As the world looks for innovative solutions to solve the rapidly worsening water crisis, two Salvadoran experts toured Canada this month to promote a simple strategy that could save the public billions of dollars.
Yanira Cortez, Deputy Attorney for the Environment for El Salvador’s Human Rights Ombudsperson’s Office and Marcos Gálvez, President of the Association for the Development of El Salvador are calling on Canadians to help solve the water crisis by challenging investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) mechanisms that have enabled corporations to sue governments for hundreds of millions of dollars when policies aimed at protecting the environment threaten corporate profits.
The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) reports that the number of known investor-State disputes reached 514 in 2012 and argues that foreign investors are increasingly resorting to investor-State arbitration. Many of these cases target national environmental policies and environmentalists argue that the very threat of ISDS puts a chill on environmental policymaking, making investment treaties a serious obstacle to the bold strategies required to address a rapidly deepening environmental crisis.
Salvadorans are currently awaiting a ruling in a six-year legal battle initiated by Vancouver-based mining company Pacific Rim and now pursued by the Canadian-Australian firm Oceana Gold, which acquired Pacific Rim in 2013. In spite of the fact that Pacific Rim had failed to meet Salvadoran regulatory requirements, the company is suing El Salvador for USD $301 million for not having granted them a permit to operate a gold mine. The case is being heard at the World Bank’s International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID), which exists outside of national jurisdiction. Its mandate is to examine the rights of foreign investors without taking into consideration domestic human rights, labour and environmental laws.