01.10.2013 | OHCHR

India: Urgent call to halt Odisha mega-steel project amid serious human rights concerns

GENEVA (1st October 2013) – Construction of a mega-steel plant in Odisha in Eastern India should be halted immediately, United Nations independent human rights experts* have urged, citing serious human rights concerns. The project reportedly threatens to displace over 22,000 people in the Jagatsinghpur District, and disrupt the livelihoods of many thousands more in the surrounding area.

“The construction of a massive steel plant and port in Odisha by multinational steel corporation POSCO must not proceed as planned without ensuring adequate safeguards and guaranteeing that the rights of the thousands of people are respected,” the group of eight experts stressed.

While India has the primary duty to protect the rights of those whose homes and livelihoods are threatened by the project, the experts underlined that “POSCO also has a responsibility to respect human rights, and the Republic of Korea, where POSCO is based, should also take measures to ensure that businesses based in its territory do not adversely impact human rights when operating abroad.”

The UN independent experts brought their concerns to the attention of both Governments and the corporation involved following allegations of human rights abuses and potential negative human rights impacts linked to the project.

“Forced evictions constitute gross violations of human rights,” said the UN Special Rapporteur on adequate housing, Raquel Rolnik, “and may only be carried out in exceptional circumstances and in a manner consistent with human rights law, including after a genuine consultation, without leaving people homeless or vulnerable to further human rights violations.”

The UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Olivier De Schutter, warned that the forcible removal of people from their lands could be tantamount to depriving them of their means of subsistence. “People who would be evicted for the POSCO project have relied on their lands for generations in order to obtain adequate food and sustain themselves and their families,” he said.

“People should not be impoverished in the name of development; their rights must take precedence over potential profits,” stressed the UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Magdalena Sepúlveda. “Projects such as these, with such a large potential impact on the rights of people living in poverty, must not go ahead without the meaningful participation, consent and involvement of the community affected.”

The Special Rapporteur on water and sanitation, Catarina de Albuquerque, pointed out that “nearby Indian residents’ access to safe drinking water and sanitation must be guaranteed and prioritized ahead of the water required for large-scale investment projects.” The POSCO steel project would withdraw every day an estimated 38 million litres (10 million gallons) of water from the water sources that supply the nearby cities of Cuttack and Bhubaneswar.

According to the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of peaceful assembly and association, Maina Kiai, “people in the project-affected area have reportedly been subjected to violence, harassment and intimidation, as well as arbitrary detentions and false charges, as a result of their activities to assemble peacefully and collectively defend their human rights.”

“Respect for human rights requires transparent and accountable institutions and governance as well as the effective participation of all individuals and civil society, who are an essential part of realizing social and people-centred sustainable development,” the UN Independent Expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order, Alfred de Zayas, noted.

“People who live in villages around the plant and derive their livelihood from the surrounding forest land have repeatedly expressed their concerns regarding damage to the forest area,” said the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to health, Anand Grover. “People’s right to live in a healthy environment, an integral part of the right to health, may also be at stake due to the plant, but their protest against it has been disregarded.”

States have primary obligations to ensure the enjoyment of human rights within their territories. This includes the duty to protect against human rights abuse by third parties, including business enterprises. “We call on the government of India to live up to its ‘duty to protect’ and suspend the POSCO project while the alleged human rights concerns are being examined and addressed,” the experts said.

They also urged POSCO to exercise human rights due diligence throughout all stages of their activities, to ensure meaningful consultations with potentially affected stakeholders, to carry out a human rights impact assessment and to act on and incorporate its findings into the project operations in order to avoid, mitigate and ensure remedy for any potential or actual human rights impacts, as required by the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.

“We are encouraged by our initial dialogue with the Government of the Republic of Korea regarding this issue, and we urge the Government of India to respond to our concerns to ensure that the human rights of the affected people are fully respected and protected,” they said.

“In entering into investment agreements and promoting business activities, States must respect their duties under international human rights law,” the UN independent experts stressed. “Unless full compliance with international human rights standards is ensured, the project should not proceed as planned.”

(*) The UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and extreme poverty, Magdalena Sepúlveda; the UN Special Rapporteur on adequate housing, Raquel Rolnik; the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Olivier De Schutter; the UN Special Rapporteur on the human right to water and sanitation, Catarina de Albuquerque; the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, Maina Kiai; the UN Independent Expert on the promotion of an equitable and democratic international order, Alfred de Zayas; the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to health, Anand Grover; Working Group on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises, Pavel Sulyandziga (Chair).