India, Don’t Let Women’s Rights Be Forgotten

A woman in Kendugudha village, Vedanta alumina refinery can be seen in the distance, Orissa, India, March 2009. ©Amnesty International

By: James Mutti, India Country Specialist, Amnesty USA

Major industrial development projects frequently promise bountiful improvements to people’s lives – reliable electricity, better jobs, plentiful irrigation, more money, color TVs, cars, all the wonders of modernity! Sometimes these materialize, but when they do it is often at the expense of people who are already poor and marginalized. Worse, the women in these affected communities typically feel the negative affects most of all.

As one of the world’s fastest growing economies, India is home to its fair share of major economic development projects – mines, power plants, massive refineries, dams, and expanded transport infrastructure. One of the biggest such projects underway in India today is a bauxite ore mine in Orissa’s Niyamgiri Hills and a nearby alumina refinery, both operated by British mining company Vedanta. The existing refinery threatens the lives and livelihoods of mostly impoverished and marginalized Dalit (untouchable) and Adivasi (indigenous) villagers, including the 8,000 member Dongria Kondh Adivasi group who hold the Niyamgiri Hills sacred.  Yet, in spite of this, Vedanta is petitioning to expand its refinery six-fold! Thankfully, the Indian government has denied Vedanta’s initial request, but the company is appealing the decision. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Chevron Found Guilty in $8 Billion Ecuadorian Human Rights and Environmental Case

By Chip Pitts, Lecturer in Law, Stanford Law School and Oxford University; former Chair, Amnesty International USA

After an eighteen-year, multinational court battle, Chevron was found guilty today in an Ecuadorian court and fined $8 billion for pollution that amounted to an ecological disaster and seriously harmed the human rights of the indigenous inhabitants in a small and sensitive part of the rainforest.

Before human rights, environmental, and corporate accountability advocates celebrate too quickly, however, they should be aware that the litigation – already so reminiscent of Dickens’ Bleak House – is likely to go on for some time yet.

Background to the Case

The heart of the claim – about which you can read much more at the website of the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre — is that the oil company Texaco contaminated the land in question over three decades, dumping oil-drilling waste in unlined pits, contaminating the forest and causing illness and death among the local inhabitants. When Chevron acquired Texaco in 2001, the Ecuadorian plaintiffs say, Chevron acceded to responsibility for the harm done.  Chevron, in turn, argues that a 1998 agreement Texaco signed with Ecuador limits its liability at the $40 million allegedly spent on cleanup, and that any remaining pollution resulted from subsequent operations by state oil company Petroecuador.

SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

A Country That Will Drown If Sea Levels Rise

Maldives Underwater Cabinet Meeting

Maldives Underwater Cabinet Meeting, http://www.flickr.com/photos/350org/ / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

The Copenhagen Climate Change conference opened this week with an urgent call to action on the rapidly warming temperatures and the associated human costs that come from it.  And, no country in the world will be more affected than the small nation of Maldives.  The country is a series of tiny atolls that rise no more than a few feet above sea level.  The fear is that as sea levels rise, the entire country of Maldives will simply be swamped and disappear.  All 309,000 residents of the country will have to move—everyone from the President to the poorest resident.  The newly elected President of the Maldives and his cabinet held a cabinet meeting underwater in full scuba gear to highlight their country’s fate.

The Divehi people of Maldives have lived for 3,000 years on these islands, but they are now being threatened with extinction.  The atoll of Maduvari, home to 2,000 people, is an example of this.  The atoll has noticeably shrunk and will have to be abandoned in 20 years.  Those residents will be resettled in other atolls in the Maldives.  But, what will happen when all of Maldives’ atolls are gone and where will they go?

The country is taking radical steps to deal with the onslaught caused by other country’s use of fossil fuels.  Maldives will be first country in the world to be entirely carbon neutral.  They are trying to use some of the dead coral reefs that surround the atolls to literally raise the height of some of the islands.  And, they are working to reclaim land similar to the way in which Holland has done.  But, these are short term solutions.  Long term, Maldives must convince countries much larger than them that it is imperative that action be taking to end the global rise in temperatures. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Mozambique Rocks the Vote

Mozambique goes to the polls tomorrow in its fourth general election since independence from Portugal in 1975. Parliamentary control and the Presidency are up for grabs. Election observors from the African Union, the Commonwealth and the Southern African Development Community have arrived to monitor the elections. Which is good, because so far things have been a bit bumpy.

President Armando Guebuza of the governing Frelimo party is being challenged by Afonso Dhlakama, leader of Renamo, and Daviz Simango, mayor of Beira city and founder of the Mozambican Democratic Movement. Seventeen parties and two coalitions are meanwhile in the running for seats in the Mozambican parliament and, for the first time, provincial assemblies.

So far, there have been several incidents of violence between supporters of Frelimo and Renamo, resulting in harm to persons and property. Several people have been hospitalized or forced to seek medical attention while offices have been vandalized and property stolen. Violence is often a serious issue in Mozambique; Amnesty International has documented many incidents of extra-judicial killings by the police with few prosecutions of the perpetrators and no justice for the victims or their families.

Mozambique has recently been praised by the International Monetary Fund for its economic policies and last month President Guebuza chaired the World Climate Conference, taking a strong stand on the need for new environmental policies to address climate change. Emerging in 1992 from a devastating civil war, Mozambique is now poised to take strong strides in the region and become a leader on climate change, tourism and economic development (despite the nation’s current continuing desperate poverty). Let’s hope a free and fair election unmarred by further violence or human rights violations speeds Mozambique further along this path.