Theoretical Perspectives

Theoretical Approaches to this project.

This project solely used the theoretical concept of human rights as a framework of analysis to understand and quantify the effects that large corporations have on both the environment and the land of indigenous communities worldwide through their self-serving business interests that have little regard for anything but profit. Through the lens of human rights, it was immediately obvious which rights the affected populations were being denied, for example, understanding how the attacks on human rights defenders infringe on the fundamental right to life, which serves to prove or back-up the negative effect of these businesses.

Human rights are rights we have simply because we exist as human beings – they are not granted by any state. These universal rights are inherent to us all, regardless of nationality, sex, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, language, or any other status. They range from the most fundamental – the right to life – to those that make life worth living, such as the rights to food, education, work, health, and liberty. (Source: OHCHR – )

Since their conception, human rights have become a guiding framework for international law and international charters. Thus they feed into the policy context of Development Education Perspective, through analyses of the UNGPs, (UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights) we could begin to understand how human rights can translate into government policy.

We were inspired by the ‘Praxis’ ethos in UCC which Freire defines as “reflection and action directed at the structures to be transformed” (Freire and Macedo, 2001a: 51) because it is not “enough for people to come together in dialogue to gain knowledge of their social reality” as we have done in understanding these issues, he writes that “they must act together upon their environment in order critically to reflect upon their reality and so transform it through further action and critical reflection.” This is why our campaign focused on awareness along with political action through supporting the Trócaire campaign on Business and Human Rights.

Human rights were important to our research in understanding the environmental impact of TNCs (Transnational Corporations) on the environment.

Environmental figures

The Guapinol 8 and Berta Caceres – Porfirio Sorto Cedillo, José Avelino Cedillo, Orbin Naún Hernández, Kevin Alejandro Romero, Arnold Javier Aleman, Ever Alexander Cedillo, Daniel Marquez and Jeremías Martínez Díaz, otherwise known as the Guapinol 8, are currently in prison in Honduras.  They are being held without evidence or trial and were arrested after engaging in a peaceful protest against the activities of a mining company, ‘Inversión Los Pinares,’ which led to the pollution of natural areas such as the Guapinol River, a vital water source for the local people of Guapinol. 

Berta Cáceres was an environmental activist.  She was a Lenca indigenous leader and co-founder of the Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras.  She opposed the construction of a dam in the Gualcarque River as part of the Agua Zarca hydroelectric project, as that river is sacred for the Lenca community.  The National Court of Honduras determined that her murder in March 2016 was carried out on behalf of the Honduran corporation in charge of the Agua Zarca project. 

Relevant Human Rights – Berta Cáceres and the Guapinol activists defended and are defending their right to free thought, expression and speech, the right to water, their right to a clean environment, and the rights of indigenous peoples.  Their persecution is a breach of their right to health, to a fair trial, and in Berta’s case, her right to life. 

Honduras is a party to the ICCPR, the ICESCR and the American Convention on Human Rights (“ACHR”).  The ICCPR and the ACHR protect the right to life, freedom of speech and expression, and a right to a fair and impartial trial.  Those rights have and are being breached by the Honduran government in respect of Berta Cáceres and the Guapinol 8.  Not only were they persecuted by the state for the expression of their beliefs; the treatment of those activists creates an environment in which it is highly dangerous to express one’s beliefs, which would almost certainly have a chilling effect on the exercise of those rights by other people.  It also shows the bravery of these activists in standing up for their beliefs in perilous circumstances and makes them powerful symbols of the exercise of the right to freedom of thought. 

The UN Committee on Economic Social and Cultural Rights has, in a General Comment, stated that the ICESCR entails a right to water including a right to be free from arbitrary contamination of water supplies. There is increasing support for the recognition of a more general right to a healthy environment too.  In a 2018 Report, the UN Special Rapporteur on the issue of human rights obligations relating to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment recommended legal recognition of a right to a healthy environment at a global level.  The rights of indigenous peoples, including their right to develop their spiritual traditions and to have access in privacy to their religious and cultural sites, as set out in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, adopted by the General Assembly on 13 September 2007.    The Guapinol 8 and Berta Cáceres defended these rights by protesting the activities of mining companies in Honduras.

The ICCPR and the ACHR protect the right to a fair trial, which has been denied to the Guapinol 8 in their continued detention without trial or evidence of crimes.  Those conventions also protect the right to life. Berta Cáceres was deprived of this right when she was murdered by hit-men in March 2016.  The right to health, protected by the ICESCR is also being denied to the Guapinol 8. Reports have disclosed how the Honduras prisons are overcrowded, have inadequate nutrition and sanitation which has further led to prisoners being at more risk of contracting Covid-19. Despite measures being introduced in Honduras to allow home detention for some prisoners as a result of the pandemic, the Guapinol 8 were denied this right despite the lack of evidence against them. Studies have reported overcrowding within the prisons, inadequate nutrition, and poor sanitation, which has gotten worse due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Conclusion – In a political environment that threatens the right to freedom of thought and expression, Berta Cáceres and the Guapinol 8 have stood up for the rights of indigenous people, the right to water and the right to a healthy environment.  The Honduran government has displayed a continued disregard for indigenous and environmental rights through the illegal awarding of mining licences in protected areas.  Despite threats to their freedom, their health and their lives, the activists have peacefully protested those actions of the government, showing they are brave and tireless defenders of human rights, and in particular the rights to free thought and expression.