In many countries, affected communities and their leaders are risking their lives and liberty to challenge big dam projects that damage the environment and result in human rights violations or abuses. 

Rapid transition to renewable energy is of vital importance to avoid reaching levels of global warming which would be catastrophic for human rights protection. But this transition must not be carried out to the detriment of communities and individuals who are already marginalized or disadvantaged.

Large hydropower projects have serious negative ecological and climate consequences, such as major greenhouse gas emissions from large dam reservoirs along with serious impacts on biodiversity and food sources for local communities.

Human rights abuses linked to the construction of hydroelectric dams, especially large projects, are well documented. According to the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre, the hydropower sector is the renewable energy sub-sector with the largest number of allegations of human rights abuses.

A notorious recent example is the construction of the Agua Zarca dam in Honduras Opposition from affected Lenca Indigenous communities has been met with unlawful arrests, criminalization of human rights defenders and the killing of community leaders, including Berta Cáceres, co-founder and coordinator of the Civic Council of Indigenous and Popular Organizations of Honduras (COPINH).

Amnesty International has documented attacks on human rights defenders and other human rights violations associated with hydropower projects in other countries too, including the Site C and Muskrat Falls dams in Canada, the Hidroituango dam in Colombia, and the Oxec I and II dams in Guatemala.

Amnesty International calls on authorities and investors for rigorous due diligence before authorizing or investing in large hydropower projects, including thorough, independent environment and human rights impact assessments to ensure the projects and related mitigation measures will not lead to human rights abuses. No project should go ahead without meaningful consultation and the free, prior and informed consent – according to their customs and traditions – of affected Indigenous Peoples.

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