How to support legally a Moratorium on Hydrocarbon Exploration and Exploitation in Virunga National Park: some principles

Principles that Support a Moratorium on Hydrocarbon Exploration and exploitation in PNAs

1. The interconnection of all living things


What follows from the understanding of the interconnectedness of all beings inhabiting this planet is the understanding of the interdependence of rights. The expansion of the oil frontier effectively suspends the realisation of rights related to an environment free of contamination, generating a chain of abominable human suffering. A moratorium must not be placed on the realisation of rights, but rather on oil industry activities in PNAs.

2. The precautionary principle

The precautionary principle is undoubtedly the most sensible declaration in the history of humanity with regard to the environment, and its implementation would be highly effective in confronting the debacle in which we are currently mired. It is perhaps precisely for this reason that when it comes to policy-making, regulation,and judicial decisions, its interpretation tends to be fully contrary to the way it was envisioned in the Rio Declaration.


It is imperative that the authorities at all levels and in all spheres act with good faith and extreme seriousness in upholding the precautionary principle in relation to the environment:

“Where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective measures to prevent environmental degradation. (Rio Declaration 1992: prin. 15)”

3. Principle of progressive realisation of rights (non-regression)

As affirmed by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, ESCRs “have both an individual and a collective dimension. Their progressive development (…) should be measured in function of the growing coverage of economic, social and cultural rights in general (…) of the entitre population, bearing in mind the imperatives of social equity” (Inter-American Court, 2003: par. 147).


The economic model that promotes the expansion of the oil frontier attacks the very heart of the principle of progressive realisation established in the ICESCR (Art. 2-1) and the American Convention on Human Rights (Art. 26), because it condemns ESC rights-holders to precarious conditions for the realisation of their rights, due to the environmental contamination linked to the entire oil exploitation and consumption chain; it leads to the loss of social and cultural wealth underlying the displacement of indigenous, peasant and Afro-descendent communities from oil exploitation sites; and encourages the unequal integration of these communities into the commercial trade model in cities; and so on.

4. The principle of harmony with nature (a device for a multicultural vision of development)

The particular relationships that these population groups have with the territories where they live, and with nature within those territories, have led the United Nations General Assembly to recognise the legitimacy and importance of visions of development that differ from the dominant model. “Many ancient civilizations and indigenous cultures have a rich history of understanding the symbiotic connection between human beings and nature that fosters a mutually beneficial relationship”, which is why the General Assembly has called for efforts to “gatherinformation and contributions on ideas and activities to promote a holistic approach to sustainable development in harmony with nature” (GA Res. 65/164 of 2011).


5. Non-conditional realisation of rights

The most common justification for oil exploitation and the expansion of the oil frontier into PNAs is the claim that it will generate income which will contribute to combating poverty. This gives rise to a false syllogism that poverty can only by overcome by removing all obstacles to extractive industries, making poverty reduction dependent on the exploitation of nature. In practice however, the experience of Oilwatch has shown that poverty increases with oil exploitation.

The generation of economic wealth is promoted as an idyllic objective, one that fails to recognise that the waste and excess accompanying wealth are the main causes of environmental degradation. As Amartya Sen aptly stresses, “a fouled environment in which future generations are denied the presence of fresh air… will remain foul even if future generations are so very rich” (UNDP, 2011: 14).


The promise of an equitable distribution of the meagre revenues left by the oil business or other extractive industries leads to the sacrifice of the current rights of population groups and the fragile natural heritage of PNAs. As such, the arbitrary determination of what constitutes poverty and the artificial imposition of economic wealth as the only goal of development must be re-evaluated.

6. Environmental, cultural and spiritual dimensions of PNAs


An evaluation of the cultural impacts of hydrocarbon exploration and exploitation should take into account the obligation of states to “respect and protect cultural heritage of all groups and communities, in particular the most disadvantaged and marginalized individuals and groups, in economic development and environmental policies and programmes” (CESCR, 2009b: par. 50), as well as the obligation to direct the education of the child to “the development of respect for the natural environment”, as stated in the Convention on the Rights of the Child (art. 29). This highlights the hypocrisy of permitting regression in the achieved level of protection of certain areas of the biosphere while teaching children to respect nature.

7. Principle of EFFECTIVE social participation

Officially establishing the right to participation in discourse without the real possibility for this participation to influence decisions makes the right to participation devoid of real meaning, and threatens the possibilities of the continued survival of areas vital to humanity, such as PNAs.



Source: EJOLT