Human Rights-Based Approaches to Development in Contexts of Dam Dispossession

Tuesday, 17 July 2018: 08:43
Oral Presentation
Kyla FISHER, University of Alberta, Canada
Dr. Dip KAPOOR, University of Alberta, Canada
Conservative estimates place the number of people displaced by major dam projects at between 40 to 80 million people. Since the report of the World Commission on Dams in the early 2000s, International Rivers, an International Non-Governmental Organization (INGO) based in Berkeley, California, has promoted a human rights-based approach (HRBA) to development to address the impacts of dam projects for the people who call the rivers home; a politics with a questionable track record in preventing dispossession and market violence. Dam projects often proceed despite INGO initiated HRBA opposition in conjunction with the struggles or movements of affected people, or resume after what may have been an initially successful campaign to prevent their construction, sometimes under the auspices of the 1986 United Nations Declaration on Right to Development.

Informed by a critical interpretive methodology, this case study is a critical exploration of how International Rivers utilizes HRBA to development including human rights education (HRE) in contexts of development dispossession by big dam projects in Asia, Africa and the Americas. Staff members of International Rivers based both in the United States and at one of their regional offices were interviewed, and secondary documentation and materials produced by IR were analyzed. Relying primarily on select neo-Marxist concepts and analytical critiques of a human rights politics and the globalization of capitalism, the study demonstrates the contradictions and limits, if not the complicity, of HRBA to addressing dam related development dispossession in neocolonial regions by INGOs such as International Rivers. The emergent critique has implications for how INGOs use these approaches, including HRE and praxis, in contexts of development dispossession in these regions, and contributes towards the growing body of empirical and critical analytical literature on human rights, human rights education, capital and development dispossession, especially by mega dam projects.