More Peaceful Protesters in World's Largest Democracy's Jails

In recent weeks, human rights and environmental activists have celebrated a court ruling rejecting a massive expansion of the Vedanta Mining Company’s hazardous alumina refinery and toxic red mud pond located in India’s eastern state of Orissa.

However, peaceful protesters continue to face police violence at the site, and 47 villagers have been jailed on false charges, signaling that the saga of Vedanta’s Lanjigarh refinery is not yet over.


Victory for a Clean Environment in India

In a victory for human rights, the High Court of the Indian state of Orissa has upheld the Indian government’s 2010 decision to reject UK-based Vedanta Resources’ plans for the six-fold expansion of the Lanjigarh aluminum refinery, finding that the project violated the country’s environmental laws. Vedanta Aluminum had challenged the Ministry of Environment and Forest‘s decision in the High Court in November 2010.

Villager india

A meeting of villagers opposing the Tata Steel project, Jaipur District, Orissa, India, 2008. © Johann Rousselot

Residents of 12 villages who live in the shadow of the massive refinery – mostly Adivasi (indigenous) and Dalit communities who rely on agriculture for their livelihoods – have long campaigned against the expansion, arguing it would further pollute their land and water.

The refinery, which has been in operation for four years, fails to meet accepted national and international standards in relation to its environmental, social and human rights impact. The authorities must order an immediate clean-up of the site and monitor the health status of the local communities.


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.


Holi Human Rights, Batman

Hindus all over the world are preparing to celebrate Holi, the festival which celebrates the victory of good over evil.  Prahalad, the human rights defender prevailed over the Hiranyakashipu (his father), the human rights violator.

Hiranyakashipu uses his more or less omnipotent powers to violate the human rights of Prahalad by attempting to poison Prahalad, trample Prahalad with elephants, placed Prahalad in a room full of hungry, poisonous snakes and made to sit in a funeral pyre with his evil sister.  All these efforts to squash the freedom to practice Prahalad’s religious beliefs failed and Hiranyakashipu was eventually brought to book by Narasimha, the reincarnation of Vishnu (although Amnesty International would rightly condemn the lack of a fair trial for Hiranyakashipu).

That’s akin to the situation in the eastern Indian state of Orissa, where Hiranyakashipu… oops, I mean the Vedanta Corporation, is violating the human rights of the people of eastern Orissa.  Like Hiranyakashipu, they have poisoned the water in the region and harmed the health of citizens in the area.

Like Prahalad, the tribal leaders have appealed to a higher power (James Cameron, director of the mega blockbuster movie Avatar) in addition to their government for help in stopping the mining project but so far their pleas have not been successful.

The decision rests with Government of India’s Ministry of Environment and Forests and you can help by taking action to stop this mining project until proper environmental studies have been done.

Let’s all celebrate Holi and ensure that the Prahalads of the world are protected from the Hiranyakashipus of the world.

Don't Mine Us Out of Existence

UPDATE: Apparently the tribes in Orissa have asked James Cameron, the director of record-winning film Avatar for his assistance in stopping Vedanta’s operations.

UK-based company is destroying the environment of indigenous people in Orissa.

Help to save lives in the Indian state of Orissa.

In my first blog post, I wrote about the plight of Adivasis in Orissa.  Well, we’ve done a report that has documented one such case in much more detail.

Dongria Kondh women at a protest meeting, Niyamgiri Hills, Orissa, India, 2009

Dongria Kondh women at a protest meeting, Niyamgiri Hills, Orissa, India, 2009. Copyright: Amnesty International

Indian authorities have given local communities little or no information about the potentially disastrous impact of a proposed aluminum refinery expansion and mining project to be operated by subsidiaries of UK-based company Vedanta Resources in the eastern state of Orissa.

We document how an aluminum refinery operated by a subsidiary of UK-based FTSE 100 company Vedanta Resources in Orissa is causing air and water pollution that threatens the health of local people and their access to clean drinking water.

Adivasi, Dalit, women and other marginalized communities in the remote part of Orissa where the refinery is located have described to us how authorities told them that the refinery would transform the area into a Mumbai or Dubai.

The Orissa State Pollution Control Board (a state government agency) has documented air and water pollution from Vedanta Aluminum refinery in Lanjigarh, Orissa. The pollution threatens the health of local people and their access to clean water yet there has been no health monitoring.

Despite these concerns and the environmentally sensitive location of the refinery near a river and villages, the government is considering a proposal for a very large expansion of the refinery. Neither the Indian authorities nor Vedanta have shared information on the extent of pollution and its possible effects with local communities.


Forced to Leave Home

Bloggers Unite

Every day across the world people make the difficult decision to leave their homes. War, persecution, environmental disaster and poverty are just some of the reasons why a person might feel that they have to leave their family, community or country.

Refugees leave their country because they have no other choice and fear for their own life or safety or that of their family. Refugees also flee their country when their government will not or cannot protect them from serious human rights abuses.

Right now, as you read this, millions of people around the world have fled and are waiting to begin their lives again. Tens of thousands of Zimbabwean refugees in South Africa wonder if today is the day their food rations will run out. Hundreds of thousands of Burmese refugees in Thailand worry that today is the day they will succumb to illness without medical attention. A quarter of a million Colombian refugees in Ecuador fear that today is the day they will be sent back to face the violence in their home country.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the main agency mandated to provide protection and humanitarian services to those fleeing persecution, estimates there are almost 10 million refugees around the world. They have fled political and religious persecution, been caught up in ethnic conflict, and subjected to violence because of their sexual orientation. There are many reasons that people become refugees, but only a few ways to obtain the protection they so desperately need. International agencies and local organizations do their best to assist everyone, but caring for the world’s most vulnerable is a daunting task.

Amnesty International USA advocates for the rights of asylum-seekers in the United States, and for the humane and dignified treatment of refugees and migrants worldwide. As violations of human rights continue and the number of fleeing people rises, we must all raise our voices to protect the persecuted.