News / 1 March 2012

UN Special Rapporteur warns for mega coalmine in Phulbari, Bangladesh

This week, a special rapporteur of the United Nations spoke out against the opening of an open-pit coalmine in Phulbari in the northwestern part of Bangladesh. He did this because of the enormous human rights violations this project might lead to. A year ago, the International Accountability Project (IAP) presented a proposal for research on this subject to a number of UN Special Rapporteurs. Olivier de Schutter (UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food) has worked on the proposal since then. From the start, Both ENDS has been active within several networks that are trying to prevent the opening of this coalmine.


There have been plans to open a coalmine in Phulbari since 2006. In August of that same year, 50.000 protesters in Phulbari went out into the streets to prevent having a foreign country break up their land for coal, forcing a large part of the inhabitants to move. At this protest, three demonstrators died and over 200 people got injured. Since then, protests have been held regularly and local and international NGO's have been trying to prevent the plans from being executed.


Renewing the project

The IAP is making efforts to raise awareness with possible financers of the Phulbari project to warn them of the risks for the population and the environment, but a lot of investors are trying to get their foot in the door anyway. In 2007 the implementation of the project was postponed, but after elections in Bangladesh in 2008, the new government has started reinforcing the project with financial help from Global Coal Management Resources (GCM).


Support from the UN

The fact that the UN has spoken out against the coalmine is of great value, because it recognizes the fact that the mine would be a threat to the livelihoods of local people. A large cultivated area would be lost, just like several waterways on which more than 1000 fishermen depend. The project also has disastrous consequences for the ground-water table and with that, access to safe drinking water of 220.000 people.


Preserving fertile ground

The government of Bangladesh is very hesitant in taking any decisions on the coalmine, but the population is speaking out more and more against the project and advocates alternative ways of energy recovery. Almost half of the people in Bangladesh don't have enough to eat. Especially a fertile agricultural area like Phulbari should stay intact. Even though Prime Minister Hasina recognizes the threats to great parts of Bangladesh, mixed signals are coming from the parliament.


The importance of human rights

According to the UN, human rights should be incorporated into the development strategies of Bangladesh. This way the opening of a coalmine can be prevented. Together with many local and international NGO's, Both ENDS has been involved with the Phulbari project from the beginning. At the start, Both ENDS had a coordinating role in connecting several organisations. Both ENDS also contributed to the fact that the Asian Development Bank (ADB) stepped back from the project. Right now, Both ENDS is involved with the Phulbari Action Network that keeps an eye on what's going on with the Phulbari mine.

Check out the UN press release and the Case description Phulbari from Pieter Jansen of Both ENDS.

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