Communities in the Bangladeshi sub-districts of Phulbari, Birampur, Nababganj and Parbatipur including villages of indigenous households who are considered to be the oldest inhabitants of the South Asian sub-continent have been fighting to halt a proposed open-pit coal mine known as the Phulbari Coal Mine Project for over seven years.
The complaint filed on behalf of the communities alleges that GCM Resources plc, the company that has full management responsibility for the mine, has abused the human rights of the communities, failed to properly consult them, and failed to disclose relevant information in their local languages.
The number of people that would be displaced should the project proceed is contested. At the lowest end of the spectrum, GCM states that it would displace 49,487 people. However, an Expert Committee formed by the government of Bangladesh to assess the project concluded that it threatens the water sources of 220,000 people, with unknown displacement impacts over time. According to GCM, the project would displace 2,328 indigenous peoples. However, Bangladesh’s National Indigenous Union, Jatiya Adivasi Parishad, estimates it would displace and/or impoverish 50,000 indigenous people. GCM also states that their project would acquire 14,660 acres of land, 80% of which is fertile and productive agricultural land. Although 80% of the affected households currently have land-based livelihoods, GCM’s draft Resettlement Plan clearly states there will be no land-for-land compensation and “most households will become landless”.
The UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous People, James Anaya, has twice commented in the UN record on GCMs failure to seek or secure the free, prior, and informed consent (FPIC) of indigenous people who would be affected by the project. This is an ongoing violation of the right to FPIC that now spans more than seven years.
GCM cannot avoid these forced evictions if its project is implemented. This means that violations of the human rights of tens of thousands of people are, indeed, inevitable if GCMs project is implemented.
Relevant OECD Guidelines
- Chapter II
- Chapter II Paragraph A2
- Chapter II Paragraph A7
- Chapter III
- Chapter III Paragraph 2 e
- Chapter IV
- Chapter IV Paragraph 1
- Chapter IV Paragraph 2
- Chapter IV Paragraph 3
- Chapter IV Paragraph 4
- Chapter IV Paragraph 5
The UK accepted the complaint in June 2013. However, the NCP said the allegations that GCM had failed to disclose information about risks and failed to prevent or mitigate human rights impacts were “not substantiated” because the complainants had not shown that the impacts were happening or occurring on or after 1 September 2011 when the revised Guidelines took effect. Instead, the NCP accepted GCM Resources claim that it will avoid and mitigate the impacts of relocating the estimated 54,000 people should the project proceed.
The NCP has only allowed examination of issues regarding violation of the rights of affected communities that have been shown to be inevitable, the alleged failure by GCM to follow its own self-regulatory standards, and whether the companys review of its plans in the period between September 2011 (when Chapter IV provisions were added to the Guidelines) and December 2012 (when the complaint was filed) included appropriate human rights due diligence.
The NCPs refusal to consider potential human rights impacts has outraged the complainants, particularly in light of the fact that seven of the United Nations Special Rapporteurs took coordinated action in February of 2012 to issue a joint UN press release calling for an immediate halt to GCMs proposed project on the grounds that it threatens the fundamental human rights of tens of thousands of people, including the rights to food, water, adequate housing, freedom from extreme poverty and the rights of indigenous people.
In addition, Miloon Kothari, the former UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Adequate Housing and author of the UN Principle and Guidelines on Development-based Evictions and Displacement wrote to the UK NCP to on 19 October 2013 to notify it that the massive displacement that GCM intends to carry out constitutes “forced evictions,” as defined in international law, and as such is a violation of human rights in itself.
When the NCP offered to facilitate mediation between the parties, GCM denied the allegations and urged the NCP not to accept the case. As the parties could not agree on terms for mediation, the NCP moved to conduct an examination of the allegations in the complaint and issue a final statement. The NCP sent a draft final statement to the parties, but publication was delayed because the complainants requested that the UK NCPs Steering Board review the NCPs handling of the case.
The Steering Board issued its review in October 2014 and noted that, as it considers the human rights abuses at issue in the case to be prospective, the NCP made a procedural error not to apply the 2011 Guidelines to the complaint and noted that the 2011 Guidelines clearly apply to prospective human rights abuses. The review committee recommended that the complaint should be re-examined in light of this concern and the NCP should issue a new final statement reflecting the re-examination.
Despite the recommendation of the Steering Boards review panel, there appears to have been no re-examination of the complaint. Instead, the original final statement was published on 20 November 2014 with as only change the addition of a short footnote stating that the review had taken place and that the 2011 Guidelines had been applied. In its final statement the NCP concluded that it only found GCM in partial breach of its obligations to develop trusted self-regulatory practices and management systems, but not in breach of other human rights provisions.
IAP and WDM are deeply concerned by a number of short-comings of the complaint process, most notably the failure of the NCP to consider the (inevitable) human rights impacts of the project if it goes ahead. In addition, the complainants are concerned about on-going violations of free prior and informed consent of affected indigenous people, restrictions on civil and political rights of opponents of the project and high risk of violence if the company persists in pushing the project forward.
In September 2015 the UK NCP issues a follow-up statement highlighting continued opposition and turmoil in Bangladesh over GCM´s plans to build the coal mine in Phulbari. From the input on the follow-up statement received from both parties, the NCP concludes that there has not been significant development in GCMs mining project and therefore reemphaises that the company has the obligation to continue to consider and manage the environmental and social aspects of the project and engaging with community stakeholders on these issues. The UK NCP further regrets that GCM has failed to update its environmental and human rights impact assessment for the project, as recommended its final statement of 2014. The complainants take the NCP´s statement as further evidence that if the Phulbari coal mine goes ahead, it will be a disaster for people as well as the environment.