Tag Archives: Human rights

Corporate Impunity: Strategies of struggle (Part I)

2016 was an important year in our continent’s struggle against corporate impunity: the first session of the Southern African Peoples Permanent Tribunal (PPT) took place in Swaziland. This Court, which was founded more than 30 years ago in Italy, is an independent body that examines situations of systemic human rights violations – especially in cases where existing legislation (both national and international) is not capable of safeguarding the rights of populations. Although it does not have the power to issue an obligatory sentence for the company (which, by the way, is very important and is one of the reasons we are working for – but let’s talk about it later on), the PPT is strategically very important: On the one hand, it allows victims to be heard and advised by a panel of experts from various areas and to establish partnerships; and on the other, it is a moment of complaint and visibility for the cases, and therefore, of exposure to infringing companies. And although in our country this criminal impunity is often seen as a synonym of cleverness and of the perpetrators degree of influence, on the international level things are not quite like that. Being labelled as a human rights violator is a matter of great concern to these corporations, and therefore it can lead to a change of attitude – not because their ethical principles and values are very important to them, but simply because a bad reputation affects the only thing that truly matters to corporations: their profits.

Ten cases from Swaziland, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Zambia and Mozambique were presented in last year’s PPT, most of them related to the extractive industry. From our country, for the serious impacts that their activities have on the communities around them and for the noncompliance with the promises they made to those communities before settling in the region (to the point that one of them actually started its mining activities without resettling those living within the concession area – as we have denounced through various channels including this one), we took to the court VALE and JINDAL. A Panel of Jurors listened attentively to the communities’ grievances and to a contextualization made by invited experts, and then released its deliberations.

This year the process is repeated: in August, seven cases from the Southern Africa region will be presented by the affected communities themselves and by the civil society organizations who work with them. This time, the general theme of the cases is Land, Food and Agriculture. In addition to cases presented by Zambia, Malawi, Tanzania, Madagascar and Mauritius – who will denounce large corporations such as Parmalat and Monsanto – this session of the PPT will also hear the denunciation of two Mozambican cases: the proposed Mphanda Nkuwa dam on the already strangled Zambezi River; and ProSavana, the Mozambican, Brazilian and Japanese governments’ triangular partnership program that aims to develop agribusiness in the Nacala Corridor. These two Mozambican cases have the same particularity: they are not yet implemented. However, and this is what made us chose these two cases for this year’s PPT (because, let’s face it, what we are not lacking in our country are examples of human rights violations by private initiatives), despite not being implemented yet, its impacts are not less significant.

In Mphanda Nkuwa, for example, local communities were visited for the first time in 2000 by representatives of the companies responsible for the construction of the dam. They ere warned that they could not build new houses in that region because they would not be compensated for them. Since then, these people live in total uncertainty and can no longer make any long-term plans, at the risk of losing their assets when they start construction. ProSavana, on the other hand, has been characterized by the secrecy, manipulation and misrepresentation of information with the aim of promoting a false idea that the project will promote agricultural development in the northern region of the country, while in fact it is an initiative that will serve to facilitate large scale encroachment of peasant lands. This program will also destroy the livelihoods of local populations and exacerbate their already grave poverty. There are already reports of manipulation and intimidation of leaders of local peasant organizations.

The mobilization of civil society (Mozambican, Japanese and Brazilian) in opposition to ProSavana was fundamental to halt to the initial plans of this program and postpone the conclusion of its Master Plan. The purpose of taking these two cases to the PPT is to bring together even more elements that may help stop these projects.

Spaces such as the PPT are also crucial for perceiving trends, identifying development models, and analyzing common practices of transnational corporations – as well as their strategies to escape responsibility. Thus, by moving these experiences to a more global scale, it is easy to see that these violations of fundamental human rights are not perpetrated by one or another transnational corporation in isolation. That is, these are not a couple of rotten apples in a sack full of beautiful apples. Rather, it is a generalized behavior that is enabled by an architecture of impunity, characteristic of our extractive capitalist development system. This architecture of impunity puts corporate rights above human rights, and makes way for an abundant number of examples of very lucrative corporate crimes.

The architecture of impunity consists of several elements and actors:

We have the economic power of corporations – on the basis of which these establish their relations with one another and with states – and of international financial institutions;

We have political power, which in turn is responsible for capturing policies and politicians that fail to regulate the collective interests of society to serve private interests;

Trade architecture, embodied by numerous trade and investment agreements, facilitates profit and allows corporations to file lawsuits against governments should they make decisions that affect their anticipated profits;

Legal power is represented by the financial capacity to hire and dispose of influential lawyers who defend corporations in endless processes, as well as by inadequate and insufficient legal instruments that regulate their actions; and finally

Social power, which is exercised in all spheres of our lives through the influence that corporations have in the media, academic spaces, civil society organizations, among others.

Discussing some of these elements and developing the cases that will be presented in the PPT next month, were the objectives that motivated the Workshop on the Architecture of Impunity, held in the context of the Southern Africa Campaign to Dismantle Corporate Power. Since it is the affected communities themselves who present the cases to the Panel of Jurors in the PPT, this enabled them to get the support of several resource people, to appeal, discuss and deepen the specificities of their denunciations and also to identify common ground with the other cases.

But the struggle to end corporate impunity is not only fought in the field of opinion sentences, nor is the important opinion of a panel of judges our only weapon to demand a different behavior from transnational corporations. Another battle is being waged to develop a legal instrument that will ultimately have the power to condemn and punish corporations – since the absence of such an instrument is currently one of the biggest gaps in international law. We are talking about the UN Intergovernmental Working Group, created in 2014 with the mandate to develop a binding treaty for transnational corporations on human rights issues, which will meet in October this year for its third session. At this time, transnational corporations simply have to follow voluntary standards and guiding principles that “advise” best practices on human rights issues. There is no doubt that this blind faith in corporate goodwill has had grave and irreparable consequences, both on people and on the planet. In next month’s article, we will look into this issue more carefully, getting deeper into the debate about the urgency of a legal mechanism that is accessible to any community affected by the operations of a transnational corporation. For now, we continue to look closely at next month’s PPT, certain that this will be another important moment regarding the convergence of struggles for a fairer, healthier and more common-good oriented world.

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Supports who?

Another mega agricultural project launched in Mozambique

We received the news about its launching ceremony with skepticism. For many of us, it was the first time we were hearing about the project. Another mega project loaded with ambitious and (some) noble goals, like so many others that preceded it and vanquished without achieving half of what they set out to do.

“This mega project of my Government, whose objective is to gradually take rural families out of poverty, is the embodiment of the investment in Mozambican families as the main mechanism to promote sustainable, integrated and inclusive development and reduce regional and local asymmetries”, said Filipe Nyusi.

It is premature to make major considerations or comments on the subject because still very little is known. We have not yet had access to any document on the project, and the little information that exists is circulating in the mainstream media. However, the simple fact that a project this big (judging by the amounts involved and by the 125 thousand families of alleged beneficiaries) is launched in this manner, leads us to ask: Where did this project come from?

Once again, this is a top to bottom approach. The project was designed, discussed and launched, without giving the alleged beneficiaries or other interested parties and/or affected people, the chance to participate in its construction!

Surely there are more than enough reasons to justify the urgency to launch this project. To justify why there was no time to perform appropriate public consultations; to involve the many actors who deal with agricultural issues such as research institutions, academics, civil society, grassroots organizations and peasants in discussions on priorities for the development of peasant agriculture; and to design the project on the basis of a truly open and transparent process.

To justify their hurry, the noblest of reasons will be invoked, such as the urgent need to support the development of the peasantry, given their evident poverty and vulnerability. Obviously, old and less noble arguments – which, truth be said, are nothing but mere distractions – will also come back, like accusing those who question the project of being against development and/or unpatriotic.

Interestingly enough, the World Bank and other similar agencies are far more influential in deciding what may or may not happen in Mozambique than the Mozambican people. And although, as we have said earlier, we know nothing about this project yet, we risk guessing that the role of the World Bank is not limited to financing it. They have certainly been involved in the project’s conception, ensuring that their altruistic support goes mainly to what interests them most: agro-business and forest plantations – monocultures of exotic species – they call reforestation.

“More than 5,000 jobs will be created by forest plantations, through the reforestation of more than 1600 hectares of degraded lands.”

According to information in the media, this project was conceived by MITADER and will be supported by the World Bank! The perfect wedding!

In other words, we owe a great debt to our government (and no, it is not that hidden and illegal debt we talking about)! We are deeply grateful to them for granting us another ready-made project to reduce poverty. Free from burdens such as having to think about development issues, about inclusive and participatory strategies, about how to ensure that the priorities of the peasantry are properly included, and even about how we want to manage our resources and how we want to see our country in the coming years.

For now, let’s wait for the enthusiasm to fade so we can then try to understand how this mega project is supposed to work and, above all, how will it – unlike the many others in the past just like it (loaded with the same promises and the same rivers of money to implement) – finally get Mozambicans out of poverty?

Who has left poverty behind thanks to the fantastic green revolution? Who has left poverty behind growing jatropha or other biofuels? Who will benefit from Prosavana? Someone always profits, but who? And at what cost? How many hundreds of thousands of Mozambicans’ well being will these ready made projects with incognito beneficiaries “cost”?

And while misunderstandings and failures in communication are, unfortunately, too often invoked to justify civil society’s opposition to so many mega-projects, – even though they are never the main reason – people insist on doing things behind closed curtains. Where is the official information about the project? It has already been inaugurated; it is already being advertised in the media; but it is not available on the websites of the entities involved and all we know about it is what is being reported by the media.

We would also like to believe and share their enthusiasm, but skepticism has taken over us long ago. Now we prefer a “seeing is believing” approach, and we have not seen anything yet …

 

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March for Human Rights

IMGP9596 On Monday this week, JA staff and board again took to the streets of Maputo. After the historic and fun march in Maputo back in August, where we were joined by human rights and environmental organisations from all across southern Africa, this week Mozambican organisations continued to march to assert their rights.

The occasion was 10th of December, the International Day for Human Rights. The march to commemorate this day was organised by Liga dos Direitos Humanos (Human Rights League) in Mozambique in partnership with Justiça Ambiental, National Forum of Community Radios, and others.

The marchers gathered at 9am at the Independence Square in Maputo City, and marched up Karl Marx Avenue and thenIMGP9617 up 24th of July Avenue. The marchers were a small but vocal group. We chanted non-stop, filling the streets with loud and animated slogans in Portuguese:

  • “Respect Human Rights”,
  • “What do we want? – Human Rights!! When do we want it? – Now!
  • Viva freedom! – Viva! Viva right to information! Viva!
  • Life is not for sale, life is to be defended!
  • The Right to Health – is Ours! The Right to Education – is Ours! The Right to Land – is Ours! The Right to Information – is Ours! The Right to security – is Ours! The Right to demonstrate – is Ours!
  • Down with those who commit violence – Down!
  • Down with those who violate human rights – Down!

 

IMGP9924When the marchers were a block away from the Parliament building/ National Assembly, we suddenly came face-to-face with a roadblock. We had asked for and received permission to hold the march on that route, and to deliver a petition to the Parliament on human rights situation in Mozambique. Yet, it was obvious that the government of Mozambique had a different idea. We were greeted with great pomp and show by the Rapid Intervention Force. It must be remembered that, just a few months ago, it was the members of this same Rapid Intervention Force that fired on communities protesting displacement and dispossession due to Vale’s coal mining operations in Tete province, central Mozambique.

The Rapid Intervention Force stood in our path, blocking the march route. They blocked the road and even had a massive armored tank in the middle of Maputo city! Every once in a while, the soldiers from inside the tank would peer out and look at us; their weapons drawn. Please see the photos.

The police on the streets were far less subtle. They were fully dressed in riot gear, even though we were less than 70 marchers holding only a peaceful protest on a pre-approved march route chanting for peace and human rights! Yet, the police were armed with tear gas guns, rubber bullets, pistol and who knows what else. We were barred passage to even the entrance door of the building of the Parliament, and after a long wait we were only allowed to send four of our representatives to deliver the declaration. The declaration urged the government to respect human rights.IMGP9846

There is no reasonable explanation for the reaction of the government and the police. Only one explanation makes sense. It was an intimidation tactic. Civil society in Mozambique is small but is getting more and more vocal. The communities are raising their voices against oppression, and this is threatening the state’s plans for more greed and unsustainable development. But we have one message to send to the state: We will not be silenced. We will continue to speak out against injustice.

 

Come join us!

 

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Notes from the Field: Vale-displaced communities in Cateme

Almost 200 people filled a room at the Escola Secundária Cateme (Secondary School of Cateme) on2 foto_meeting_8octblog_photo credit Gregor Zielke Saturday, 6 October. Cateme is the region where communities displaced by Vale coal-mining in Tete province, Mozambique, have been resettled. Women, men, children, babies, the elderly, students and teachers from the communities came together this past Saturday to speak out about the problems they are facing in resettlement.

Saturday’s meeting at the Secondary School was convened by Liga dos Direitos Humanos (Human Rights League), UNAC (National Farmers Union), AAAJC (Association for Support and Legal Assistance for Communities) and Justiça Ambiental. The land law and Mozambican constitution were presented for people to understand their rights, and copies of these booklets were given to various community representatives. Following the presentations, community members spoke vociferously one after another, explaining the problems they were facing.

Vale is the second-largest mining company in the world, with revenues exceeding US$ 45 billion and profits around US$ 17 billion. But Vale is also a global leader in its devastating disregard for human rights and 3 foto_cateme_8octblog_photo credit Gregor Zielkeenvironment protections. There is even a global movement around the world called “Affected by Vale”, bringing together communities that are the victims of Vale’s greed. Every time Vale enters a new country or region, the “Affected by Vale” movement ends up with new members. Mozambique is no exception.

In Mozambique, Vale is mining coal at an open-cast coal mine in Moatize, Tete province. The communities living in the area were relocated to Cateme. Every time we visit Cateme and stand in the middle of the village, we understand why Vale is considered the worst company in the world. The area is dry, hot and desolate. The land produces dust instead of crops and the 40°C plus temperatures, including in this past week, turn the small zinc-roofed houses where people have been resettled into over-sized ovens, with inside temperatures exceeding 50°C! The few times it does rain, the roofs leak and even though most houses are only a few years old, they are already cracking.

Life has always been hard in Tete province in inland Mozambique, but people developed survival methods. The community relocated to Cateme because of Vale’s mining had productive lands. They were close to heath posts, schools, churches, friends, family and one of the largest markets in the province where they could sell their crops. Now they are 37 kms away from their main market of Moatize. People said they spent up to 100 Meticais (US$4) per day getting to and from Moatize.

1 foto_meeting_8oct blog_ photo credit Mauro PintoEven the secondary school where the meeting was held was supposedly for the resettled communities. Yet we discovered that out of 150 students, a paltry 20 come from resettled communities, the others are from wealthier families in Tete, Moatize, etc.

The people tried to discuss the issues with Vale and the government, and when that failed, they stood up and demanded to be heard. Earlier this year they held a peaceful protest and occupied the road and railway to make Vale take their concerns seriously. The reaction from the Mozambican government, backed by Vale, was unmitigated violence by the rapid intervention police, who used live ammunition, and shot rubber bullets directly at unarmed peaceful protesters, sending 6 to the hospital and 14 to jail. One man’s horrendous injuries were photographed in January. We photographed him again and his injuries persist almost 9 months later.

Photo Credits (from the top down):

Photos 1 & 2:  Gregor Zielke

Photo 3: Mauro Pinto

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