On 13 October 2020, human rights defenders from the community of Unión Hidalgo (Mexico), the Mexican organizations ProDESC and ECCHR filed a civil lawsuit against French energy firm Électricité de France (EDF) for breach of its duty of vigilance.
The reason for this lawsuit? A wind power project planned by EDF in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, in the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca. The industrial and intensive exploitation of natural resources in this region, which is home to a majority of indigenous peoples, has generated violent social conflicts and human rights abuses in the local communities. This is the territory where EDF plans to build an industrial-scale wind farm – the Gunaá Sicarú project – without respecting the right of indigenous peoples to free, prior and informed consent (FPIC), as established under the Mexican constitution and international law.
The lawsuit is the latest in a series of warnings issued since 2015 by the Binnizá -Zapotec community of Unión Hidalgo and various organizations promoting international solidarity and human rights. This legal intervention seeks to call on EDF respect the fundamental rights of the Unión Hidalgo community and prevent the escalation of death threats and physical attacks against human rights defenders in the context of its Gunaá Sicarú project.
In this report, CCFD-Terre Solidaire, ECCHR and ProDESC highlight the breaches of the duty of vigilance and international human rights law resulting from EDF’s Gunaá Sicarú project, as well as the role that EDF and its majority shareholder, the Agence des participations de l’État (APE). More broadly, this reports highlights a culpable negligence of the French State, whose passivity has fuelled the violations in Unión Hidalgo.
Indeed, while in the case of Union Hidalgo the community and the organizations consider that EDF is not complying with its duty of vigilance – i.e. its obligation to respect human rights in its activities – it appears that EDF’s majority shareholder – the APE – and the French State also fail in respecting their obligations under international law. At the core of international human rights law is the obligation of States to respect and guarantee the human rights deriving from their international commitments, including through the obligation of due diligence in the course of extraterritorial business activities of companies established under their jurisdiction. Moreover, States’ negative interferences or, conversely, passivity in situations where companies under their control generate harmful impacts on human rights may be violating their human rights obligations. The United Nations and the OECD have also established a series of standards relating to publically owned companies’ specific responsibility to ensure that they prevent human rights abuses and serious environmental damage resulting from their activities.
These are obligations established under international law that the French State, the APE and EDF can no longer ignore. The protection of indigenous peoples’ fundamental rights and the physical integrity of human rights and land defenders of Union Hidalgo are at stake. The realization of human rights demands an international public policy that guarantees an ecological and a solidarity-based transition of our economy.
Alejandra Ancheita - ProDESC,
Sylvie Bukhari-de Pontual - CCFD-Terre Solidaire,
Miriam Saage-Maasz - ECCHR
 The state of Oaxaca comprises 570 municipalities, of which 418 are governed by indigenous communities that have their own systems of political representation. These communities include five indigenous peoples. The Ben’Zaa (Zapotec) and the Ikoots (Huave) are the most numerous, having inhabited the region for almost 3000 years.
 These include ProDESC, ECCHR, CCFD-Terre Solidaire, Sherpa, Friends of the Earth France, FIDH and OMCT.