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July-August 2010
Vol. 35, No. 4


UN: Report on recent CSD gathering

After the UN Earth Summit in 1992, the Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) was created. A unique feature of CSD is the systematic inclusion of the voice of civil society in its operational design, achieved through a structure called major groups, which include women, farmers, youth, business and industry, indigenous people, local governments, science and technology, trade unions and non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

Maryknoll participates in the work of the UN under the accredited classification of NGO. As an NGO, Maryknoll is a member of the UN Conference of NGOs’ Committee on Sustainable Development. While the CSD meets only once a year for two weeks of official sessions, the preparation for the sessions takes place throughout the year through the Committee members. The work is assiduous and requires the investment of both energy and resources.

NGOs are able to arrange for resource people to present material related to the themes under consideration by the Commission during its annual sessions through side events and through brief, organized interventions during the official sessions. During the CSD’s 18th session (May 3-14),  Maryknoll sponsored a speaker, Trinidad Carlos, a human rights lawyer who has been working with an indigenous community in Peru’s Andean highlands. Her work has been to claim the remediation of the ancestral domain of the community after extreme land degradation and mineral depletion on the part of a large-scale mining corporation that left the land and water devastated, covered with hazardous toxic waste. Livelihood was destroyed and the people left impoverished. At the UN the well documented and movingly presented case delineated by Carlos attracted widespread attention; it was understood as emblematic of global unsustainable mining practices that beg for justice for what has been stolen from indigenous people. It functioned as a container holding thousands of voices from around the world demanding an end to large-scale extractive mining that violates the land, its resources, and the human rights of people. The generalized movement of money and resources from poor communities and countries to wealthy individuals and corporations around the world was deplored.

The chair of the CSD’s 18th session was Dr. Luis Alberto Ferrate-Felice of Guatemala. In his opening remarks, Ferrate-Felice noted that mining is a very sensitive issue. He said, “While it contributes to income generation and government revenues, it can also be a source of social conflict and environmental and health hazards.” He highlighted the need to assist communities directly impacted by mining activities as well as to manage mineral resources so as to provide greater benefits for a country’s citizens.

When participating in a briefing with the NGO community, Ferrate-Felice both lauded NGOs for their work and chided them for not doing more. He cited the overwhelming presence of for-profit industrialized mining representatives attending the sessions and, above all, lobbying governments for greater corporate benefits and liberalization of government policy. He challenged everyone to a greater effort to represent poor and marginalized people, claiming that this can only be done by the NGO community because of its first hand knowledge of the reality of the lives of disenfranchised people. He did not hesitate to speak from a position of high moral and ethical standard in defense of the environment, in defense of human rights and, particularly, in defense of the rights of indigenous people to free, prior and informed consent before governments allow outside mining companies onto their land.

In its 19th session in 2011, CSD will continue with the topic of mining as one of its main issues. The intention will be to carry forward the information gleaned during the 18th session in 2010, for the formulation of international policy in 2011. The months between now and May 2011 will demand arduous work in order to have a chance at shaping mining policy so that it is truly sustainable. Incumbent upon NGOs will be finding the vehicle, the sponsorship, for enabling affected people to speak before the United Nations with clarity and to lobby tirelessly in behalf of sustainability.

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