SWITZERLAND / ANTIGUA – Barbuda’s fragile and biodiverse natural site of Palmetto Point, recognised as a wetland of international importance by the Ramsar Convention, remains at risk, with serious human rights implications, due to the construction of the Barbuda Ocean Club resort, UN experts* said Wednesday, February 2, 2022.
“More than 85 percent of the world’s wetlands have been destroyed in recent years. As we mark World Wetlands Day, it is imperative to recall that human rights and environmental standards generally preclude development on such delicate sites. This includes private tourist infrastructures such as the Ocean Club resort,” they said. Part of the resort is being constructed directly in the designated wetland area.
“Construction in fragile areas threatens natural environments including wetlands as well as aquatic and coastal ecosystems. It can also affect the human rights of the local population, including the rights to a healthy environment, food, drinking water and sanitation and cultural rights, especially if local people rely on the areas’ rich biodiversity for their livelihoods. Hence, preparing environmental and human rights impact assessments prior to commencing activities near sensitive ecosystems and following their recommendations is absolutely essential.
“On Palmetto Point, natural surroundings were altered by the removal of mangroves in certain areas and damaging habitats of protected flora and fauna, exacerbating the vulnerability of the island’s ecosystems to storms and natural disasters. Being the highest site in the area, Palmetto Point is also key for feeding freshwater to Codrington Lagoon which hosts of a variety of young fish, lobsters and conch populations,” the experts said.
Concerns have also been raised about the quality and quantity of Barbuda’s groundwater, which could be further affected by the project, sand mining, and waste pollution, as well as by climate change.
“In the midst of a global climate crisis and a pandemic, it is shocking to see the development of a yacht marina in an area known for its fragile ecosystem and a golf course on an island that relies on scarce groundwater resources,” the experts said. “It is difficult to reconcile these kinds of projects with the urgent need for sustainable development.”
“We call on the government and the project proponents to employ rights-based and nature-based solutions to address current challenges including in conserving and restoring wetlands.”
While an environment impact assessment was conducted in the initial phase of the project in 2017, it has not yet been made public and open for scrutiny. Questions remain as to whether Barbuda’s population was meaningfully consulted, whether they gave their free, prior and informed consent at all stages of the project, and in specific, and whether recent additions to the project such as a golf course and the yacht marina were discussed.
The rights to information and public participation are at the heart of the Escazú Agreement, ratified by Antigua and Barbuda in 2020 along with 11 other countries in the region. They are key to environmental and human rights impact assessments and must guide all development processes, the experts said.
In a recent letter, Peace Love and Happiness, the company in charge of the project, said that it would engage an independent firm to conduct a human rights due diligence assessment and to prepare and implement policies aimed at preventing and remediating any human rights impacts caused by the Barbuda Ocean Club.
“This is certainly a first step, even if a delayed one,” the experts said. “However, human rights standards must guide the approval and development of related projects in Barbuda, such as the current construction of an international airport,” they added.
The issues were raised with the government of Antigua and Barbuda and other stakeholders.