Screening of documentary film, Phulbari, roundtable discussion and exhibition

December 30, 2007

Society for Environment and Human Development (SEHD) is pleased to invite you to the premier screening of the documentary film Phulbari and a roundtable discussion on Phulbari Coal Mine and energy security of Bangladesh. Justice Muhammad Habibur Rahman will be the chief guest at the event. Eminent experts on coal, activists, economist, journalist, film critique and representatives of local communities will participate in the roundtable discussion.

Produced by Society for Environment and Human Development (SEHD) the film presents facts about grassroots revolt in Phulbari against open-pit mining and explains crucial social, environmental and economic issues involved with coal and its extraction strategies.

Please join the premier screening of the documentary film at 10:00 AM on 5 January 2008 (Saturday) followed by discussion at Drik Gallery (House 58, Road 15/A-new, Dhanmondi, Dhaka, Bangladesh).

In addition to the premier screening of Phulbari, a photography and painting exhibition will remain open from 2:00 PM to 8:00 PM on 5 and 6 January.

Contact:  Society for Environment and Human Development (SEHD) 4/4/1 (B) (3rd floor), Block-A, Lalmatia, Dhaka-1207, Bangladesh Tel: 880-2-9121385; 01715-009123 (M) Fax: 880-02-9125764 E-mail: sehd@citechco.net, info@sehd.org  Webpage: www.sehd.org

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Urgent Appeal by World Organization against Torture: Risk of Violent Suppression of Public Opposition to the Phulbari Coal Mine Project

December 22, 2007

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OMCT ACTION FILE (BGD 211207.ESCR)

BANGLADESH: RISK OF VIOLENT SUPPRESSION OF PUBLIC OPPOSITION TO THE PHULBARI COAL MINE PROJECT, DINAJPUR DISTRICT, BANGLADESH

Your action is called for to suspend the Phulbari Project until community concerns are met

OMCT is concerned that police and security forces may again employ violence to deal with public opposition to the Phulbari open-pit mining project 

The International Secretariat of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), on the basis of reliable information received, expresses its concern that communities affected by the proposed Phulbari open-pit coal mine in the Dinajpur District of Bangladesh, have been neither adequately consulted not fully informed regarding this significant project.[1] Estimates put the number of people affected by the mine at anything between 50,000 and 500,000, including a number of indigenous communities. Many of these affected will be forced to leave their homes and land.

A public demonstration against the mine in August 2006 saw at least five persons killed and fifty others injured by the police and personnel of the Bangladesh Rifles. OMCT expresses its serious concern that further violence, ill-treatment and even deaths may ensue if local communities again seek to give public expression to their opposition.

To prevent further human right violations, and having regard to the strong local opposition to the project, OMCT calls upon the Government of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh to instigate a thorough independent investigation into the human and environmental impact of the Phulbari coal mine project, ensuring the full and informed participation of all local communities, to make the findings of this investigation available in a public report and to abide by the recommendations of this report. It also calls for the Government to lift the restrictions on public demonstrations imposed under emergency rule and take all necessary steps to prevent future episodes of violence by police and security forces against persons defending their human rights.

OMCT calls upon GCM Resources Plc (GCM) the company in charge of the Phulbari project – to suspend its activities in this area until this investigation has been conducted and to abide by the recommendations resulting from this investigation. It also calls upopn GMC to fully respect the land rights, resources and livelihoods of all local communities affected by any subsequent mining activity and provide fair and adequate compensation wherever appropriate. 

Finally, OMCT calls upon UBS, RAB Capital and Barclays, all of which have significant financial interest in GCM, to use their influence to ensure that the company abides by the recommendations issuing from the independent investigation and to make certain that it complies fully with national laws and international human rights standards.

The Phulbari coal mine project

The Phulbari coal deposit, in the Dinajpur District of Bangladesh, was discovered during the second half of the 1990s by the Australian mining company BHP. In 1998, the Government of Bangladesh awarded the licensing agreement for mining the deposit to the Asia Energy Corporation (Bangladesh) Pty Ltd,[2] a wholly-owned subsidiary of British-registered Global Coal Management Resources Plc. (GCM). The Phulbari mine is expected to lead to a 1 per cent increase in the gross domestic product of Bangladesh over the next 30 years, bringing more that US$ 21 billion to the Bangladeshi economy.[3] The Asian Development Bank is scheduled to approve a US$100 million private sector loan and a US$200 million political risk guarantee in favour of the Phulbari project on the basis of environmental and social impact studies included in a Definitive Feasibility Study carried out since April 2004.[4]

The Phulbari project is an open-pit mine.[5] In order to access the coal seams, it is reported that between 140 and 300 metres of earth will need to be removed, affecting an area of 59 km2. In terms of the human impact of the project, there are differing views. According to estimates from GCM, the mining company involved, the project will affect approximately 50,000 people (a total of some 12,000 households), including some 2,200 indigenous people. Of this total, some 43,000 will be displaced from their homes and land by the mine. This number will be higher if the full-scale expansion plans for the mine are carried out. On the other hand, according to the National Committee to Protect Oil, Gas, Mineral Resources, Electricity and Ports, the number of people potentially affected could be as many as 470,000, including indigenous peoples belonging to Santhal, Munda and Mahali tribes, who occupy some 100 villages in Phulbari and surrounding sub-districts.[6]

In terms of the impact upon community structures, it is reported that the project will involve the closure of 50 educational institutions, including six colleges and 18 madrasas,[7] as well as 171 mosques, 13 temples and other religious establishments.[8] The mine will also have a significant environmental impact due to the considerable waste material produced in the extraction process. This in turn will have serious implications for the livelihood and, potentially, the health of local communities: the area around Phulbari is one of the most productive agricultural zones in Bangladesh, and the project will not only destroy productive farmland, but also cause the diversion of the Choto Jamuna River from its natural course. According to Professor Anu Muhammad in the Faculty of Economics at Jahangirnagar University, Bangladesh, studies in other countries have shown that rivers as far as 160km away from an open-pit mine can remain polluted for three decades as a result of the waste generated. He concludes that “in a country like Bangladesh, with hundreds of small rivers linked like a huge net, polluted water can travel long beyond the mining area.”[9] Despite these concerns, on 11 September 2005, the Bangladeshi Department of Environment approved the Environmental Impact Assessment Report prepared by the Asia Energy Corporation and granted environmental clearance for the mining operation.[10]

In order to gain the consent for the project from local communities, Asia Energy reportedly distributed colour televisions, cash, cloths and blankets to affected populations.[11] Furthermore, Asia Energy also reportedly refused to be bound by the 1894 Land Acquisition Act which regulates land acquisition and/or expropriation by the Government, and demanded the adoption of special laws in order to avoid the obligation to obtain the free, prior and informed consent of the affected communities.[12]

On 31 August 2006, five days after large and violent demonstrations against the Phulbari project, the Junior Minister for Food and Relief declared that the Government had revoked all existing agreements with Asia Energy and that a moratorium had been imposed on all open-pit mining in Bangladesh. On the same day, Asia Energy declared that it had received no official communication to that effect, and that the position of the Government remained to be clarified.[13] In practice, coal mining remains an important element in Bangladesh’s development strategy: on 17 November 2007, the Coal Policy Review Committee adopted a proposal encouraging partnerships between the Government and foreign firms engaged in mining in order to promote investment in and develop of the coal sector. The Committee also suggested strengthening the existing Bureau of Mineral Development so that it could deal more efficiently with foreign companies in leasing transactions and indicated its intention to establish coal-based power plants in rural areas.[14]

Local resistance to the project and violence against protesters

What will happen to us if we are forced to move from here? What will happen to our livelihoods? I don’t want us to live like this. Our mosques and holy places and the places we were born will be destroyed. What will happen to the graveyards of our ancestors?”

75-year-old man, resident of Phulbari sub-district[15]

Resistance to the proposed Phulbari project is widespread in the areas. On 26 August 2006, an estimated 50 to 100,000 demonstrators, mainly farmers and indigenous people, protested against the project.[16] At least five demonstrators were killed and about fifty others reportedly injured and taken to hospital after the police and the Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) opened fire on demonstrators.[17] The exact death toll as a result of the shooting remains unclear, and may be as many as ten – it was reported that the BDR dumped some of the dead bodies.[18] Furthermore, the Bangaldeshi Daily Star newspaper reported that, according to eye-witnesses, BDR personnel threatened Magistrate Abdul Aziz with a gun in order to make him sign the authorization to open fire on the protesters.[19] Neither the Government nor the Asia Energy Corporation have taken any responsibility for these events.

Under the Emergency Rule declared by Bangladesh’s military government in January 2007, fundamental civil rights have been suspended and public protest banned.[20] These Emergency Rules effectively remove the possibility of the populations affected by the Phulbari mine engaging in peaceful protest, and OMCT expresses its strong concern that, should such protest nevertheless take place, they will be met with further and possibly more extreme violence on the part of the police and security forces.

Despite the violent suppression of public protest, resistance to the project remains high. On 15 December 2007, representatives of the sub-districts of Phulbari and neighbouring Birampur, Nababganj and Parbatipur wrote to the president and executive Directors of the Asian Development Bank expressing their concern that the project will “increase the poverty of the local population as well as cause environmental disaster”.[21] In this letter they claim that the social impact analysis carried out misrepresented the nature of public consultations around the project and that consultations emphasised the potential benefits of the project while failing to provide information on the negative impact. Furthermore, the community representatives express concern that only minimal information was provided in Bengali regarding the environmental impact of the project and that, to their knowledge, the environmental impact assessment has been neither translated nor summarised in the local language. They also underline that other media must be employed to communicate with a population of which approximately 60 per cent is illiterate. Additionally, they express serious concerns that land compensation and resettlement plans are insufficient to meet the losses likely to be incurred by local populations as a result of the mine, and that Asia Energy/GMC’s claim that 50,000 persons will be directly affected (and hence entitled to compensation) is a significant underestimation.

Economic Social and Cultural Rights

Bangladesh acceded to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights on 5 October 1998, and consequently the Government of Bangladesh has the duty to ensure the protection, promotion and enjoyment of these rights for all its citizens. The Phulbari mine project jeopardises the human rights of thousands of people due to the mass evictions and destruction of agricultural land it will require and to the pollution that will result from the extraction activities. In particular, OMCT is concerned that the mine will seriously compromise the rights to health and to an adequate standard of living (including access to housing, land, adequate food and clean water) of those affected.[22]

OMCT also wishes to underline the comments of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous peoples, Rodolfo Stavenhagen, who has expressed his concerns that the resources of indigenous communities are being appropriated and utilised, without prior consent, by powerful economic consortia, and that this “is currently one of the most controversial issues involving indigenous people, the State, and private enterprises, and often also the international financial institutions.”[23] In addition, the recent UN Declaration on Indigenous Peoples’ Rights states that, “indigenous peoples shall not be forcibly removed from their lands or territories. No relocation shall take place without the free, prior and informed consent of the indigenous peoples concerned and after agreement on just and fair compensation and, where possible, with the option of return.[24]

The role of financial investors

According to the information received, UBS, RAB Capital and Barclays financial institutions all have an interest in GCM, the sole owner of the Asia Energy Corporation and the Phulbari Coal Project. In particular, UBS is the second largest listed shareholder, owning 11.39% of GCM.[25]

OMCT regrets the lack of transparency demonstrated by UBS in responding to civil society queries regarding its involvement in the Phulbari project. In response to questions on its position, the Bank denied that it had any strategic interest in the company and, noting that “it does not comment on potential or specific client relations or transactions or its investments in any particular company” indicated that its purchase of GCM shares “may or may not” have been carried out on behalf of a third party or parties.[26] OMCT calls upon UBS, as a leading financial institution operating in the global market, to lead by example in establishing a more transparent system of accountability, assessing the human rights and environmental impact of potential investments and assuming responsibility for investments in activities that breach international law and violate human rights.

Requested actions

Please write to the Government of Bangladesh asking it to:

  • Instigate a thorough independent investigation into the human and environmental impact of the Phulbari coal mine project, ensuring the full and informed participation of all local communities. Make the findings of this investigation available in a public report (including appropriate language versions) and abide by the recommendations of this report. Request assistance from the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to help ensure that the investigation is in conformity with international standards.
  • Impose a moratorium on any other open-pit mining in Bangladesh, as initially announced on 31 August 2006, until the full impact on human rights and the environment of this activity has been assessed.
  • Fully respect international human rights standards in any subsequent mining activity at Phulbari or elsewhere. This includes engaging in meaningful prior consultation with affected populations, ensuring that they are fully informed of the project proposals and their own rights in this regard, and providing fair and adequate compensation for loss of land, housing or livelihood where displacement is unavoidable. Ensure in all such cases an adequate and appropriate resettlement programme.
  • Ensure that the proposed coal policy review strictly adheres to international human rights standards and to international principles relating to forced evictions and indigenous peoples.
  • Lift the restrictions on public demonstrations imposed under emergency rule and take all necessary steps to prevent future episodes of violence by police and security forces against persons defending their human rights.

Please write to GCM Resources Plc asking it to:

  • Suspend activities in Phulbari until a thorough, independent and fully-consultative investigation into the proposed project’s human and environmental impact has been conducted and abide by the recommendations resulting from this investigation.
  • Fully respect the land rights, resources and livelihood of all local communities affected by any subsequent mining activity, and provide fair and adequate compensation wherever appropriate. 
  • Take all necessary measures to minimise the environmental impact of mining activities and avoid the pollution of watercourses.
  • Comply fully with national laws and international human rights standards in all aspects of its activities, in particular as regards the adverse effects of these activities on indigenous and local communities. Only carry out operations subsequent to a full human rights impact assessment, and having fulfilled, inter alia, the legal requirement to engage in meaningful prior consultation with persons affected.

Please write to UBS, RAB Capital and Barclays asking them to:

  • Call for a thorough independent investigation into the human and environmental impact of the Phulbari coal mine project with the meaningful input of local communities.
  • Use their financial influence in Global Coal Management Resources Plc. to ensure that the company abides by the recommendations issuing from the independent investigation and to make certain that it complies fully with national laws and international human rights standards.
  • Carefully evaluate the impact of their current investments on the enjoyment of human rights around the world, and include a clear human rights impact assessment in future investment decisions.
  • Promote greater transparency in their financial transactions. 

Please write to the Asian Development Bank asking it to:

  • Recognise the discontent of the majority of the local population at the manner in which the preparatory phases of the Phulbari project have been conducted and insist on the production of a comprehensive human rights and environmental impact study with the full and informed participation of all local communities as a fundamental condition for financial support. Continue to monitor the human rights situation in Phulbari and surrounding sub-districts should the project be approved.

OMCT also asks the UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous people, the UN Special Representative on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises, and the UN Special Rapporteur on adequate housing to monitor closely developments as regards the Phulbari coal mine project.

Click for list of addresses.

Information on action taken and follow-up

OMCT would appreciate receiving information on any action taken in relation to the matters dealt with in this Action File so that it might be shared with OMCT’s network and others interested in this issue. Please quote the code of this appeal on the cover page in contacting us. ***

Geneva, 21 December, 2007

W o r l d    O r g a n i s a t i o n    A g a i n s t    T o r t u r e

P.O. Box 21 – 1211 Geneva 8, Switzerland

Tel.: 0041/22 809 49 39 / Fax: 0041/22 809 49 29

E-mail: omct@omct.org / Web: www.omct.org


[1] Thanks to BanglaPraxis for support in preparing this appeal.

[2] Asian Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Network, http://www.aitpn.org/IRQ/vol-I/issues-2-3/story01.htm#_ftnref4

[3]BBC News: Bangladesh coal divides region, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/business/5080386.stm

[4] See Asian Development Bank – Projects, http://www.adb.org/Documents/PIDs/39933014.asp

[5] Open-pit mines are also known as opencast mines. Both terms refer to the extraction of rocks or minerals by excavating earth to create pits rather than sinking shafts and digging tunnels.

[6] The Daily Star: Rehabilitation issue makes it a tough task, http://www.thedailystar.net/2006/08/29/d6082901159.htm

[7] the Arabic term for “schools”.

[8]The Daily Star: Rehabilitation issue makes it a tough task, http://www.thedailystar.net/2006/08/29/d6082901159.htm

[9] BBC News: Bangladesh coal divides region, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/business/5080386.stm

[10] Asian Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Network, http://www.aitpn.org/IRQ/vol-I/issues-2-3/story01.htm#_ftnref4

[11]The Daily Star: Cancellation of Phulbari Coal Project demanded, http://www.thedailystar.net/2006/08/24/d608241004111.htm

[12] Asian Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Network, http://www.aitpn.org/IRQ/vol-I/issues-2-3/story01.htm#_ftnref6

[13] Asian Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Network, http://www.aitpn.org/IRQ/vol-I/issues-2-3/story01.htm#_ftnref4

[15] BBC News: Bangladesh coal divides region,  http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/business/5080386.stm

[17]The people were identified as: Tariqul Islam (24 years-old), Ahsan Habib (35), Osman (24), Raju (8) and Chunnu. Asian Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Network, http://www.aitpn.org/IRQ/vol-I/issues-2-3/story01.htm#_ftnref4

[19]The Daily Star: Magistrate forced to give firing order, http://www.thedailystar.net/2006/08/30/d6083001107.htm

[21] see “Phulbari communities write to ADB President and Executive Directors”, https://banglapraxis.wordpress.com/2007/12/19/phulbari-communities-write-to-adb-president-and-executive-directors/

[22]  The Basic Principles and Guidelines on Development-based Evictions and Displacement prepared by the Special Rapporteur on adequate housing clearly define forced evictions as a violation of human rights, Basic principles and guidelines on development-based evictions and displacement, A/HRC/4/18 5 February 2007

[24] UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples – Article 10, http://daccessdds.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/N06/512/07/PDF/N0651207.pdf?OpenElement

[25] as of 15 November, 2007


The Day After…

December 21, 2007

Walden BelloFocus on the Global South, December 2007   The single-minded focus on getting Washington on board at the UN climate conference in Bali resulted in the lack of firm targets for reducing emissions.

(Bali, Dec. 16). A day after the dramatic ending of the Bali climate talks, many are wondering if the result was indeed best outcome possible given the circumstances.

The US was brought back to the fold, but at the cost of excising from the final document–the so-called Bali Roadmap–any reference to the need for a 25 to 40 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 levels by 2020 to keep the mean global temperature increase to 2.0 to 2.4 degrees Celsius in the 21st century.

Reference to quantitative figures was reduced to a footnote referring readers to some pages in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 2007 Report which simply enumerates several climate stabilization scenarios. The alternative scenarios ranged from a 2.0 to 2.4 degree rise in temperature to a 4.9 to 6.1 degree increase. This prompted one civil society participant to remark that “The Bali roadmap is a roadmap to anywhere.”

Would it have been better to have simply let the US walk out, allowing the rest of the world to forge a strong agreement containing deep mandatory cuts in greenhouse gas emissions on the part of the developed countries? With a new US president with a new policy on climate change expected at the beginning of 2009, the US would have rejoined a process that would already be moving along with strong binding targets. As it is now, having been part of the Bali consensus, Bush administration negotiators, say skeptics, will be able to continue their obstructionist tactics to further water down global action throughout the negotiations in 2008.

One wonders what would have happened had Washington remained true to its ideological propensities and decided to stomp out of the room when the delegate from Papua New Guinea, releasing the conference’s pent up collective frustration, issued his now historic challenge: “We ask for your leadership and we seek your leadership. If you are not willing to lead, please get out of the way.” As everyone now knows, after last-minute consultations with Washington, the American negotiator backed down from the US’s hard-line position on an Indian amendment seeking the conference’s understanding for the different capacities of developing countries to deal with climate change and said Washington “will go forward and join the consensus.”

The single-minded focus on getting Washington on board resulted in the dearth of hard obligations agreed upon at the meeting except for the deadline for the negotiating body, the “Ad Hoc Working Group on Long-term Cooperative Action under the Convention,” to have its work ready for adoption at the Conference of Parties in Copenhagen in 2009 (COP 15).

Many delegates also felt ambivalent about the institutional arrangements that were agreed upon after over a week of hard North-South negotiations.

 

  • An Adaptation Fund was set up, but it was put under the administration of the Global Environmental Facility (GEF) of the US-dominated World Bank. Moreover, the seed funds from the developed countries are expected to come to only between $18.6 million to US$37.2 million–sums which are deemed severely inadequate to support the emergency efforts to address the ongoing ravages of climate change in the small island states and others on the “frontlines” of climate change. Oxfam estimates that a minimum of US$50 billion a year will be needed to assist all developing countries adapt to climate change.
  • A “strategic program” for technology development and transfer was also approved, again with troubling compromises. The developing countries had initially held out for the mechanism to be a designated a “facility” but finally had to agree to the watered-down characterization of the initiative as a “program” on account of US intransigence. Moreover, the program was also placed under the GEF with no firm levels of funding stated for an enterprise that is expected to cost hundreds of billions of dollars. 
  • The REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation) initiative pushed by host Indonesia and several other developing countries with large forests that are being cut down rapidly was adopted. The idea is to get the developed world to channel money to these countries, via aid or market mechanisms, to maintain these forests as carbon sinks. However, many climate activists fear that indigenous communities will lose be victimized by predatory private interests that will position themselves to become the main recipients of the funds raised. 

Still, many felt that the meager and mixed results were better than nothing.

Perhaps the best indication on whether the conference was right to bend over backward almost 180 degrees to accommodate the US will come next month in Honolulu during the Major Economies Meeting, a Washington-initiated conference that was originally designed to subvert the United Nations process. The question on everyone’s lips is: Will the Bush adminstration revert to form and use the conference to launch a separate process to derail the Bali Roadmap?

 

Walden Bello is senior analyst at Focus on the Global South and professor of sociology at the University of the Philippines. He was an NGO participant at the Bali Conference on Climate Change.

 


Phulbari communities write to ADB President and Executive Directors

December 19, 2007

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Photo: Munem Wasif/DrikNews 

December 15, 2007

To

President and Executive Directors

Asian Development Bank, Manila, Phillipines

Dear Mr. President,

We are writing to you on behalf of the people of Phulbari, Birampur, Nababganj and Parbatipur upazillas (subdistricts), Bangladesh to request Asian Development Bank (ADB) to remove its support of investment and political risk guarantee for the Phulbari Coal Mine Project. The ADB offers loans in the name of reducing poverty, but if realized, we believe that this project will increase the poverty of the local population as well as cause environmental disaster. The ADB will be helping Asia Energy, a private subsidiary of a UK owned corporation, in violating ADBs own policies regarding public disclosure and subsequently its environmental and social safeguards, Bangladesh laws and condoning internationally recognized human rights violations associated with this project.  We have also learned that the planned project violates ADB’s own energy policy.

We address each of our concerns in turn and request that you take them with utmost seriousness. 

1)  Misrepresentation of Community Support in ADB document

Realizing that “good governance”, “transparency” and “accountability” are major tenets of your organisation, you should know that Asia Energy documents approved by you misrepresent facts as we have experienced them.  For instance, the SEIA misrepresents the nature of public consultations held around this project and claims for “broad support” for the project.  This is done not only through what the document claims but also by what it omits. 

For the record, the vast majority of the Phulbari area communities were open to consultation up to January and February 2005 when little was revealed by Asia Energy about the technicalities and impacts of the mine—the fact that it would be an open pit mine.  Up to that point, only promises were made about the benefits of the mine to the people. No negative impact of such technology was mentioned.

Once we educated ourselves on the fact that Asia Energy planned to have an open pit mine in the area that would impact large number of hectares, lead to de-watering, destruction of farming and other long term and short term consequences of the project, there has been clear and widespread opposition to the mine. 

Land compensation and resettlement for the vast majority of the people in the area will not result in people being better off or even the same as before the project. The costs of destroying the land, our environment and thus our livelihoods are far greater than what a compensation package could give us. 

While it is true that a handful of people have been in favor of the project, any attempt to state that the project has support from the citizens of the four upazillas has no factual basis. On August 26, 2006, this opposition was expressed by a peaceful march of close to 100,000 people from Phulbari and its adjacent areas demanding that Asia Energy leave Phulbari.  Sadly, this march ended with the Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) shooting into the crowd, with the instigation from Asia Energy and its brokers (dalals) of killing three people and injuring more than 200.  Several articles and upcoming documentaries on this incident can be shared with you.

Some specific examples of the misrepresentation of facts in the ADB approved SEIA:

§       The SEIA highlights two consultations (22 March and 7 Sept 2005) that supposedly represented local opinions; however, it fails to note that in July-August 2005, Phulbari Municipal Chairperson Shahjahan Ali Sarkar, on behalf of the municipality council, withdrew the “no objection” letter to the mine.

§       The SEIA says that the information center has “an average of 20 people” visiting per day and that 80% of them have written “in support of the project.”  The fact is that anyone entering the visitor’s center had to sign the book and this fact did not indicate support of the project.  Secondly, many of those people listed as “supporting” the project were not from the area and some do not even exist!  The ADB should not take these claims by Asia Energy as prima facie without verifying the truth on the ground.   

§       We know from certain NGO representatives that they have been associated with such consultations by Asia Energy claims, though in reality, they were never present.  We are happy to discuss this with you in detail and provide contacts of these individuals.  You should also know that several people of the communities have been either bribed or intimidated into attending these meetings. 

2)  EIA-related Documents did not exist in Appropriate Form or Language

§       Potential project affected people have been given minimal information in Bengali about environmental and social impacts associated with the mine.  Project information mainly consists of propaganda by the company in the form of brochures.  We learned that only recently have they opened up a website in Bengali. 

§       We are unaware of any EIA having been translated or even summarized in the local language.  This is in spite of the fact that about 60% of the population is illiterate in the area, and the majority of the literate population do not have internet access or adequate knowledge of English to process such information.

§       We have been informed that information and a consultation should have been provided to us, as project affected people, when the EIA fieldwork began and when the draft was completed, in the appropriate local language and form.  However, the majority of people in the area have no idea whether such consultations took place and who was present and whether documentation/information was provided in a manner that would enable input.  The SEIA also does not provide this information.

§       We believe that these issues are in direct violation of both your public communications policy and your policy on environmental safeguards.

3)  Involuntary Resettlement Plans and Indigenous People’s Plan

§       Given Asia Energy’s misrepresentations about consultations and opinions about the mine, the mistrust that has been generated by the company with the people of the area, it is highly unlikely that the company’s draft plans on these issues will be accepted by affected communities.  There has never been any translation and availability of such material in an appropriate form or language, though we came to learn that such plans have been available on the Asia Energy website for months. 

§       There are serious issues of contention about whom we consider “affected” people.   We do not accept that approximately 50,000 people would be affected by the project.  Based on our census of number of families in each neighborhood, we believe that this number will range somewhere from 200,000 to 500,000.

§       The population density in the area (4,245 people/sq. km) is extremely high combined with immense value of the land given that it is extremely rich in arable land, livestock, fisheries and forestry.

§       Moreover, the communal harmony between the indigenous people and the Bengalis as well as different religious groups that has long existed in the area was threatened by the dubious activities of the company. On August 26, 2006, however, people from various religious and ethnic groups came together against such conspiracies.

4)  Violation of Bangladesh Laws[1]

Asia Energy’s contract with Bangladesh violates laws of the country.  If ADB endorses this project, it will essentially endorse these violations of national law.  For instance,

§       Mines and Minerals Rules (MMR) of 1968 (amended in 1987 and 1989) stipulates 20% royalty on coal and other minerals; however Asia Energy negotiated a 6% royalty deal.

§       The government did not officially endorse the original BHP contract in 1998 through a “gazette notification” and thus the contract transfer to Asia Energy also remains illegal

§       According to the MMR 1968, Asia Energy was required to deposit three percent of the total value of investment as a Bank Guarantee, but failed to do so.

§       Similary, clause 41 of MMR 1968 allows only 400 hectares for open-pit mining, but the Asia Energy project is for 5,900 acres.

§       Clause 43 of the Rules allows for ten year leases with extension based on review. However, Asia Energy has been allowed a 35 year mining lease.

§       Thus as it stands, Asia Energy has no legal basis as a project sponsor in Bangladesh on Phulbari.  Finally, while ADB supports “competitive bidding” in contracts, this private sector project has not been a result of competitive bidding but a simple takeover from BHP.     

5)  ADB’s violation of its Energy Policy

We have also been informed that the ADB is not allowed to fund coal projects that are not specifically for power plants.  Phulbari is far from a power generation project even though a 500 MW power plant is planned.  Eighty percent of Phulbari coal will go towards exports to international markets and India.  Some of the coal would be used for steel.  Thus, it appears that the ADB is also violating its own Energy Policy in supporting this project.

Conclusion

The long struggle of the people of Phulbari and the sacrifices made for this cause firmly state that open pit coal mining in a densely populated region like Bangladesh will not be accepted by the local people. Coal extracted from this country should only be used for the benefit of this country. No percentage of the coal will be exported. Therefore, we, the people of this potential mining area, request the ADB to remove its financial support and political risk guarantee from the Phulbari project. In doing so, the ADB will avoid violating its own policies as well as take a firm stance on behalf of the people. Otherwise, it would be obvious that the ADB is taking a position against national interest, the environment and the people of Bangladesh by prioritizing the business interests of a company like Asia Energy.

[1] “Report of Expert Committee on Feasibility Study report and scheme of development of Phulbari Coal Project”. It was submitted by Asia Energy Corporation (Bangladesh) Pvt. Ltd. September 2006.

Further ResourcesADB web page on Phulbari Coal Project 

Asia Energy Corporation (Bangladesh) Pty Ltd web page on the project. 

Watch a video: March for justice, protest against ADB, Kyoto, Japan. May 2007. 


Swiss financial heavyweight UBS alerted over Phulbari Coal mine: Human rights concerns for Bangladesh mine investment

December 17, 2007

Berne Declaration and Banktrack, Zurich, Utrecht, December 17 2007  

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UBS, a financial heavyweight from Switzerland, is facing scrutiny by civil society organisations for investing in a proposed coal mine in Bangladesh. The Phulbari coal mine, proposed by GCM Resources Plc, is set to cause major social and environmental upheavals in the region, displacing upwards of 50 000 residents. Despite strong local opposition, investors UBS, RAB Capital and Barclays continue to back GCM with significant shareholdings. GCM Resources’ strategic focus is the mine, and financial institutions with sights on easy profits derived from expropriation and significant environmental damage, are propping up a shaky project which has already been stalled for over two years. Swiss based Berne Declaration and the BankTrack network recently wrote to UBS on behalf of local community representatives outlining the grave environmental, social and human rights problems associated with the project. As proposed, the Phulbari Coal mine is “open cut” meaning that between 140 and 300m worth of earth will need to be removed to access coal seams deep under ground. Some 50 000 residents will need to be relocated, potentially reaching 200 000 should full scale expansion plans be realised. Extensive damage to the UNESCO declared world heritage site Sundarbans mangrove forest, the largest single block of mangrove forest in the world, is also expected from port facilities. Energy production from coal poses substantial impacts on climate change, and is also inappropriate at a time when Bangladesh is appealing to the rest of the world to curb greenhouse gas emissions. Despite the project having reportedly cleared by advisors Barclays to satisfy the Equator Principles, development standards which encompass community and social considerations, the undertaking faces immense local opposition. In August 2006, 50 000 people protested outside the local offices of Asia Energy (now GCM Resources Plc). A paramilitary force peppered the crowd with bullets, killing five people, including a fourteen year old boy. Approximately 100 individuals suffered injuries from the shootings. Since then, GCM Resources Plc has fled the site and the Bangladesh government has signed an agreement with the local communities promising that the coal mine would be stopped. In January 2007, Bangladesh declared a state of emergency, and a military backed government was installed. The current ruling party has proceeded to infringe of fundamental rights of countless citizens whilst maintaining relationships with transnational corporations in an attempt to stoke foreign investment and additional income. Without the developer’s presence in the region and fearing reprimand from a heavy handed government, local opponents to the projects have little recourse within their own country or with project sponsors. Responsible financial institutions have been approached with evidence of environmental damage and extensive social harm, and have been asked to respect the human rights of those affected by divesting. The Berne Declaration and BankTrack have offered to put financial institutions in direct contact with communities in the area. Responding to questions about on their 11% investment listed in GCM Resources Plc, the second largest listed shareholding, UBS denies any strategic interest in the company. The large multinational communicated that “it does not comment on potential or specific client relations or transactions or its investments in any particular company”. UBS vaguely asserts to civil society and the communities affected that its holding may or may not be on behalf of other people. 

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Andreas Missbach from the Berne Declaration says “responding to victims of actual and potential human rights abuses in this way, UBS has shown complete disregard for its duties to stakeholders, selectively and irresponsibly hiding behind bank secrecy provisions”. The transparency of financial institutions shareholdings is of major consequence to determine who is responsible for facilitating dodgy investments. Determining whether banks themselves are actual shareholders, or whether they are holding shares on behalf of another party, can sometimes be an impossible task for local communities. Banks have been known to take advantage of these vagaries to shun their responsibilities. Whoever are the real shareholders in GCM, by virtue of their involvement in share listings, financial institutions must fulfil their duty to respect the human rights of stakeholders.

Further Resources: 

Read and download the letter to UBS.  (Banktrack website)

GCM Resources Plc web page on the Phulbari project.

Who are the major shareholders of GCM Resources Plc.?

Information and analysis on the Phulbari Coal Project 

British TNC’s mining project in Bangladesh comes under scanner (OneWorld South Asia website)

 


Draft coal policy finalised

December 15, 2007

Aminul Islam, NewAge, December 15, 2007. Dhaka, Bangladesh

The advisory committee to finalise the draft coal policy completed Friday the review of the draft and is set to submit it to the government.‘We have finalised the draft coal policy protecting the national interests. We are now ready to submit the draft any time when the government gives us a schedule,’ the committee convenor, former vice-chancellor of the BUET Abdul Matin Patwari, told newsmen after the final review meeting at Petrobangla.The draft policy discourages coal export with the present coal and gas reserves. It recommends awarding coal exploration and development licence to a state-run entity that can go for joint venture with local private-sector and foreign companies through competitive bidding, mandatory installation of power plants at mine mouths, setting up an open-pit coal mine as a test case, and forming a coal sector development committee to set the royalty rate on extracted coal time to time.‘Many people have an apprehension that our coal resources will be looted. We hope the draft coal policy will dispel such apprehensions. After lots of debate, difference of opinion, and hectic meetings, we have successfully completed a draft which we feel should be acceptable to all,’ Abdul Matin said.The daft policy mentions that, as per the current estimate, the proven coal reserve in the country’s four fields is around 884 million tonnes, whereas the demand for coal for power generation is around 450 million tonnes till 2025, 825 million tonnes till 2030, and 1,200 million tonnes till 2035.It says, ‘Even if open-pit mining method is applied in case of shallow coal reserves like Barapukuria and Phulbari and underground mining method is applied in medium depth coal reserves like Khalashpir and Dighipara, the total amount of coal that can be extracted is 660 million tonnes.’Besides, given the current reserve of gas, the country is set to face gas shortage after 2011.‘In these contexts, there is no scope of coal export from Bangladesh with the current reserve of coal and gas and as the annual rate of coal extraction will be enough only to demand the country’s demand for coals,’ the policy points out.It, however, says that if the country discovers new gas and coal fields in future, the government can make a decision on coal export after considering the demand and supply scenario of coal and after ensuring the country’s energy security for 50 years based on the recommendations of the proposed 28-member coal sector development committee.In case coking coal is found, the policy keeps a provision of exporting coke, a finished product of coking coal, a high grade coal compared to the usual steam coal.The policy says the north-west region of the country will be declared a coal zone to facilitate its long-term development.It says a holding company titled ‘Coal Bangla’ will be formed. Along with Coal Bangla, other government entities like Petrobangla will also get coal field exploration and development licences.The policy says at first one open-pit mine will be developed at a shallow depth coal field like Barapukuria’s north field to gather hands-on experience and to assess its impacts on the environment. ‘If the result of the open-pit mining method is satisfactory, it can be used in other coal fields for commercial extraction.’It, however, says, ‘Although the geological condition, financial and technological issues and the overall energy security will get preference in use of open-pit mining method, opinions of the local committees comprising elected local government representatives and social groups will have to be taken into consideration.’Regarding the underground mining method, it says necessary measures will have to be taken based on the experience of Barapukuria. The policy says the lessee of a coal field will have to rehabilitate the inhabitants of the area before commencing mining, pay proper compensation to them, reclaim the land used for coal mining and give back the land to the former owners after completion of mining activities.The policy says that the lessee will have to install a power plant of at least 500MW capacity at the mine mouth for extraction of every 3 million tonnes of coal and have to bring the plant into operation within six month into beginning of coal production.The policy says the coal price will be 70 per cent of that on the international market.The coal sector development committee, headed by the power and energy minister and comprised of parliamentary members, secretaries of different ministries, a major general of the army, professors of universities, experts and private-sector representatives, will set the royalty rate time to time considering the cost of coal production, international coal price, electricity generation cost, and the government’s neat income.The policy has set the royalty rate of coking coal at 30 per cent of the price of steam coal on the global market.Professor Nurul Islam of the BUET, Professor Badrul Imam of Dhaka University, Bangladesh Army engineer-in-chief Major General Ismail Faruque Chowdhury, Centre for Policy Dialogue executive director Mustafizur Rahman, Petrobangla director Maqbul-E-Elahi, and IIFC executive director Nazrul Islam were also present at the Friday meeting of the draft finalisation committee.


Players and Plays in the Bali Climate Drama

December 14, 2007

Walden Bello*, Focus on the Global South 

 

With 48 hrs to go before the Bali climate conference comes to a close, it is now universally expected that the COP (Conference of Parties) 13 will produced a watered-down “Bali Roadmap” that reflects countries bending over backward again to seduce the United States to join a post-Kyoto multilateral process to bring down greenhouse gas emissions.

The expected declaration is supposed to get the parties to agree to hammer out the details of a negotiating framework by COP 14 in Poland in 2008 and to come out with a final agreement by COP 15 in Denmark in 2009.

It is also expected to contain a reference to a 25 to 40 per cent cut in greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 levels by 2020, though Yvo de Boer, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) was quick to disavow that this was “not a target.”

Australia Rejoins the Fold

The opening of the ‘high-level segment’ of the meeting, which has been going on for nearly 10 days, was marked by a dramatic appearance by Australia’s Prime Minister of 10 days Kevin Rudd, who personally delivered his country’s instrument of ratification of the Kyoto Protocol to United

Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon. Under the previous government of John Howard, Australia had allied itself with the United States in not ratifying the protocol. As if making up for the sins of his predecessor, Rudd voiced his support for a new multilateral agreement with binding emission targets and promised a 60 per cent GHG (greenhouse gas) reduction by 2050 from 1990 levels for his country. “There is no Plan B,” he told the participants. “There is no escaping to another planet.”

 Some climate activists, however, have not been swept away by Rudd, complaining that his words still have to be reflected in the behavior of Australia¹s negotiators in Bali, who are said to be imprisoned in the obstructionist paradigm of the Howard regime.

Obstructionists Inc.

The repeated urging by speaker after speaker for binding targets contrasted with the background realities of continued absence of a positive attitude on the part of the US, obstructionism on the part of Canada, which has replaced Australia as George W. Bush¹s closest ideological ally, and Japan’s ill-concealed backtracking from mandatory emission cuts owing to strong pressure from Japanese industry. On the other hand, China and the Group of 77 have struck some longtime observers of the Kyoto process as projecting an attitude of being willing to do their share if the developed world was ready to decree meaningful GHG cuts and finance the development and transfer of technology to assist the developing countries to achieve the transition to a low-carbon economy.

North-South

North-South tensions have been high, and on Tuesday, Dec 11, talks broke down on three issues, one of them being on the key problem of transfer of technology to assist countries of the South cope with global warming. The transfer of technology talks broke down over whether to use the term ‘facilitate’ as the developing countries wanted, or ‘program,’ the preferred word of the North, according to Pakistani Ambassador Munir Akram, chairman of the Group of 77 and China bloc. According to one developing country deputy environmental minister who did not wish to be identified, “the US has sent dinosaurs to these negotiations, and that’s why we¹re stalemated on 80 per cent of the issues.” Washington is the bete noire in Bali, and none are more frustrated than US climate change activists who constantly apologize for the Bush administration¹s intransigence.

Intra-Group of 77 differences, while much less visible, have not been absent. Malaysia, for instance, surprised developing country delegates at the beginning of the negotiations when its representative appeared to hew to the US line that it wanted an institutional outcome to the negotiations that was “flexible” and “non-binding.” At a side-event sponsored by the government of India on Wednesday, Dec. 12, one speaker suggested that commitments to GHG emission cuts would depend on whether a country belonged to the OECD or rich-country bloc, to the developing world, or to a third category made up of “one big country.” This was obviously a reference to China, whose presence in the Group of 77 bloc has made many–especially the smaller island countries that are clamoring for emergency aid to meet the sea-level rise that is already drowning them–uncomfortable since they see their interests as being entangled in the dynamics of the negotiations between the North and China. The rich countries want China, which is on track to surpass the United States as the biggest GHG emitter and is experiencing record but environmentally destabilizing economic growth, to be eventually included in a regime of mandatory emission reductions. The same demand has been made, though not as strongly, with respect to India and Brazil.

Big Business Roars in

Bali will probably be remembered as the conference where big business came to climate change in big way. A significant number of the side events have focused on market solutions to the GHG problem such as emissions trading arrangements.  Under such schemes, GHG intensive countries can “offset” their emissions by paying non-GHG intensive countries to forego pollution-intensive activities, with the market serving as the mediator.

Shell and other big-time polluters have been making the rounds touting the market as the prime solution to the climate crisis, a position that articulates well with the US position against mandatory emission cuts set by government. UN officials justify the greater private sector presence by saying that 84 per cent of the $50 billion needed to combat climate change in the next few years will need to come from the private sector and the latter needs to be “incentivized.”

Climate change activists have been appalled and stunned by the business takeover of the climate change discourse. One Indian activist walked out of a session on “linking emissions trading markets” muttering, “I can’t believe it. These guys have their own specialized jargon. I did not understand one word of what they were saying.”

According to Kevin Smith of the Durban Network on Climate Justice, “The carbon market was originally a very minor part of the architecture of climate architecture, one that climate activists agreed to in order to get the US on board the Kyoto express. Well, the US did not get on board, and we are now stuck with carbon markets driving the process since the corporations have found that there is money to be made from climate change.”

Smith and others claim that the carbon market as a solution is a panacea that will merely allow polluters in the North to keep on polluting while allowing private interests in the South to displace smallholders so they can set up unmonitored and unregulated tree plantations that are supposed to absorb carbon dioxide.

World Bank Provokes Protests

The World Bank has had a major presence at the conference. This has not been to the liking of many parties. For over a week, negotiators haggled over the mechanism to manage funds that would go towards assisting countries that were on the frontline of the climate crisis. The developed countries wanted the World Bank to act as trustee for the funds and the Bank-managed Global Environmental Facility (GEF) to serve as the administrator for the funds.  This did not please the developing country governments, which have had many negative experiences with Bank control of the GEF. The impasse was resolved only when the negotiating parties agreed to establish an “Adaptation Fund Board,” composed mainly of developing states, that would oversee the administration of the funds by the GEF.

An even bigger reaction greeted the Bank’s launching of its $160 million Forest Carbon Partnership Facility, which is designed to use market mechanisms to compensate developing countries with large tracts of forest, including host country Indonesia, for not cutting them down. Some 100 activists staged a one-hour-long lightning demonstration at the Grand Hyatt Hotel that put Bank President Robert Zoellick on the defensive. The protestors, which included members of the Indonesian Civil Society Forum, Friends of the Earth International, World Rainforest Movement, Global Forest Coalition, Jubilee South, the Durban Group on Climate Justice, and Focus on the Global South, warned that incorporating forests into the carbon market would simply guarantee their passing into the hands of big private interests.

Of special concern to the protestors was the fate of indigenous communities. The proposed Bank facility, they warned in a statement, “could trigger further displacement, conflict, and violence.  As forests themselves increase in value, they [would be] declared off limits’ to communities that live in them or depend on them for their livelihoods.

Global Civil Society Erupts into the Scene

The mass action against Zoellick within the conference site underlined another reason Bali will be remembered. It marked the entry of the global justice movement into the climate change negotiations.  The meeting was attended not only by civil society organizations working on trade and development like Oxfam and the World Development Movement but also by mass movement networks like Via Campesina and Jubilee South.  A venue called Solidarity Village for a Cool Planet less than a kilometer from the conference site was organized by Gerak Lawan or The Indonesian People’s Movement Against Neo-colonialism and Imperialism, together with a number of regional and international social movements and organizations, to serve as a site for a parallel conference that drew hundreds of participants. Representatives of environmental refugees from the Pacific Islands, indigenous peoples threatened by forest carbon trading schemes, and farmers from Via Campesina were among those who participated in the week-long gathering.

 The eruption into the scene of trade justice and development activists brought a conflictive World Trade Organization ministerial-like atmosphere to the negotiations that had formerly been marked by a civil if not chummy relationship between government negotiators and climate lobbyists. “This opening up of the process to folks who are bringing new issues like trade and justice and people’s empowerment into the equation has been a bit disconcerting to the traditional climate NGOs,” said Emma Brindal of Friends of the Earth-Australia.

 “Climate Justice” was the call that united the groups at the Solidarity Village. In a statement issued at the end of the meeting, the participants stated: “By climate justice, we understand that countries and sectors that have contributed the most to the climate crisis — the rich countries and transnational corporations of the North — must pay the cost of ensuring that all peoples and future generations can live in a healthy and just world, respecting the ecological limits of the planet. In Bali, we took another step towards building a global movement for climate justice.”

*Walden Bello is senior analyst at the Bangkok-based research and advocacy institute Focus on the Global South and professor of sociology at the University of the Philippines. He is also the president of the Freedom from Debt Coalition of the Philippines.