recommendations that correspond to the fulfillment of extraterritorial obligations by the government aimed at respecting and protecting human rights and the environment in all its business operations outside of China.

The report, Human rights and Chinese business activities in Latin America, evaluates compliance with the recommendations adopted by China in its latest UPR, based on the examination of human and nature rights’ violations in 26 projects with Chinese participation. The report implicated 23 consortiums and at least six banks that are involved in developing projects in the mining (12), hydroelectric (6), oil and gas (3), and other (5) sectors.

The general conclusion of this report is that the Chinese government has made insufficient efforts to fulfill the commitments assumed in the last UPR and that the pattern of rights violations described in 2018 continues to be systemic. Among the significant findings, in 24 cases there were violations of the right to live in a healthy environment and an environment free from damage; in 18 cases, there were violations of the right to participation and free, prior, and informed consultation and consent, and in half of the cases there were violations of the right to land, territory and adequate housing. Likewise, there is a constant presence of violations of fundamental civil, political, and labor rights, individual and collective rights, among others.

Faced with this evidence, the organizations that prepared the report provide several recommendations, including that the Chinese government prepare an Action Plan on Business and Human Rights where urgent measures are adopted to ensure that its entities comply with their extraterritorial obligations to prevent impacts to the environment, human rights and territory of the affected communities.

The organizations demand that Chinese banks and companies operating in Latin America carry out a due diligence review throughout project cycles and adopt judicial and internal mechanisms that provide adequate and timely response and remediation for social and environmental impacts—caused by Chinese entities, including access to judicial remedies for victims of human rights violations so that they present their claims for reparation in the jurisdiction of their country or China.

They also demand control mechanisms, transparency, and access to information for civil society, and that accountability clauses related to the protection of human rights, the environment, and the sustainability of natural resources be incorporated into trade agreements.

Finally, the Collective also makes specific observations and recommendations to Chinese companies and entities, and to the governments that issued recommendations to China within the framework of the UPR.

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