Tag Archives: JA

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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Stop Damming the Zambezi

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This past week saw the release of a significant study that has deep repercussions for energy planning and water solutions in Mozambique.

International Rivers released this in-depth study by renowned hydrologist, Dr Richard Beilfuss, detailing the major risks of hydropower dams on the Zambezi River. The report, titled: ‘A Risky Climate for South African Hydro’ warns that southern Africa’s over-reliance on dams could spell doom as the climate worsens.

The Zambezi River, which is Africa’s fourth-largest river, will experience more conference2012_1130extreme floods as well as droughts. The report warns that;

“Dams being proposed and built now will be negatively affected, yet energy planning in the basin is not taking serious steps to address these huge hydrological uncertainties. The result could be dams that are uneconomic, disruptive to the energy sector, and possibly even dangerous.”

Even in the face of such damning information, the Mozambican government persists with its ill-conceived idea of building conference2012_1131yet another gigantic dam on the Zambezi, called the Mphanda Nkuwa dam, planned to be built about 60kms downstream from the existing Cahora Bassa dam.

JA has been challenging the Mphanda Nkuwa dam for over 10 years now, by constantly exposing the risks, injustices and inadequacies, such as the weak EIAs (Environmental Impact Assessments), inadequate rehabilitation plans, and lack of transparency and participation. But the government continues to ignore the glaring problems and keeps pushing it ahead.

As Dr. Beilfuss’ study reveals, dams conference2012_1132are not climate resilient, actually they are very climate prone. Mozambique is already 80% dependent on hydropower and will be negatively affected by climate change. In this time of a rapidly-changing climate, it is shocking that large dams are being pushed as a solution, whereas they are a damaging false solution instead.

Earlier this month, JA’s opposition of more dams on the Zambezi was supported by Friends of the Earth England, Wales and Northern Ireland (EWNI), which consists of 230 local groups including 100,000 individual activist members across Britain!conference2012_1136

EWNI invited JA to speak at their annual conference, held in London from 14th to 16th September, 2012. Sadly, JA’s Program and Research Officer was unable to travel to the UK since the authorities took an unreasonable 3 weeks to let him know whether or not they were going to give him a visa. JA is enraged with this and we plan to take up this matter with both the Mozambican and British authorities along with EWNI and challenge the difficulties in travel faced by southern activists who are critical of their government’s incorrect policies.

EWNI held a solidarity action in conference2012_1137support of JA’s campaign against the Mphanda Nkuwa dam. They joined their voices with ours to demand, “No more dams on the Zambezi. We want renewable energy options for Mozambique instead!”

Mozambican people need energy, but they need true solutions, not false ones like dams. JA commissioned an independent expert report in 2009 on the renewables potential in Mozambique. The results are very positive but of course there are huge political barriers to that but this is what we are supporting.

Read our Alternative Energy report here: http://www.internationalrivers.org/africa/zambezi-river/mphanda-nkuwa-dam-mozambique/building-mozambique%E2%80%99s-power-sector-through-investm

To read the International Rivers report on the Zambezi, see this link: http://www.internationalrivers.org/resources/a-risky-climate-for-southern-african-hydro-7673

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Together We March! Reclaiming the SADC for Peoples’ Development

Yesterday (August 16th 2012) the beautiful coastline of Maputo was covered with a sea of green t-shirts.   As the city welcomes Southern African heads of state arriving today for the SADC (Southern African DDSCN0067evelopment Community) Summit, the people decided to respond by taking to the streets and marching for their rights.

People gathered yesterday morning, most of them wearing bright green t-shirts to represent the life-sustaining gifts of the land and the environment, and marched almost 5 kilometres along Avenida Marginal to the Chissano Conference Centre where the SADC talks start today.

The marchers held high their placards with powerful messages such asIMGP9035 ‘Africa is not for sale’, ‘No to biofuels, stop land grabbing’, ‘Enough with intentions, we want actions, for the right to land, water and food sovereignty’, ‘Are we eradicating poverty, or the poor’, “Land-grabbing = Plantations, dams, mining’.  Another banner demanded: ‘There is nothing about us Without US’, showing the need of the people to be involved in the decision-making that affects their lives.  At the end of the march, a few representatives then went to deliver to the SADC the Peoples’ Summit declaration “Reclaiming SADC for Peoples’ Development”.

FP1160539or the past 3 days, activists from social movements and organizations from Mozambique, South Africa, Lesotho, Malawi, Namibia, Zambia, and Zimbabwe have participated in the Peoples’ Summit of the SADC 2012. The Summit brought together farmers, fishermen, landless people, rural and industrial workers, rural women, feminist movements, and social and environmental activists.

There was consensus that the immense power that multi-national corporations (MNCs) exert over government and even community P1160615leaders is a major concern.  Farmers raised their voices against land-grabbing, against GMOs, and for access to water, etc., during the Peoples’ Summit.  Participants asserted: “The people will take over if their human rights are not respected and if their resources are continuously mismanaged.”

“Cash crops divert water and key resources from sustainable development because this is where big corporations dominate sovereign states and agriculture through the selling of seeds and fertilizers”

DSCN0093Fishermen are realising that their access to the sea or rivers have been cut off and they are faced with newly-built fences – which seriously affects their livelihoods.”

The outcome of the meeting was the declaration of the concerns of the development path that the SADC is taking with undemocratic governance, impunity of corporates in extractive industries, exploitation of natural resources, dominance of corporates in the energy sector, increasing violence against women and children, displacement of communities by MNCs with active collaboration of DSCN0133SADC governments, increasing food insecurity, damage to ecosystems, wrong choices concerning energy policies such as; more fossil fuels, problems of mega-infrastructure including dams and mines, growing inequalities, and the continued violations of economic, social, cultural and environmental rights.  Mozambican organisations such as UNAC (National Farmers’ Union), Women’s Forum, Justica Ambiental, Peoples’ Dialogue, Livaningo, and others have been involved in this process.

More photos from the march:

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Thank you to all who participated and helped make this possible!

More information about the People’s Summit: http://sadcpeoplessummit.org/thepeoplessummit/

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