Friday, September 11, 2009

Mineral Resources is the Blood Flown in Our Vein : Interview with Anu Mohammad

Exclusive interview By : Audity Falguni

Dhaka, 11 September,

After the stern clashes between police and the demonstrators of the `National Committee to Protect Oil, Gas, Mineral Resources, Power and Ports (NCPOGMPP) ' on September 2nd, around 50 student and youth activists of different left leaning groups and others were injured. Police launched lethal attack on the protestors who were marching forward to surround (gherao) the Petro-Bangla office protesting the recent cabinet committee approval on 24th August to lease three offshore gas fields to foreign companies. The protestors negated the government decision to award Ireland-based company Tullow Bangladesh shallow water block SS-O8-05 and US oil company Conoco Philipps South Asia New Ventures Ltd deep sea blocks DS-08-10 and 11 in the Bay of Bengal. They also raised the demand for the cancellation of around 12 'Production Sharing Contracts (PSCs)' of the Bangladesh government with different International Oil Companies (IOCs) and other relevant claims. Anu Muhammad, Professor of the Economics Department of Jahangir Nagar University and Member Secretary of NCPOGMPP got intensely hurt during the demonstration and was admitted to hospital. Here the excerpts of a brief interview with him is highlighted bellow:

Question: You are the member secretary of NCPOGMPP right at this moment. So, would you please tell us the particular cause behind the recent most demonstration staged by you on 2nd September?

Anu Muhammad: Demarcation of sea territory is one of the most glaring crises of Bangladesh. We have near about one lakh sq km land boundaries with our neighboring states. In terms of sea boundaries, the amount is just eight times higher. And, those sea regions are extremely potential in terms of mineral and other aquatic resources. Unfortunately, there are records of usurpation of these sea boundaries by neighboring countries like India and Myanmar. There are three gas blocks in the Bay of Bengal namely block numbers 5, 10 & 11. Two PSCs were signed at first phase of 2008 during the Caretaker government regime. Under the auspices of these two PSCs, one Ireland based IOCs namely CONOCO-PHILLIPS and another U.S. based IOC named TALLOW were given lease for oil and gas exploration in the Bay of Bengal. When the caretaker government signed the agreement, we protested vehemently and the government could not implement it. This year the newly elected government has approved the PSCs. The cabinet committee of 'Economic Affairs' has okayed those on 24th August and so we called on for the demonstration on 2nd September. Meantime, our successive governments have signed 12 PSCs with different IOCs in recent years. These PSCs have conferred upon them ownership of around 80 percent of total gas explored and the rest 20 percent lies with our nationalized institutions like BAPEX and Petro-Bangla. These multi-national oil giants deal with or regulate our 12 major gas fields in the Sylhet region. If you look at the atlas of Bangladesh and dissect it into east and west, you would notice that most of the oil fields are located at the eastern side or particularly in Sylhet. Now, the multi-national oil giants earn around 3,000 crore taka from these 12 gas fields. If we could spend just one-tenth of this 3,000 crore take to reshape and strengthen our nationalized oil and gas exploration institutions like BAPEX or Petro-Bangla, we did not need to depend any longer on foreigner consultants and imported machineries! Just imagine that because of irresponsibility and malfunctioning by two multi-national oil & gas companies namely Occidental in Magurchara, Sylhet during 1997 and NAIKO in Tengratila, Sylhet during 2006...around 500 billion cubic feet gas were simply burnt out or wasted! Around 87.50 acres of land in Magurchara were damaged with 176.97 crore taka losses in total. NAIKO drilled in the gas wells earlier declared by Petro-Bangla as unworthy for exploration purpose and caused the disaster. We owe to these two oil giants around 20,000 crore taka. Recently James F Moriarty, the U.S. Ambassador to Bangladesh, mentioned in a speech that U.S. oil giant company Chevron wants to develop Bangladesh through investing in oil and gas exploration, but the government can do nothing for certain quarters. Probably he mentioned us, the leftists! We say in return that honorable Ambassador, first pay us 20,000 crore taka compensation for the Magurchara and Tengratila blow-outs! This year the total budget allotted in the power and energy sector has been 4,400 crore taka. Compensation properly paid for the two blow-outs can fulfill our budget in energy sector for next five fiscal years.

Question: When the movement by NCPOGMPP first commenced and what are your major achievements since the formation of the committee?

Anu Muhammad: NCPOGMPP was established in 1998 and thus it has already completed 11 years' of its journey. I would mention our major achievements one by one. In 1998, when the Awami League (AL) government was in power, the government was initiating to sign and conclude two agreements with the IOCs . The first agreement related to leasing of the Chittagong port to a U.S. Company for 199 years. We then organized a long march from Dhaka to Chittagong port and it largely owes to our movement that government could not avoid to probe in details into the company and then some major loopholes came out. The so-called U.S. Company first told our government that they have the paid-up capital of some thousand crores of taka but later it was found that they have the paid-up capital of only one crore taka. Again, it was not even a U.S.A.-based company and it was actually based in Barbadose. What is most important that even if it was a U.S.A.-based company, no patriot should agree to leasing out of any of his country's sea port for 199 years! The then Sheikh Hasina government yielded to our movement and the lease agreement, which was on the verge of being finalized, got cancelled. Second, two IOCs...the U.K.-based oil & gas exploration company Shell and the U.S.-based company UNOCOL drafted the design of installation of pipe-line from one of our pertinent gas field Bibyana, Sylhet to Delhi and the designing and lay-out were disbursed on web-site. But, the government was yet to finalize the proposal for gas export. A section of 'hired' consultants, bureaucrats, businessmen, media, U.S. Embassy, Indian High Commission, World Bank and ADB began stipulating Bangladesh is "floating on gas" and it was "best time to export gas." And, if Bangladesh misses the chance, later she might not get handsome price in ever-changing international market. They, in addition, opined that Bangladesh can construct her basic infrastructure including necessary components like education or health sector with the money obtained from gas export. NCPOGMPP then had to wage war at two levels. First, we had to theoretically challenge this propaganda by making people aware about the exact situation of real gas reserve scenario of Bangladesh, dynamics of internal use and demand etc. The IOCs exaggerated that Bangladesh had 100 trillion cubic feet of gas while we had only 12-13 trillion cubic feet of gas reserve in last several years the amount has reduced to seven to eight trillion cubic feet of gas reserve for internal use. Also, domestic need for gas has been multiplied four or five times in recent years. So, gas export could really doom us! Today the facility of CNG transport could not be availed off if we agreed to export gas. We proved, in addition, with facts and figure that even if we could earn around 1,000 crore taka in total by exporting our gas, we had to buy equivalent amount of oil or petroleum from foreign countries to fill-up the gap. In that case, we had to spend around 15-20,000 crore taka per year. So, NCPOGMPP mobilized people for another long march towards Dhaka-Bibyana, Sylhet. Thus, AL government could not sign the agreements with Shell and UNOCOL. BNP succeeded the AL government in 2001 and they also began playing on the same tune reciting there is no worth of keeping gas under earth. What we should do is to export it and earn money. But, we were firm on our movement and people stood on behalf of us. So, BNP government also failed like its predecessor.

Question: NCPOGMPP has also waged a war on the issue of Fulbari coal mine. Would you elaborate on it?

Anu Muhammad: Sure, that is another landmark of success. The then BNP government came to an agreement with the Asia Energy (AE) company validating the open pit mining in around 135 sq km area of Fulbari, close to the Bara Pukuria coal plant of Dinajpur district. If this agreement was implemented, around 10,000 hectares land of the adjacent areas including Nawabganj, Birampur and Parbatipur Upazilla were to be damaged at initial stage. Near about 656.33 sq km area was to be directly damaged. Installation of the physical infra-structure of the proposed coal mine by AE was supposed to commit eviction, damage and destruction of approximately 10,000 human habitats, factories, schools, colleges, religious institutions, railways, highways, vegetation, water reservoirs like ponds, canals and rivers. AE itself revealed that if the agreement was to be implemented, Bangladesh government was supposed to get from AE around 45,000 crore taka in 30 years while they were supposed to obtain 1,50,000 crore taka from us in the same time-frame. Fulbari is a densely populated area with several Bengali and santal indigenous villages, their arable lands, trees and water reservoirs. If we go for counting the environmental damage in terms of eco-system and symbioses within nature, you cannot simply evaluate the extent of damage in money. So, on 26th August of 2006 the activists of NCPOGMPP and local people went to surround the AE office in Fulbari and police fired on unarmed people. Three were died, one became permanently disabled and around 300 people were injured. The government signed a three-point demand treaty with us in Parbatipur, Dinajpur on 30th August. The government, however, only implemented some portion of the treaty but our number one demand to evict AE from Fulbaria on an emergency is yet to be fulfilled.

Question: NCPOGMPP has called upon to surround the PM's office on 10th September? What would be your major agendas for this immediate programme?

Anu Muhammad: Our four most urgent demands are cancellation of the PSC model 2008 for the gas fields in the Bay of Bengal which leased out two gas blocks to two multi-national oil giants, cancellation of existing 12 PSCs and re-modeling of them with hundred percent ownership of our national institutions like BAPEX and Petro-Bangla over the explored gas, proper demarcation of sea boundaries and to evict Asia Energy (AE) from Fulbari, Dinajpur and cancel open-pit mining.

Question: Would you involve the major opposition BNP along with you? Leader of the Opposition Begum Khaleda Zia has visited you in the hospital and mentioned she would be with this movement. So, what is your consideration now?

Anu Muhammad: No. The AL, BNP and the 'neutral' care-taker government manifested their willingness to export gas on a regular basis. In Latin American countries like Venezuela, Bolivia or Chilie the IOCs did not pay any profit to the respective governments on the pretext of failing to 'recover the production or exploration costs.' The IOCs have drilled for more than 20 years in Chilie and drilled a lot of their mineral resources but yet to pay any dividend saying that they could not yet recover their exploration costs. Thus the whole lot might turn into a deception for the poorer states. Hugo Chavez and other Latin American leaders are now fighting this issue. Amar desh er tel gas amar deher rakta! Oil, Gas and Mineral Resources of our country is the blood flown in our vein and we would simply die out if we cannot protect those.

Open Letter: We Condemn International Oil Companies in Bangladesh and State Violence against Bangladeshi Activists

On September 2, 2009, the members of a nationwide alliance in Bangladesh—the National Committee to Protect Oil, Gas, Mineral Resources, Power, and Ports—were brutalized by the state police in Dhaka. More than fifty members were injured. The national committee was conducting a peaceful demonstration and march as part of an announced program to protest the Bangladesh government’s offshore gas and oil exploration deals with international oil companies. Such anti-people deals, according to the protesters, would enable those companies to explore, extract, and eventually own the country’s gas resources without the people’s consent. Indeed, those deals reveal how the ruling classes in Bangladesh operate in close class cahoots with corporations and imperialism.

The immediate reason for the protest in question was the Bangladesh government’s recent decision to award gas and oil exploration rights in the Bay of Bengal to international oil companies. The national committee announced the program in protest against the government’s decision to award three blocks to two international oil companies—the US-based company called ConocoPhillips and the UK-based company Tullow Oil plc—with a provision allowing them to export up to 80 per cent of gas. The protesters feared such a move would threaten the energy security of Bangladesh, and, by extension, the very sovereignty of the country. In fact, the National Committee to Protect Oil, Gas, Mineral Resources, Power, and Ports has long argued that the government’s drive for plundering its own people’s resources comes at a high price, and lacks forethought about how these resources might benefit the people of Bangladesh instead of multinational companies.

As the protesters were marching peacefully in Dhaka, the police charged on them, threw many of them to the ground, while brutally beating them with batons and kicking them with heavy boots. Over fifty protesters were injured, and a number of them even suffered serious injuries. Certain key members of the committee were clearly targeted. Among the seriously injured was the member-secretary of the National Committee—Professor Anu Muhammad. His legs were badly fractured by police batons. Anu Muhammad is not only chair of the Department of Economics at Jahangirnagar University and the leading political economist in Bangladesh—whose work has proven immensely influential among the youth—but he is also internationally known for his committed political activism for democracy and justice, and against capitalism, imperialism, racism, patriarchy, and many other forms and forces of oppression—local and global. We see the brutal attack on Anu Muhammad and his co-activists as an attack on democracy and progressive politics. Others injured included Saiful Haque, the general secretary of Biplobi Communist Party in Bangladesh and Biplob Mondol, the Chhatra Front leader, along with such activists as Mushrefa Mishu, Jannatul Marium Tania, Montu Biswas, Srikant Samaddar, Gazi Shafiullah and Sumi Akhtar.

As teachers, students, writers, artists, and activists—who also consider ourselves citizens of the world believing in peace, justice, and democracy—we declare the following:

a) We condemn the police brutality against the members of the National Committee to Protect Oil, Gas, Mineral Resources, Power, and Ports in Bangladesh.

b) We condemn the international oil companies involved in exploiting the natural resources of Bangladesh. We think they should back out of any deals they have or wish to have with Bangladesh.

c) We demand that the Bangladesh government ensure the most appropriate and effective medical treatment of all who were wrongfully injured by the police.

d) We demand that the action plan and demands of the National Committee to Protect Oil, Gas, Mineral Resources, Power, and Ports be taken seriously rather than silenced through any form of brutality.

We express our deep solidarity with the people of Bangladesh who are struggling to protect their own national and natural resources from foreign companies. And we support the Bangladeshi people’s right to self-determination under any circumstances.


Concerned Teachers, Students, Writers, Artists, and Activists Around the World:

1. Dr. Azfar Hussain, Convener of the International Campaign against Oil Companies in Bangladesh, and Visiting Professor of Interdisciplinary Studies, Grand Valley State University, Allendale, Michigan, USA

2. Rumana Hashem, Researcher and Lecturer, University of East London, UK

3. Melissa Hussain, DeVry University, Allendale, Michigan, USA

4. Nurul Kabir, editor, (daily) New Age, Dhaka, Bangladesh

5. Dr. Joel Wendland, Editor, Political Affairs Magazine, Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA

6. Dr. E. San Juan, Jr., writer and activist, Philippines Cultural Center, Connecticut, USA

7. Dr. Bertell Ollman, Professor, Department of Politics, New York University, USA

8. Dr. Vijay Prasad, the George and Martha Kellner Chair of South Asian History and Director of International Studies at Trinity College, Connecticut, US

9. Dr Gopal Balakrishnan, Associate Professor, History of Consciousness, University of California, Santa Cruz, USA, and member, Editorial Board, New Left Review

10. Dr. Michael Lupro, North Carolina A&T, Greensboro North Carolina, USA

11. Aimee Nolte, Pomona, California, USA

12. Robin Witt, California State University Northridge, Los Angeles, California, USA

13. Faisal Rahman, Jahangirnagar University, Bangladesh

14. Matthew Trease, University Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA

15. Kenneth Tennyson, Northern Virginia, USA

16. Karin Barbee, Bowling Green State University, Bowling Green, Ohio, USA

17. Dr. Maria J. Estrada, Harold Washington College, Chicago, Illinois, USA

18. Dr. Carmen R. Lugo-Lugo, Washington State University, Pullman, Washington, USA

19. Dr. Carlos Adams, Green River Community College, Auburn, Washington, USA

20. Mahbub Sumon, Narayanganj, Dhaka, Bangladesh

21. Nasrin Siraj Annie, MA student, VU, Amsterdam, Netherlands

22. Zahirul Islam Kochi, University of Sydney, Sydney, Australia

23. Abdullah AL Mehdi , North South University, Dhaka, Bangladesh

24. Zakir Kibria, Director, BanglaPraxis, Dhaka, Bangladesh

25. Arup Rahee, poet and singer, Dhaka, Bangladesh

26. Nusrat S Chowdhury, Dept. of Anthropology, University of Chicago, Illinois, USA

27. Fatina Sarwar, Lecturer, English Department, Bangladesh University of Business and Technolgy (BUBT), Dhaka, Bangladesh

28. Rehnuma Sazzad, Nottingham Trent University, UK

29. Dr. Matthew Mace Barbee, Defiance College, Defiance, OH, USA

30. Dr. José Anazagasty Rodríguez, University of Puerto Rico, Mayaguez, Puerto Rico

31. William J. Emerson III, Siena Heights University, Detroit, USA

32. Maheen Sultan, Dhanmondi, Dhaka, Bangladesh

33. Anna Keenan, Youth Climate Advocate, Gordon Park, Australia

34. Dipankar Chakrabarti, Editor, Aneek, Kolkata, India

35. Chowdhury Golam Kibria (Jibon), Associate Professor and Ex-Chairman, Department of Business Administration, Jahangirnagar University, Savar, Dhaka, Bangladesh

36. Elizabeth Siler, Washington State University, Pullman, Washington, USA

37. Dr. Lamia Karim, Associate Professor of Anthropology, University of Oregon-Eugene, USA

38. Renato Redentor Constantino, Manila, Philippines

39. Dr. Meghna Guhathakurta, Research Initiatives, Dhaka, Bangladesh

40. Ratan Bhandari, Water and Energy Users' Federation, Nepal

41. Anuj Sitoula, Himalayan and Peninsular Hydro-Ecological Network, Nepal

42. Rabin Subedi, Nepali Policy Institute, Nepal

43. Rana Raihan, Samhati Publications, Dhaka, Bangladesh

44. Raihan Sharif, Assistant Professor, Department of English, Jahangirnagar University, Savar, Dhaka, Bangladesh

45. Faruk Wasif, journalist, writer and activist, Dhaka, Bangladesh

46. Hana Shams Ahmed, Journalist and Human Rights Activist Coordinator, CHT Commission, Bangladesh Secretariat, Bangladesh

47. Dr Rahul Mukherjee, Consultant Physician, Milton Keynes, UK

48. Salil Biswas, Retired Lecturer in English/Translator and Writer, Kolkata, India

49. Hasan Mehedi, Environmental and Human Rights Activist, Chief Executive, Humanitywatch, Khulna, Bangladesh

50. Dr. Sezan Mahmud, Associate Professor of Public Health, Florida State University, USA

51. Fardeen Ferdous, Freelance Journalist, Writer and Researcher, Jahangirnagar University, Dhaka, Bangladesh

52. Nikhil Neel, Shah Jalal University of Science & Technology, Sylhet, Bangladesh

53. M Sohieb Murtuza, North South University, Dhaka, Bangladesh

54. Meherun Minu, Lecturer in political science, Jatir Pita Bangabandhu College, Kaliakair, Gazipur, Bangladesh

55. M Yasin Bazli, North South University, Dhaka, Bangladesh

56. Anisur Rahman, scholar and writer, Sweden

57. Tara MacKay, Phoenix, Arizona, USA

58. Izlal Moin Husain, North South University Alumni. Dhaka, Bangladesh

59. Soumitra Chakraborty, Department of Fisheries, University of Dhaka, Bangladesh

60. Adrita Mulk, North South University, Dhaka, Bangladesh

61. Khan Asif Imran, Department of Economics, North South University, Dhaka, Bangladesh

62. Nasrin Khandoker, Assistant Professor, Department of Anthropology, Jahangirnagar University, Savar, Dhaka, Bangladesh

63. Dr. Michele Ren, Assistant Professor of English & Women’s Studies, Radford University, Radford, Virginia, USA

64. Santanu Chacraverti, Secretary, Society for Direct Initiative for Social and Health Action, Kolkata, India

65. Dr. Partha Joarder, Scientist, Bose Institute, Kolkata, India

66. Moshahida Sultana, Lecturer, University of Dhaka, Bangladesh

67. Dr. Susan W. McDowall, Central Community College, Hastings, NE, USA

68. Rabindranath Chakraborty, President, Hindu Muslim Friendship Association, Bangladesh

69. Dr. Jessica Maucione, Assistant Professor of English, Gonzaga University, Spokane, Washington, USA

70. Dr. Rosemary Briseno, Lecturer in English, The University of California-Merced, Merced, California, USA

71. Sufia Jamal Khan, Stillwater, Oklahoma, USA

72. Dr. Matthew Mace Barbee, Defiance College, Defiance, OH, USA

73. Maksudur Rahman, Dept. of Economics, North South University, Dhaka, Bangladesh

74. Syed Jashim Uddin, Assistant Professor, Dept of English, Premier University, Chittagong, Bangladesh

75. Tarek Chowdhury, Dhaka, Bangladesh

76. Murad Khan, Birmingham, UK

77. Dr. Kelvin Monroe, Assistant Professor of Ethnic & Religious Studies, Metropolitan State University, Twin Cities, Minnesota, USA

78. Imran Saadat, North South University, Dhaka, Bangladesh

79. Rifat Islam Esha, North South University, Dhaka, Bangladesh

80. Nabeel Hassan, Macquarie University Alumni, Sydney, Australia

81. Rifat ara Shova, BUBT, Mirpur, Dhaka, Bangladesh

82. Parvin Sultana, Melbourne, Australia

83. Shehroon Ifteker, Birkbeck College, University of London, UK

84. Sky Wilson,Washington State University, Vancouver, Washington, USA

85. Dr. Lisa R. Williams, Creswell, Oregon, USA

86. Ayse Asim, Kent, England

87. Sarah Bostock, Harcum College, Bryn Athyn, PA, USA

88. Rafiq Uddin, Dhaka, Bangladesh

89. Md. Manzoorul Kibria, Assistant Professor, Department of Zoology, University of Chittagong, Chittagong, Bangladesh

90. Abe Tarango, Golden West College, Huntington Beach, California, USA

91. Rubaiyat Aumi, development worker, Dhaka, Bangladesh

92. Abu Saeed Md Galib, South East University, Mirpur, Dhaka, Bangladesh

93. Dr. Taufiq Rahman, Cambridge University, UK

94. Rahman Siddique, cultural activist, Dhaboman Literary movement, Narayanganj, Bangladesh

95. Saif Ahmed, Ottawa, Canada

96. Ahmed Swapan Mahmud, Dhaka, Bangladesh

97. Musharrat Sharmee Hossain, Department of English, Oklahoma State University, Stillwater, Oklahoma, USA

98. Sabera Ekram, University of East London, UK

99. Nishat Khan, UK

100. Hasan Tarique Chowdhury, Dhaka, Bangladesh

101. Melissa Baker-Boosamara, Affiliate Professor of Liberal Studies, Grand Valley State University, Allendale, Michigan, USA

102. Shantanu Majumder, Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science, Dhaka University, Bangladesh

103. Soma Dey, AIT, Thailand

104. Paul V. Dudman,University of East London, UK

105. Jennifer Kalafut, Co-Director, International Accountability Project

106. Mehedi Hassan, political activist, Dhaka, Bangladesh

107. Callie Palmer, Instructor, Linn Benton Community College, Albany, Oregon, USA

108. Tomas A. Madrigal, University of California, Santa Barbara, USA

109. Saydia Gulrukh, Department of Anthropology, Jahangirnagar University, Bangladesh

110. Dr. Tony Zaragoza, Associate Professor of Political Economy, The Evergreen State College, Olympia, Washington, USA

111. Dr. John Streamas, Associate Professor, Department of Comparative Ethnic Studies, Washington State University, Washington, USA

Saturday, September 5, 2009

People are now conscious of their ownership of natural resources

Anu Muhammad tells Shahidul Alam in an exclusive interview. Transcribed and translated by Rahnuma Ahmed

NewAge, 5 September 2009

IMMEDIATELY after Professor Anu Muhammad, member secretary of the National Committee to Protect Oil, Gas, Mineral Resources, Power and Ports, was taken to Square Hospital, injured in police action on the committee’s protest march in the capital Dhaka on Wednesday afternoon, eminent photographer Shahidul Alam interviewed him on camera.

Watch the interview on YouTube (in Bangla)

Read excerpts:

Shahidul Alam: What was your protest against?

Anu Muhammad: The gas resources which Bangladesh has, both in its gas fields and in the deep sea, is limited but if Bangladesh was able to utilise it, it would help the country be rid of its electricity crisis, it would enable greater industrialisation, it would help solve many problems, problems in the educational and health sectors. For the last two decades, Bangladesh’s control over its gas fields has passed over to multinational corporations through contracts which have handed over the control of blocks to these companies. Bangladesh has its own organisations, there’s BAPEX [Bangladesh Petroleum Exploration and Production Company] and other organisations as well which can lift gas but instead of exploring that option, we have handed over the control of gas fields to the multinational companies. And now what has happened is that the vast resources which Bangladesh has in the deep sea are being secured by foreign companies.

Recently, three gas blocks have been leased out to foreign companies, two to an American multinational, ConocoPhillips, and the other to an Irish firm, Tullow, with the opportunity to export 80 per cent of the gas produced. But we conducted our own study which reveals that they will own, and be able to export the full 100 per cent. And even though we are being told that this is being done in order to solve the gas crisis, to solve the electricity crisis, but actually, in reality, none of the gas produced — according to this contract — will enter Bangladesh. We will not agree to such a deal. There is absolutely no question that we will agree to a deal which deprives the people of Bangladesh. To a contract that threatens the nation’s future. This contract should be rescinded, it’s the people’s demand, it’s everyone’s demand.

We had organised a protest today demanding that the government cancel its decision, we had organised a siege of Petrobangla because Petrobangla has turned into a den of these multinational corporations. It’s no longer a Bangladeshi organisation. Our protest rally was very peaceful, we were proceeding steadily and very calmly when, as we had walked a couple of hundred yards, the police suddenly turned on us and began attacking us. They lathi-charged us, they used their boots, they kicked us, they punched us, regardless of who it was, whether it was a man or a woman. They were brutal, they were all over the place. More than fifty of us were wounded, some of them very severely, some of these lives are at risk.

So what we want to say is, since this movement concerns everyone, since it is in the interests of all, and since everyone is united behind us, nothing can stop this movement. Neither brutality nor repression, nor trickery nor any attempts to hoodwink us.

Who else besides you was attacked today?

About fifty of us were injured, this includes Saiful Huq, one of the leaders, and many activists. Among the students, Jewel and Tania, they suffered head injuries. And two women students who, when the police tried to hit me on the head and in my abdomen — very targeted attacks — they ran forward to protect me. These two women activists were very badly injured. They are all in hospital now.

We often speak of democratic governments. So, what do you think of the manner in which this government is behaving, is it any different from other governments?

You know, we tend to think that there has been a change in the government, but now I think that that’s an illusion, that we live within an illusion, a maya, which makes us believe that there has been a change in the government. Whereas in reality, the government does not change because power, and interests, particularly, the interests of imperialism, the interests of multinational corporations — whether it’s the Awami League or the BNP [Bangladesh Nationalist Party], and all other governments which were in power, in principle there is no difference amongst any of these governments. There is no difference in principle, and to protect their interests they can exert the greatest possible force, they make use of all possible avenues — their army, their police, their legal system, their thugs, to protect the interests of the MNCs, of the imperialists. And in exchange for protecting those interests, they get paid off. In exchange, they are given some material benefits.

So what role should the people play now?

I think, I believe, and also, I speak on the basis of my experience in the movement, that once the people recognise, once they understand that this is their resource, that they are its owners, then it’s impossible to take it away from them. And people are, generally speaking, very conscious now. And it’s not just deep-sea gas, it’s the whole of Bangladesh. It belongs to the people. People are now increasingly conscious of this, and the greater the consciousness the better. The more they realise this, the more inevitable becomes the defeat of these anti-people forces.

Apology to count only if govt revokes offshore deals

Editorial, NewAge, 5 September 2009

AMIDST condemnation and criticism of Wednesday’s police excesses against members of the National Committee to Protect Oil, Gas, Mineral Resources, Power and Ports intensify, the government on Thursday termed the police action ‘unexpected and sad’ and promised legal action against the law enforcers if they were to be found guilty of having overstepped their limits. According to a report front-paged in New Age on Friday, three ministers and two advisers of the Awami League-led government also visited Anu Muhammad, member secretary of the committee and professor of economics at Jahangirnagar University who was among some 50 people seriously injured in the police attack and is now under treatment for fractures in both his legs, to express their ‘regret and sympathy’. It is indeed assuring that the government has acknowledged the monstrosity of the police action on the members of the citizens’ forum, and was quick to regret the incident and seek apology, albeit not in so many words. However, the issue at hand has more to it than the police excesses on members of the national committee, as the citizens’ forum is popularly known.

First of all, the police action, as it is highly unlikely to have taken place without some sort of clearance from the home ministry, tends to betray what could very well be the inherent intolerance of the government to dissent. That some key members of the government termed the police action ‘unexpected and sad’ could very well be construed as the Sheikh Hasina administration’s efforts to wash its hands off the atrocities, and make the police department the scapegoat. The apologetic posture that the government has taken would thus be perceived as genuine only when it demonstrates, not only in words but also by deed, its willingness to accommodate dissenting views in the political arena as well as across society.

Most importantly, the government needs to realise that it is its decision to award three offshore blocks to two multinational companies under what appears to be an anti-people production sharing contract, which allows exports of up to 80 per cent of the natural gas the companies will find, that is the bone of contention here. Regrettably, the power and energy adviser and the state minister for power and energy are reported to have tried to convince Anu Muhammad that the provision in the model production sharing contract has been formulated in a way that gas export may not be needed, and that the export provision was incorporated to woo investment in hydrocarbon exploration. In other words, the government may still be unwilling to revise, let alone revoke, its decision.

To reiterate, the government needs to realise that its apology for the police excesses on the protest march of the national committee will remain in the realm of rhetoric until and unless it is followed up by action that demonstrates its willingness to accommodate dissenting views and, crucially still, revocation of the decision to award the offshore blocks to the multinational companies under questionable production sharing contracts.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Police excesses betray govt’s intolerance to dissent

Editorial, NewAge, 4 September 2009

WHEN members of the National Committee to Protect Oil, Gas, Mineral Resources, Power and Port, a citizens’ platform, brought out a procession on Wednesday in protest at the Awami League-led government’s decision to award three offshore blocks to international oil companies, they were only exercising their democratic right to register protest, which is enshrined in the constitution of the republic. Hence, the ensuing police excesses on the protesters, which resulted in grievous injuries to nearly 50 people, including the committee’s member secretary Anu Muhammad, amounted to impingement on the protesters’ constitutional rights. Crucially still, the police excesses tend to indicate what could very well be the inherent intolerance of the ruling quarters to dissenting views. The conscious sections of the citizenry have rightly condemned the police excesses, which were not only unacceptable but also incongruent with the Sheikh Hasina government’s promise for change.

The national committee, supported by most left-leaning political parties, staged a protest rally and brought out a procession towards the Petrobangla offices on Wednesday. Reportedly, about 1,000 protesters had gathered at Muktangan from where a procession was scheduled to march towards Petrobangla offices in Karwan Bazar and lay siege to it. The national committee, as it is often called, organised this particular event to protest against unjustifiably allowing foreign oil companies to export up to 80 per cent of the natural gas they find in the offshore blocks that have been recently awarded. This provision, according to reports, would be included in the new generic production sharing contract that is generally the primary tool of agreement between the oil companies and Petrobangla. Thus far the production sharing contracts prohibited gas exports through pipeline implying mandatory value addition, and thus potential foreign investment, employment generation and technology transfer. The contract also stipulated Bangladesh’s first right of refusal in case of gas sales.

But it appears from reports that despite a rising demand for natural gas in the local market the Bangladesh government decided not to buy gas from the foreign companies. This would evidently allow foreign companies to sell their product abroad to third parties for a higher price than that offered by Petrobangla. In doing so the government would also have to change the provisions prohibiting direct gas exports without value addition, and thereby absolving the foreign oil companies of their obligation to make substantial investment in production of liquefied or compressed natural gas. The current provisions, as the government has decided to amend, have all the advantages for the foreign companies but there are almost no discernible benefits to the country. Thus the reason for allowing gas exports, or Petrobangla’s refusal to purchase gas from the foreign companies, thus allowing them to export, must be questioned. That is what the national committee sought to do but ended up being severely beaten for having done so.

One of the many people who visited Anu Muhammad, admitted to a hospital with fractured legs, was Khaleda Zia, leader of the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party and former prime minister. Her gesture and condemnation should be appreciated but with a pinch of salt because, like all previous governments, her government also sought to secure individual interests at the cost of the country’s natural resources. In fact, it was during the Khaleda Zia government that these new generation production sharing contracts were drawn up and it was also during her tenure that the law enforcers also swooped on the national committee for protesting against the proposed open-pit coalmine at Phulbari. One would expect that Khaleda’s newfound concern in this regard would go beyond political mileage-taking into actual commitment to the cause the national committee espouses.

However, it should not be left up to the opposition political parties alone to protest against and effectively resist such an anti-national move by the government. Patriotic individuals and social forces must also rally around the national committee and the cause it stands for.

Police action against marchers

Editorial, The Daily Star, 3 September, 2009

Peaceful protests must not be subject to such brutality

IT is unquestionably bad practice to prevent people from asserting their democratic right to protest. And the practice gets worse when, in order to quell such protests, the law enforcers resort to a baton charge of the protestors. That precisely is what happened on Wednesday when a procession organized by the National Committee to Protect Oil, Gas, Mineral Resources, Power and Ports was pounced upon by the police. As so often happens in such instances of harshness demonstrated by policemen, no fewer than thirty people were left with various degrees of injuries on their persons. Among these thirty were ten policemen. It has been given out that the marchers, who were trying to reach the head offices of Petrobangla in Karwan Bazar to register their disapproval of the lease of three offshore gas fields to foreign companies, ended up vandalizing quite a few vehicles as a result of the police action. Vandalism, of course, is always to be condemned. If some of these protestors resorted to violent action, we cannot but unambiguously tell them they did themselves no service.

That said, though, we must go back to the thought of why peaceful marchers must be impeded by the law enforcers every time they seek to draw attention to some grievances they might wish to voice in the national interest. Over the years, even during the period of some elected governments, it has been observed that the police have demonstrated a degree of vehemence and force while dealing with protestors that has left us all wondering about the responsibilities of the state to those who voice a contrary opinion. In the recent past, we have witnessed the police taking, on some crude and indefensible instructions from the powers that be, nearly everyone on the streets into custody on the assumption that everyone is an agitator. Now, even if there are reasons to feel that law and order could be threatened by a protest march, there are sophisticated ways of handling it rather than adopting a knee-jerk position. A fundamental point about the police handling protests is for them to remain absolutely cool in the face of any provocation. Unfortunately, what they did on Wednesday was anything but cool. Besides, the fact that the anti-lease march was peaceful and was led by a number of prominent citizens should have made the police think twice before taking such action.

The point here is not whether the stand of the marchers regarding the lease of the gas fields is right or wrong. It is one of the law enforcers, in these days of enhanced political and democratic sensibilities, needlessly wielding their truncheons on people who only have a point of view to be conveyed to the government. At a time when an elected government is in office, the sight of citizens beaten to the ground by policemen is nothing less than a scandal. We are then all left feeling ashamed.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

PROTEST AGAINST OFFSHORE BLOCK DEAL: 50 injured as police charge into demo

Countrywide protests today, march towards PMO Sept 10

Staff Correspondent, NewAge, September 3, 2009

More than 50 people, including the member-secretary of the National Committee to Protect Oil, Gas, Mineral Resources, Power and Ports, Anu Muhammad, were injured when police charged into marchers heading for Petrobangla headquarters in the capital midday Wednesday in protest against the government’s decision to award three offshore blocks to international oil companies.

About 1,000 leaders and activists of the committee gathered at Muktangan where they held a rally in the morning before marching towards the Petrobangla office at Karwan Bazar where the protesters were to lay siege.

The national committee announced the programme in protest at the government’s decision to award three blocks to two IOCs with a provision allowing them to export up to 80 per cent of gas. The committee feared such a move would threaten the country’s energy security.

Policemen charge at economist Professor Anu Muhammd with truncheons as he fell on the road during a police attack on a peaceful procession of the national committee to protect oil, gas, mineral resources, power and port which was marching to lay siege to the Petrobangla head office in Dhaka on Wednesday.New Age photo

Police swooped on the protesters and clubbed them indiscriminately after they broke through the barricades set up by the lawmen at Paltan crossing at around noon and tried to march towards the Petrobangla office.

Angry protesters fought pitched battles with police at Bijoynagar for about half an hour before dispersing. They attacked vehicles during the clash forcing traffic to make a detour.

Both legs of Anu Muhammad, also a professor of economics at Jahangirnagar University, were badly fractured in the police attack while a number of other left-leaning political leaders and activists, including Saiful Huq, Mushrefa Mishu, Jannatul Marium Tania, Montu Biswas, Srikant Samaddar, Biplab Mandal, Gazi Shafiullah and Sumi Akhtar sustained injuries.

Watch an interview with Anu Muhammad from hospital bed. Interviewed by Shahidul Alam, Drik

Read excerpts of the interview.

The injured were taken to Dhaka Medical College Hospital and most of them were released after first aid. Professor Anu Muhammad was shifted to Square Hospital from DMCH.

Journalists trying to visit Anu Muhammad at Square Hospital were refused permission to see him. When contacted, the hospital management said it might have been done at the advice of the attending doctors.

Condemning the police action Anu Muhammad told reporters that their campaigns were aimed at protecting the natural resources of the country. ‘We are not against the government; we are against the move to export our natural resources. It is the government’s responsibility to protect the lives and property of the citizens. I don’t understand why the police pounced on us,’ he said.

Later, the committee held a meeting at the office of the Communist Party of Bangladesh at Paltan.

The committee convener Sheikh Mohammad Shaheedullah at a press conference said that the police had charged baton on their peaceful demonstration because the government was desperate to protect the interest of international oil companies instead of national interest.

‘We strongly condemn the unprovoked attack. This has exposed the fascist attitude of the government,’ he said demanding immediate action against the police officers involved in the attack.

Shaheedullah warned that the government would not be able to foil their movement by resorting to repression. He vowed to continue the movement until the decision to allow gas export was scrapped.

The committee announced fresh programmes protesting at Wednesday’s police action. The programmes include countrywide demonstrations and a protest rally at Muktangan in the capital this afternoon. The committee will march towards the Prime Minister’s Office from Muktangan at 11:00am on September 10. Besides, it will hold rallies and processions in different thanas of Dhaka city and elsewhere in the country.

The committee will announce further action programmes, including hartal and siege, if the government does not refrain from leasing the offshore gas blocks, he said.

Shaheedullah, justice Golam Rabbani, Syed Abul Maksud, CPB general secretary Mujahidul Islam Selim, Workers Party general secretary Bimal Biswas, Workers Party (reconstituted) convener, Haider Akber Khan Rano, Gana Front leader Tipu Biswas, CPB leaders Ruhin Hossain Prince and AN Rasheda, Bangladesher Samajtantrik Dal leader Bazlur Rashid Firoz and professors MM Akash, Shamsul Alam, Mesbah Kamal, Pias Karim, ethnic minority leader Rabindranath Soren and former state minister for power and energy Anwarul Kabir Talukder attended the Muktangan rally.

The speakers said that the prime minister’s approval of offshore oil and gas exploration deals in the Bay of Bengal with two international companies, ConocoPhillips and Tullow Oil plc, ran counter to her poll campaign pledges.

The cabinet committee on economic affairs, headed by the finance minister, on August 24 approved offshore oil and gas exploration deals with the two companies in three sea blocks in the resource-rich Bay, on condition that they would not operate in the disputed areas in the blocks.

At the rally, Shaheedullah said they demanded cancellation of the Model Production Sharing Contract 2008, approved by the last interim government, saying pressure from ‘colonialists’ had been behind it.

Anu Muhammad said the present government was not working as the true representatives of the people. ‘The energy ministry and Petrobangla are working for multinational companies,’ he said. ‘Till now three of 28 blocks have been allocated to international companies and gradually the rest will be given to them,’ he said.

Mujahidul Islam Selim said that Sheikh Hasina during her first stint as prime minister had told the then US president Bill Clinton in 2000 that Bangladesh would not export gas without ensuring a 50-year domestic supply. ‘After such a promise, this latest agreement is extremely treacherous,’ he said.

Different left-leaning political parties and organisations, meanwhile, condemned the police attack on the ‘peaceful’ march of the national committee.

The Communist Party of Bangladesh president Manzurul Ahsan Khan and general secretary Mujahidul Islam Selim in a press statement termed the police attack fascist and contrary to democracy and basic rights of the people.

Workers Party president Rashed Khan Menon and general secretary Bimal Biswas, condemned the police attack and called on the government to drop the plan to lease out the three offshore gas blocks to international companies.

Bangladesher Samajtantrik Dal convener Khalequzzaman, Ganatantri Party president Mohammad Afzal, general secretary Nurur Rahman Selim, Democratic Revolutionary Party president Nirmal Sen, general secretary Mushrefa Mishu, Revolutionary Workers Party president Khandaker Ali Abbas, general secretary Saiful Huq, Workers Party (reconstituted) convener Haider Akbar Khan Rano, Ganasanghati coordinator Zonayed Saki, Jatiya Mukti Council president Badruddin Umar and secretary Foizul Hakim, Garments Workers Unity Forum, Anti-imperialist Students Unity, Nayaganatantrik Gana Morcha, Chhatra Oikya Forum, Bangladesh Khetmajur Samiti, Green Voice and Bangladesh Paribesh Andolan leaders also condemned the police attack.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Phulbari Day today

Staff Correspondent, NewAge, August 26, 2009

Photo: Zakir Kibria

Different socio-political organisations will observe Phulbari Day today in remembrance of the demonstrations against Asia Energy’s planned open-pit mining at Phulbari in Dinajpur on August 26, 2006.

Three people were killed and many were injured when lawmen into protests against at the Phulbari coal field in August 2006.

Four days after the demonstrations, the then BNP-led government on August 30 signed a six-point agreement with protesters, spearheaded by the national committee to protect oil, gas, mineral resources, power and port to expel Asia Energy from Bangladesh and ban open-pit mining.

The committee, however, expressed its dismay at the non-implementation of the agreement as Asia Energy is still active in the country.

The national committee and different left-leaning political organisations have chalked up programmes to mark August 26 as Phulbari Day. The committee will place flowers at Shaheed Smritistambha at Phulbari and hold a rally there.

The committee will also place flowers at the Central Shaheed Minar and observe the day in other places.

Jatiya Gana Front will hold a rally and bring out a procession in Muktangon to mark the day. The organisation in a statement said any move for open-pit mining in Bangladesh would be stopped.

Samajtantrik Chhatra Front will also bring out a procession on the Dhaka University campus on the occasion demanding expulsion of Asia Energy from Bangladesh.

Further Information:

Phulbari Resistance on Facebook

Coal deposits, mining perspective in northwest Bangladesh

How could the Phulbari basin extend up to 60 sq km? Is it true? The present study reveals that if the in situ coal reserve was around 500 million tonnes, the deposited area in the Phulbari basin could never exceed 6 km2. Therefore, the scientific and general community of the country should rethink the possible fraud by some people, writes Md Rafiqul Islam*

NewAge, August 26, 2009

NATURAL gas is the major indigenous non-renewable energy resource in Bangladesh. Gas production has increased sharply over the last decade so that natural gas resources are likely to be exhausted in 12 to 15 years. Considering the critical situation in power sectors, the government of Bangladesh wishes to produce coal from the Gondwana coal deposits because of the gradual increase in demands of electricity and to safeguard the energy crises in 21st century. Highly volatile B bituminous rank coal has been discovered in varying amounts in 13 specific places of the northwestern districts of the country like Bogra, Jaipurhat, Rangpur and Dinajpur. Seven coalfields, among them, like Barapukuria, Phulbari, Dighipara, Nawabjonj, Shimnagar, Dangapara, and Burirdoba basins are found in Dinajpur district. Three coal basins — Khalaspir, Baradgonj and Osmanpur — have been found in Rangpur district. Other two coal basins are the Kuchma basin, found to the eastern Bogra shelf, and the Shingra basin, found to the western frontier of Bogra district. The Shingra basin is the northern part of the greater Atrai basin (Chalan Beel). The Jamalganj basin, which is the largest coal basin of the country, is found in Joypurhat, close to the Jamalganj town. The Kuchma and Jamalganj basins were discovered in 1959 and 1962 respectively. It is reasonable to state that after the liberation war in 1971, there was no satisfactory advancement in discovering the coalfields in Bangladesh until 1985. The Geological Survey of Bangladesh discovered the first coal basin in Barapukuria in 1985-88. The surface drilling confirmed the existence of a sequence of Gondwana coal-bearing sediments. The GSB has discovered the Khalaspir coal basin in 1987 and the Dighipara basin in 1995. The coal basins like, Phulbari, Nawabgonj, Shimnagar, Dangapara and Burirdoba have been recognised based on the negative gravity anomaly, a survey that was carried out by the Geological Survey of Bangladesh in 1992. Based on the gravity-anomaly survey report of the GSB, an Australian company, BHP (Broken Hill Proprietary), completed the surface drilling and specified the existence of coal in the Phulbari basin in 1997. Other basins as mentioned above have not been considered for exploration, reservoir estimation, and feasibility study yet. The five discovered coal basins which have the most estimated coal deposits are Jamajganj (1053 million tonnes), Barapukuria (377 million tonnes), Khalaspir (828 million tonnes), Phulbari (about 500 million tonnes) and Dighipara (about 500 million tonnes).

Recently, a vast conflict has been raised between the basinal extent and estimated reserve of the Phulbari coal basin compared with the extent and reserve of Barapukuria as well as the Jamalganj basin. For example, the Barapukuria basin has six coal seams with an average thickness of about 44.8 m that extends up to 5.16 square km with an in situ total reserve of 377 million tonnes. The Jamalganj basin has seven coal seams with an average seam thickness of about 64 m and it covers about 11.7 sq km. In contrast, BHP boreholes reveal the Phulbari basin has only two coal seams with an average total thickness of about 38 m. This author has calculated the preliminary estimated reserve of about 483-500 million tonnes, while the deposited area is 6 square km. If the area is ten times of 6 km2, then the estimated reserve should be ten times, i.e. 4830-5000 million tonnes. Therefore, the author wonders and his critical query is here. How could the Phulbari basin extend up to 60 sq km? Is it true? The present study reveals that if the in situ coal reserve was around 500 million tonnes, the deposited area in the Phulbari basin could never exceed 6 km2. Therefore, the scientific and general community of the country should rethink about the fraud of some people. Why some particular people are shouting that the extent of the Phulbari coal basin is about 60 km2, which is ten times the in situ coal reserve area of the basin. Is there any hidden agenda behind this publicity?

Some people are trying to motivate the government for open-pit mining in Phulbari, and Barapukuria. Worldwide mining reveals that a larger-scale area is needed for open-pit mining than that needed for underground mining. If the angle of internal friction of the overburden rocks strata of an open mine is minor, in that case, a huge amount of area is wanted to safeguard the slope stability for optimum production of coal. The depth of coal seams of the Phulbari basin ranges from 152 to 255 m. The angle of internal friction of the overburden of the Barapukuria basin ranges from 10 to 32 degree. Belonging to the same geological belt, the friction angle of rock strata of the Phulbari basin would be identical to that of Barapukuria. Therefore, if the mining company considers the above-mentioned range of friction angle for safe operation, it would get a huge amount of land. In addition, the mining company should think of shifting the Phulbari town along with many densely populated villages elsewhere. Perhaps these are the reasons for shouting 60 km2. More clearly, excluding 6 km2 area of the coal deposit, another 54 km2 land would be required for supplementary purposes rather than for mining.

The problem for open-pit mining in northwest Bangladesh lies with the depth of coal seams and overburden unconfined water-bearing formation. The mining methods are usually selected based on the depth of overburden of ore body, geographic and topographic locations, and geology of the basin. Most of the open-pit coalmines in Australia, for example, Surat Basin, Galilee Basin, Washpool open-pit coal project, the Red Hill open-pit coal project, the Burton, Ellensfield and Wallanbah open-pits, etc, are found in and around the hilly regions. However, open-pit mines in Australia are not located within the arable and densely populated land. The depths of these open-pit mines in that area are shallower (maximum of 120m). For example, in the Washpool open-pit coal project, the coal seams occur at a shallow depth up to roughly 60m. In the Red Hill open-pit coal project, the shallower (100m) seam has been considered for small open-pit, while the deeper seam (depth ranges from 150m–300m) has been considered for underground mining. The depths to the top of coal seams in the Burton, Ellensfield and Wallanbah open-pits are almost 100m, 120m and 90m respectively. In Coppabella mine, a major open-cut has been considered to be around 150m depth, after which an underground mining has been proposed. In India, the eventual pit depth of the Chandmari Coppermine of Rajasthan is 148m. The Lajkura opencast coal mine is located in the Orissa state of India. The depth of overburden rock is 22m, immediately above the main coal seam, having a thickness of 18m. The Jharia coalfield in Bihar state of India is about 40km long and about 12km in average width, having 50 coal seams and an in situ reserve of 17077 million tonnes. Opencast mining in Jharia has a maximum depth of 70m. The mine has been exploited with a combination of opencast and underground mining. Therefore, the study implies the depth of coal seams and unconfined aquifer in the Phulbari and northern part of the Barapukuria basin does not allow open-pit mining. Other alternatives for coal utilisation like underground coal gasification, coal bed methane and coal to liquid technologies should be considered in this connection. For underground mining, Longwall Top Coal Caving mining method associated with descending order of extraction and backfill technology should be preferred.

*Dr Md Rafiqul Islam is a professional mine geologist. At present he is a research fellow of the Department of Earth Sciences, University of the Ryukyus, Japan

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Interview with Roger Moody: social, economic and environmental impacts of mining

Interviewed by GRAIN

Roger Moody
is an expert on mining and mining transnationals. He has spent years uncovering the facts about how mining companies operate. He edits the Mines and Communities website, which exposes the social, economic and environmental impacts of mining, particularly as they affect indigenous and traditional communities.

In Ecuador and India, we see indigenous communities mobilising powerfully to try and stop mining projects that they see as damaging to their way of life and belief systems. Is this part of a global trend? Have local communities become more active in recent years in the struggle to defend their territories?

RM: No question. When I started working with a global network of mining-affected communities with Minewatch back in 1990, we were working on around 30 major struggles a year. Part of the reason for this was that we didn’t know about isolated communities who hadn’t yet “internationalised” their experiences. That began to change between 1990 and 1995, as not only Minewatch but larger organisations (Amnesty, WWF, Human Rights Watch, and others) belatedly came to appreciate that mining was the big remaining global issue that they hadn’t yet effectively tackled. In 1996 the World Council of Churches held a conference on Indigenous Peoples and Mining, which 50 delegates attended. At a follow-up conference embracing the same aims, held in Manila in March 2009, 85 delegates attended – and there could have been many more. As editor of the Mines and Communities website, established in 2001, I now receive every day as many complaints from mining-affected communities as were being circulated every week a decade ago.

Vedanta is the company the Dongaria are fighting against. What do you know about Vedanta’s track record in other parts of the world?

Having examined the operations of numerous mining companies on a professional basis since the early 1990s, I’m often asked to name the “world’s worst”. Until 2007 I refused to do so. It is often the case that in some respects the big multinational miners are better than their smaller counterparts – especially in their relationships with some (I stress only some) local communities. They’ve finally learned how to win some of these on board, by banging the “sustainable development” drum and offering relatively generous impact benefit packages and access to infrastructure. On the other hand, the bigger the company, the worse the environmental damage they can do or threaten to do. For example, in a survey of tailings (mine waste) dam collapses included in my book Rocks and Hard Places, [1] the majority of the worst disasters were at mines operated by big US and European companies.

However, after Vedanta was listed on the London Stock Exchange in late 2003, I felt bound to examine this specific enterprise in more detail. Now I have no hesitation in describing it as the world’s most damaging mining company. It’s not just physical damage we’re talking about, but the entire armoury of deception – lies, breaches of faith and, above all, violations of regulations – to which the company has resorted over the past five years. While its conflict with the Dongaria Kondhs around its Nyamgiri bauxite project has seized the headlines (rightly so), I find that many people still aren’t aware of Vedanta’s egregious activities in other parts of India (in Tamil Nadu and Chhattisgarh, in particular) or its sullied record in Zambia and Armenia. In 2007, Anil Agarwal, the executive chair of Vedanta – who, with his family, holds some 54% of the company’s share capital – set about making it a “global force”. And that is what he’s been doing, acquiring control of Sesa Goa, India’s biggest iron ore exporter in 2007; and more recently buying into another iron ore producer in Brazil, taking a significant stake in Canada’s largest (and most polluting) zinc-lead miner, and just now, in May, announcing a new copper plant for the United Arab Emirates. Potentially the most threatening of its current plans is to take over Asarco, the USA’s third biggest copper-mining company, with the worst record for the country in this particular sector. Agarwal is a malevolent genius: Vedanta identifies run-down enterprises that can be acquired on the cheap and bring in quick profits, whatever corners have to be cut and regulations overridden. It’s this one aspect of Vedanta’s game plan which was exposed by the Norwegian government’s Council on Ethics last year, when, after concluding an intensive two-year investigation, it concluded that the company was intrinsically incapable of observing even basic rules of good practice, and that the government’s pension fund should disinvest from the company (which it did).

Mining companies always claim that they can mine without damaging diversity or local farming practices. Do they ever actually achieve this?

I’m not going to generalise. It took some years before those of us working to try to limit the industry’s depredations got some positive response from some individual mining companies. And we haven’t been entirely disappointed. For example, the world’s largest “natural resource” company, BHP Billiton, promised a few years ago never again to dump its waste into rivers or on the sea bottom – and so far it has kept to that promise. Rio Tinto, on the other hand – BHP Billiton’s major global rival – hasn’t undertaken to follow that lead. Arguably, however, Rio Tinto is more aware of the consequences of mining in primary forest areas, and has done a few deals with communities of which the latter approve. At root, we’re confronting an industry whose raison d’être is to go where the minerals are, whatever the consequences to current land and water usage, and to extract profit from irreplaceable resources. Nor do they actively promote recycling and reuse of mined metals, for that would threaten their fundamental mission. Judging from the unceasing flow of justifiable complaints that pass over my desk each day, it’s impossible to conclude that mining practices have substantially improved over the past two decades. Indeed some – such as those used in the expansion of open-pit mining for copper, nickel and gold – have demonstrably got worse.

It is too early to tell whether the communities in Ecuador and India will be successful. But are other communities managing to stop mining projects or to close them down? Can you give us some examples?

Yes they are, though it’s difficult at the present time to distinguish between projects put on hold because of the current lack of debt finance and those which have been abandoned, possibly indefinitely, because the companies know they’ll face continuing, possibly accelerating, resistance. In 2002, PriceWaterhouseCooper surveyed around 30 large mining companies, asking them if they’d been forced to abandon proposed projects because of external opposition – and if so, what type of opposition. The results were surprising: more than 20 had shelved proposals, and the most important factor was, indeed, community opposition. In the past year, BHP Billiton have abandoned some projects; Rio Tinto has sold off others. In most cases, we can’t claim that such proposals have definitely been ditched because the company has recognised the legitimacy of the criticisms; almost always they will cite “economic constraints” instead. We can be sure, however, and increasingly so, that the corporate risks posed by critics, and active resistance at ground level, are factored into company assessments of a project’s viabibility. We know this because the companies are telling us that it is the case.

Awareness is growing worldwide about the gravity of the climate crisis. Is this beginning to change public perceptions? Maybe the ‘development agenda’, where economic progress is valued before all else, is beginning to be challenged? Are people becoming more aware of the huge environmental and social cost of destructive development projects?

We’ve several steps to go before the contribution of mining to greenhouse gas emissions is widely recognised. It’s only been in the past couple of years that UK climate change activists seem to have finally recognised that coal burning is the single biggest culprit. Steel manufacturing comprises perhaps the second biggest contributor to adverse global warming (between 3% and 7%, depending on which figures you believe), with cement production running a close third. If you calculate (few have) the greenhouse gas emissions consequent on burning uranium (ridiculously touted as a “clean” fuel), then the use of mined minerals constitutes, collectively, the biggest climate villain (and that’s without adding in the contribution – which is certainly not negligible – of constructing new mines and power plants to run them). There is also as yet little recognition – certainly at a policy level – that the hopes invested in carbon capture and storage from existing and future coal-fired power plants are false.

The world is in the grip of contradictory trends. On the one hand, we have ever bigger corporations laying claim to larger and larger tracts of land for the industrial production of food and biofuels and for mining, and, on the other, we have increasing community resistance over local projects. What is needed to make resistance more effective?

For a start, largely northern-based NGOs should stop laying down prescriptions; both the analysis and implementation of self-chosen strategies by communities resisting “development” have shot well ahead of many of those offered by desk-bound pontiffs elsewhere. In fact, by challenging specific projects (whether it be a coal mine, a biofuels plantation or a wildlife reserve) these communities are transforming the way the rest of us ought to think about “development”. In my opinion we should leave them to their own devices, while always being ready to offer support when asked (such as trying to cut off investment in companies like Vedanta, which mostly derives from European and US banks). The problem in determining the best strategy is not one, in my experience, that besets communities “at the rock face”. The retrievable, experiential, history of resisting bad mines goes back several hundred years (especially in Latin America). Increasingly I feel that it’s those of us outside the field of battle who don’t know what to do.

Going further:

The Mines and Communities website

[1] Roger Moody, Rocks and Hard Places – the Globalisation of Mining, Zed Books, London, 2007

Friday, June 19, 2009

Keep export option, build green city: Expat experts suggest at discussion on coal

Refayet Ullah Mirdha, back from Tangail, The Daily Star, June 19, 2009

A panel of non-resident Bangladeshi experts yesterday suggested that the government formulate a coal policy with an option to export the surplus fossil fuel.

It talked about merits and demerits of open-cut and underground methods of coal extraction, but did not recommend any.

At a post-workshop press conference at Jamuna resort in Tangail, the energy experts said the government should build 'green cities' near the coal mines to ensure locals are safe from environmental hazards.

They also stressed the need for arranging alternative means of livelihood for the people affected by coal mining.

Nafis Ahmed, a panel member, said they have asked the government to develop a database through geographic information system for a 30-year land management in the mining localities.

"We have also suggested regular dialogue between the government and experts on protection of the environment from the perils of extraction," he added.

The panel observed that the country would be able to have four 500-megawatt power plants if coal mining at Barapukuria and Fulbaria runs on full throttle.

It said it favours exporting the coal in excess of the domestic demand because extraction, once underway, cannot be stopped.

The experts drew up a draft coal policy during the workshop titled 'Brainstorming with Non-Resident Bangladeshi Experts on Coal Mining in Bangladesh'.

The four-day group work, which began on June 15, was organised by the energy ministry and Petrobangla, the state body mandated to oversee production, transmission and marketing of gas, oil and other mineral resources.

In the draft, the expatriates' team suggested securing energy security for 20 years, provided the GDP growth would hover around 8 percent a year.

M Khalequzzaman, one of the specialists, said that while sketching out the policy, they focussed on energy security, institutional and legal framework, resource mobilisation, environment, health and safety issues, and resettlement and rehabilitation of those who would be affected.

Alongside its own coffers, he noted, the government should count on stock markets, public-private partnerships, banks and security bonds for funds.

Mohammad Mohsin, secretary of the energy ministry, said they would discuss the suggestions at the secretary-level committee to include those in the government's draft coal policy.

"The government wants a coal policy as soon as possible. However, I cannot give you an exact time by which the proposed policy would be finalised," he told reporters.

Muktadir Ali, acting chairman of Petrobangla, said he has already recommended export of 2 lakh tonnes of surplus coal produced at the Barapukuria coal mine.

Among others, Toufiq-e-Elahi Chowdhury, power and energy adviser to the prime minister, was present at the press conference.

Experts’ suggest coal export in ‘special circumstances’

Staff Correspondent, NewAge, June 19, 2009

The non-resident Bangladeshi ‘experts’ have recommended that the government should keep open in the coal policy an option for coal export in ‘special circumstances’.

They have also recommended not banning or favouring any coal mining method in the policy and stressed that a mining method is selected for ‘maximum extraction of coal’ considering environment.

The recommendations came in the four-day coal mining workshop that ended on Thursday at Jamuna Resort in Tangail.

Explaining special circumstances for coal export, the coordinator of the ‘experts’ Dr Nasif Ahmed, an expert on networking of people, told reporters in a press briefing that if any surplus coal remained stockpiled for days, there would be no alternative but to export them.

‘If two out of four coal-based power plants go out of order and the coal cannot be stored, it can be exported in this circumstance. This kind of situation has already become obvious in the Barapukuria coal field,’ he said.

Petrobangla chairman Muktedir Ali told reporters they had requested the government to allow export of two lakh tonnes of coal from the Barapkuria coal mine as they could not store more coals at present.

‘We have 2.5 lakh tonnes of coal stockpiled at Barapkuria as the 250MW coal-based power plant is not operating in its full capacity. The field is producing around 3000-4000 tonnes coal a day. There is no more space for storing coal,’ he said.

Muktedir said that they had already invited local tender to sell the coal but did not get satisfactory response.

Professor M Khalequzzaman from Lock Haven University of Pennsylvania, USA, said they thought Bangladesh was not in a position to export any energy resources like coal as it was facing energy shortage.

He said they could not reach on any ‘specific agreement’ on coal mining method but they reached a consensus that mining method should focus maximum extraction keeping environment into consideration.

Khalequzzaman read out the recommendations that included expansion of use of coal beyond power generation, building institutional capability and develop skilled manpower on coal by developing ‘Coal Bangla,’ a national organisation.

He said the environmental quality standard had to be formulated for coal extraction.

Nafis claimed that they had given their independent opinions on the coal policy.

The government gave them the latest version of coal policy, which was formulated by the interim government by changing the draft policy finalised by the committee headed by former BUET vice chancellor Abdul Matin Patwari, before the eight NRB ‘experts’.

The panel also said Bangladesh would be able to run four power plants each with 500MW capacity if the coal could be extracted from both the Barapukuria and the Fulbaria coal mines.

They suggested mobilising fund for coal extraction from government exchequer, stock market, public-private partnership initiatives, bank loans and security bonds.

At the press briefing, energy secretary Mohammad Mohsin said, ‘The government wants that the coal policy is formulated as soon as possible. But I cannot say exactly when the proposed coal policy will be finalised.’

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Expat experts begin reviewing coal issues: Barapukuria mine operating amid high risk, they observe

The Daily Star, June 18, 2009

While dissecting the draft coal policy at a four-day brainstorming session, a panel of expatriate and local experts emphasised on health and environmental aspects in finalising the policy that should additionally be trimmed down.

They said that the policy should dictate that health and environment should represent at least two percent of any coal mining cost.

According to sources present at the brainstorming session being held at the Jamuna Resort from June 15, the experts agreed on the draft's suggestion on forming a “Coal Bangla” like Petrobangla to spearhead activities in the coal sector.

Bangladesh Energy Regulatory Commission (Berc) will have an inspector of mines as a tool to regulate the mining standards from geological perspective, while the Department of Environment would deal with the surface environment, they said at the session that concludes today.

The Petrobangla and the energy ministry invited the expatriates at this programme to stimulate a fresh perspective on the draft coal policy, land subsidence at the Barapukuria coal mine site and human resettlement issues.

“The discussions here have been highly academic. The non-resident Bangladeshis are not related to any private company working in Bangladesh and they have not been involved with the drafting of the policy in the past. They are not debatable, though some quarters are trying to make the people suspicious about this session,” said an official of Petrobangla present at the discussions.

The discussants felt that the draft coal policy had a lot of chapters not relevant as policy. “We all agreed that this document should be confined within policy matters,” said a source.

The draft also seeks to ensure coal reserve to meet 50 years of demand. The discussants felt that it was not realistic as, in the course of time, there would be many unpredictable developments that would demand changes in the strategy.

The country did not have adequate data on proven coal reserve except for the case of Barapukuria and Phulbari deposits and therefore it should take up extensive feasibility study of other discovered coal deposits.

Bangladesh should mark a mining zone and begin exploration extensively, they said.

The draft policy projected coal demands mainly on the basis of power sector requirements. But the policy should take into cognisance other sectors' requirements.

In the high-energy demand scenario, the experts find no reason to allow export of coal. However in some peculiar conditions, the provision of export should be kept there. For instance, due to power plant failure in Barapukuria, the coal mine there now has so much surplus coal that these should be exported or removed to other places to ensure safety.

To develop the coal sector huge resources are required. This resource may be derived from public private partnership, share market, issuance of bonds, loans from development partners, leasing etc.

Besides the session discussed about financial incentives for investors and gathering of baseline data from the coal deposit areas.

Double PhD holder from UK and Australia on minerals, Dr. Nasir Ahmed is acting as the coordinator of the expatriate group. Other expatriate experts are: Dr Saad Andalib, Professor and the Chair of Marketing, Pennsylvania State University, USA, Dr Khalequzzaman, head of Geology Department of Lock Haven University, Pennsylvania, US based environmentalist Dr Sarwat Chowdhury, mining engineer working in Queensland coal and iron mines Masud Hossain, and Melbourne based Global Positioning System and Global Information System expert Sultana Nasrin.

The chairmen of Petrobangla and Power Development Board (PDB), members from Geological Survey of Bangladesh, Bureau of Mineral Development, Barapukuria Coal Mine Company, Titas Gas Transmission and Distribution Company Ltd, Dr Hossain Monsur of the Geology Department of Dhaka University, and representatives from the Rajshahi University and the Chemical Engineering Department of the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (Buet) are participating in the session.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

NRB experts divide over mining method, export of coal

Staff Correspondent, NewAge, June 17, 2009

The non-resident Bangladeshi experts are divided over the coal mining method, rate of royalty and coal export issue, said the sources present at the four-day workshop on coal policy that began at the Jamuna Resort in Tangail on Monday.

‘There was a clear division among the NRB experts who came from the USA and Australia. Majority of the experts, came from Australia, were in favour of open pit mining method, fixing low royalty rate and keeping the coal export issue open,’ said the sources.
 Eight NRB experts are attending the workshop on the coal mining method and coal policy,’ organised by the state-owned Petrobangla.

Two experts, came from the USA, highlighted the impact of open pit mining of coal on the environment and people, presenting the examples of the USA.
 They also opined that Bangladesh should not allow export of coal to secure its future energy reserve.

There was a ‘clear motive’ in projecting the underground mining at the Barapukuria coal field as a complete failure by the experts from Australia and their choice for open pit mining method, the sources said.
 Moreover they claimed that if the royalty rate was fixed at a higher rate, the cost of power generation using coal would get increased.

They also recommended that the coal policy should not impose ban on the coal export from Bangladesh.

The NRB experts are reviewing the draft coal policy that was prepared by an advisory committee, headed by former vice-chancellor of BUET, Abdul Matin Patwari.

The Patrwari committee recommended ban on coal export, development of coal fields under the leadership of the state-run companies, fixing royalty rate based on some criteria like coal price in the international market and operation of a small scale open pit mine at Barapukuria field to see the feasibility of such mining method in Bangladesh before going to apply it in other fields.

‘It seems that the workshop will adopt the recommendations of the experts, loyal to the UK-Australian company Asia Energy, who opposed the recommendations of the Patwari committee,’ the sources said adding that the ‘experts’ would come up with a complete set of recommendations today.

The National Committee to Protect Oil, Gas, Mineral Resources, Power and Port, and different rights groups are protesting at holding of the workshop by the government terming the ‘Jamuna Resort meeting’ a conspiracy to allow the controversial Asia Energy to extract coal through open pit mining method at Phulbari field and export of coal.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

PDB plans big for six coal-fired power plants: over 2,900MW to be added by 2015; ten rental plants by year-end

Sharier Khan, The Daily Star, June 9, 2009

In view of the gloomy gas supply scenario, the Power Development Board (PDB) for the first time shifted its focus from gas-fired plants and proposed for six coal-fired power projects -- five of them very large -- totalling 2,625 megawatt to be installed by 2013-2015, sources say.

In addition, PDB in its proposal to the power ministry recommended setting up of three more 100MW duel-fuel power plants by 2013.

At the same time, PDB sees a power crisis of 1,467MW by this December and recommends setting up of 10 small non-gas rental power projects of 400MW capacity for one-year term to ease the crisis throughout 2010.

The proposal says of the six coal-fired plants, five would be 500MW in capacity each. These would be set up on the basis of partnership between the public and private sectors or as independent power projects (IPP) like the Meghnaghat plant, having 25 years of contract for each.

The PDB incurs loss from purchasing power from rental and liquid fuel-based private power plants, as their tariffs are higher than PDB's selling price.

PDB's loss is higher for rental power projects. The PDB proposes that the government allocate it subsidy to cover up the losses.

If the ministry in principle approves these projects, PDB would take steps to determine technical and financial feasibility, location selection, fuel types and types of contracts for rental, IPP and public-private partnership.

The five large coal-fired plants will be located in Khulna, Chittagong, Meghnaghat-3, Meghnaghat-4 and Maowa. The first two plants could be commissioned by 2013 and the rest in 2015.

The coal could be imported or locally produced. Sources say coal has been chosen as the main alternative source of power, as the other options like imported oil or liquefied natural gas (LNG) are costlier.

On an average, coal-fired power costs US 5-6 cents per kilowatt hour, nuclear power also costs the same, gas 6-7 cents, wind 8 cents and solar 10-15 cents globally.

Besides, PDB could undertake a 125mw coal power project at the cost of $190 million at Katakhali in Rajshahi. The PDB may also take up three 100MW duel-fuel (having the capacity to use both gas and oil) projects, each costing $160 million in Faridpur, Hathazari and Dohazari.

On the one-year rental power projects, PDB recommends heavy fuel-fired plants in Thakurgaon of 20MW capacity, Khulna barge-mounted 50MW capacity and Noapara 50MW capacity.

The remaining rental plants would be fired by liquid fuel. They are 50MW Ashuganj, 40MW Bheramara, 40MW Barisal, 50MW Katakhali, 50MW Cox's Bazar and 50MW Shikalbaha.

The government had bitter experience with rental power projects, none of which could launch operation in time and some of which could not launch operation at all.

PDB sources say this negative experience was caused by selection of wrong contractors during the caretaker government.

"The upcoming power crisis demands that the government take quick measures to minimise the crisis. If awarded to competent contractors, rental plants can be a very effective solution, though it will be costlier than conventional plants," said an official.

As per the Power System Master Plan (PSMP) update 2006, the power demand in December this year should be 6,066MW, while the installed capacity should be 7,313MW.

But the power projects under implementation would add 811MW by December, leaving a power crisis of 1,467MW.

Presently the official capacity of PDB is around 5,000MW, while it can practically generate less than 4,000MW.

The PSMP update also says the demand will shoot up to 8,364MW in 2013, while the installed capacity should be 9,979MW.

"Presently the government has taken up various power projects which will bring 3,200MW power by 2014. The flaw in this plan is that these projects are not enough. We project that there will still be a power crisis of 2,000MW. This is why we are preparing a proposal," said a top PDB source.

The parliamentary standing committee on power had earlier reviewed the power projects under implementation and felt that they were not enough to address the country's problems.

The committee asked PDB to work on the plan and send it to the power ministry, sources say.

"The standing committee told PDB that it would strongly recommend the new power projects," a PDB official added.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Govt to have coal policy reviewed by "expatiate Bangladeshi experts"

Staff Correspondent, NewAge, June 6, 2009

The government will have the coal policy reviewed by a group of ‘expatriate Bangladeshi experts’ at an expense of around Tk 80 lakh, most of which will be donated by an organisation from a European country that allegedly campaigns for open-pit coal-mining.

Sources in the energy ministry and Petrobangla said that the four-day programme, from June 15-18, will include a brainstorming meeting at the Jamuna Resort in Tangail for thrashing out ideas and a visit to coal-fields in Dinajpur for gathering first-hand data before making any recommendations on the coal policy.

Apart from ‘expatriate experts’, members of the parliamentary standing committee on the power and energy ministry and officials of various government agencies, like the Geological Survey of Bangladesh and Department of Environment, might attend the discussions organised by Petrobangla.

Sources said that a European organisation that has sponsored a number of roundtables and seminars to promote open-pit mining, and the controversial Asia Energy’s Phulbari project, would provide around $1 lakh for the programme.

They said that so far nine ‘expatriate experts’, including one who vehemently supports Asia Energy’s proposed open-pit mining at Phulbari, have consented to participate in the programme. ‘All their air fares and other expenses will be paid by the organiser of the programme,’ said a source.

The ‘experts’ will review the latest draft of the coal policy, which was slightly changed by the interim government after an advisory committee, headed by the BUET’s former vice-chancellor Abdul Matin Patwari, finalised the draft.

Many energy experts, economists and rights activists, while talking to New Age, have expressed concern over the government’s move to review the policy, expressing the apprehension that the move has been taken to ‘legitimise open-pit mining and Asia Energy’s Phulbari coal project’.

Petrobangla’s chairman Muktadir Ali, however, dismissed the allegation that, by reviewing the policy, they were trying to favour any specific mining method or any particular company.

‘The motive of the move to review the draft of the coal policy by some so-called experts is clear. The government wants to legitimise open-pit mining and Asia Energy’s project through the coal policy,’ said a member of the Patwari committee.

He said that the Patwari committee’s draft was appreciated by almost all sections of experts in the country, apart from some foreign companies. ‘The committee also consisted of people with different opinions and the report was prepared after a prolonged debate that continued day after day,’ he said.

Professor Anu Mohammad, member secretary of the National Committee to Protect Oil, Gas, Mineral Resources, Power and Port, told New Age on Friday, ‘We think this is a ploy to legitimise Asia Energy’s project in Bangladesh. We have learnt that a European organisation that supports open-pit mining, and some of the so-called experts who campaigned for the Phulbari project, will review the coal policy. So we are very concerned.’

Muktadir, however, said, ‘The expatriate experts will just share their experiences with us on coal mining in different countries. It is the government which will ultimately decide which recommendations it will accept.’

‘Besides, the coal policy is in the final stage. There is no scope anymore to favour any company or any mining method. If any good suggestions come up from the experts, the government will mull them over,’ he said.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

New report reveals how UK companies get away with human rights abuses overseas as Parliamentary Inquiry is launched

Monday 4 May 2009, by The Corporate Responsibility (CORE) Coalition

UK companies that have committed human rights abuses overseas far too often get away with it, a new report launched today (1 May) reveals.

Reviewing examples from Kenya, India, Bangladesh, Georgia and Nigeria. the report, entitled “The Reality of Rights: Barriers to accessing remedies when business operates beyond borders”, finds that in cases of alleged human rights violations, systemic failures have too often led to victims not receiving adequate redress.

Although previous research in this area has highlighted legal obstacles to victims seeking justice, this is the first comprehensive study of the very real political, social and economic obstacles that prevent victims receiving adequate remedy.

The report’s key findings include:

• Governments’ desire to attract foreign investment undermines their protection of the rights of those affected by the investment;

• A serious lack of trust in the independence of legal systems undermines victims’ desire to pursue claims;

• Victims are pressured not to act and those that still want to often can’t afford to.

The report concludes that the UK Government has a responsibility to ensure UK companies do not continue to get away with violating human rights abroad. A new UK Commission on Business, Human Rights & The Environment is proposed to provide guidance to companies on what standards they must adhere to when operating abroad, and act as a forum for hearing and resolving allegations of infringements.

The findings of this report will be submitted to The Joint Committee on Human Rights, who have just launched an Inquiry into Business and Human Rights (deadline for submissions today, 1 May).

Hannah Ellis, Coordinator of The Corporate Responsibility (CORE) Coalition said:

“Too many UK companies are breaching human rights when they operate abroad Our report reveals why so many companies continue to get away with it.

“The Government has no excuse not to act now. We believe the solution is a new UK Commission for Business, Human Rights & The Environment. We hope it will be discussed urgently by the Government..”

Mary Robinson, President of Realizing Rights: The Ethical Globalization Initiative and former President of Ireland, who contributed the foreword to the new report, said:

“The innovative approach this report puts forward is a significant contribution to ongoing debates which should be taken seriously by governments and businesses committed to responsible action at home and abroad.”

For more information, please contact: • The Corporate Responsibility (CORE) Coalition: Hannah Ellis. +44 (0) 207 566 1601. +44 (0)7952 876 929 • The London School of Economics and Political Science: Sue Windebank. + 44 (0) 20 7849 4624

Download the report: The Reality of Rights: Barriers to accessing remedies when business operates beyond borders