International Human Rights Clinic joins fight to stop Nicaragua canal

December 08, 2014

The International Human Rights Clinic and indigenous rights advocates are fighting to stop a vast canal in Nicaragua that would rival the Panama Canal.

Today, Seattle University School of Law's International Human Rights Clinic, along with the Nicaraguan Center for Legal Assistance to Indigenous Peoples (CALPI) and leaders from several indigenous and Afro-Caribbean communities, filed a petition requesting international measures to halt the canal's construction. The petition, submitted to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in Washington, D.C, demands that Nicaragua perform comprehensive impact assessments and obtain the full consent of these communities.

According to government sources, construction on the 173-mile, inter-ocean canal will begin on Dec. 22. Approval was given to the Chinese company HKND without consulting the numerous indigenous and Afro-Caribbean communities who live along the planned route. A coalition formed of Nicaraguan indigenous and Afro-Caribbean communities, environmental groups, and human rights advocates stated that the megaproject would lead to "irreparable natural and cultural loss and a crisis with unparalleled consequences for Latin America."

Tom Antkowiak"When a state wants to initiate such projects on ancestral territories, international law requires that the communities first provide their free, prior, and informed consent," said Professor Thomas Antkowiak, Director of the International Human Rights Clinic. "The many dangers posed by the canal have not been seriously assessed, much less communicated to the owners of these communal territories."

"Fifty-two percent of the proposed canal route intrudes upon the property of indigenous and Afro-Caribbean communities," added Maria Luisa Acosta, Nicaraguan human rights attorney and Director of CALPI. "Our efforts to stop the project have been ignored by Nicaraguan courts, so now we must turn to the Inter-American Commission."

An expert panel of 15 international scientists, including five from the United States, recently expressed alarm that impact studies have not been conducted, and warned of dire consequences for Nicaragua's ecosystems. UNESCO-protected areas and crucial natural resources, including Lake Nicaragua — a key source of drinking water for the entire country and the second-largest lake in Latin America — could be contaminated.