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Press Release: Collective open letter to the Government of Odisha, India
EMBARGOED: 15 FEBRUARY 2013 AT 05:30 INDIAN STANDARD TIME; 00:00 GMT
February 15, 2013
We, the undersigned, write on behalf of an international community of human rights activists, organizations and independent experts to express our deep concern about the ongoing violent acquisition of land by the government of Odisha in Gobindpur village, Dhinkia Gram Panchayat. We strongly condemn the illegal use of force by the government of Odisha against village residents and protesting community members. The most recent wave of police violence, which took place between February 3-6, 2013, is consistent with a documented pattern of abuse, threats, and intimidation by the Indian government to forcibly acquire land in Odisha for the South Korean POSCO corporation’s steel processing plant. We wish to emphasize that these attacks are in clear violation of Indian law, as well as established international human rights norms and standards.
Between February 3 – 6, 2013 we received direct reports of escalating government violence through our contacts among community leaders in Gobindpur, Dhinkia, Cuttack, and Bhubaneswar. We were informed that a police force of twelve platoons, along with senior government officials and POSCO representatives entered Gobindpur village at 4 am on Sunday, February 3rd. Reportedly, the police attacked a human barricade composed of over 350 women. The indiscriminate use of force, which allegedly included lathi attacks on women and children, injured over 50 people. Three women and one elderly man sustained serious injuries.
Although the land acquisition process has temporarily been halted, we find the Indian government’s continued efforts to forcibly acquire land for the POSCO project to be incredibly troubling especially in light of serious questions that have been raised regarding the legality of the project. The environmental clearance for the POSCO project was suspended in March 2012 by decree of the National Green Tribunal – a body established by the Ministry of Environment and Forests. In addition, the government of Odisha has refused to follow the procedures established by the Forest Rights Act, whose provisions require clearance of the project by local governance structures, known as Gram Sabhas, which have issued three resolutions rejecting any diversion of land for the POSCO project. Further, the initial Memorandum of Understanding for the project, which expired in July 2010, has not been renewed.
According to Miloon Kothari, former UN Special Rapporteur on adequate housing, and Executive Director, Housing and Land Rights Network: “the lack of transparency, accountability, and due process in acquiring land for POSCO and moving ahead with the project is alarming. It is clear that the recent action in Odisha is a result of the Government’s insistence on promoting foreign direct investment, even though it violates the Constitution of India, international law, and the human rights of the local villagers. I strongly condemn this undemocratic action that also defies reports of independent and government-appointed committees cautioning against environmental and human rights abuses of the project.”
We urge the Indian government to take the following measures in order to address ongoing human rights abuses associated with the POSCO project:
1. Immediately cease all measures aimed at the forcible displacement of residents living in Jagatsinghpur district, Odisha;
2. Carry out an independent and impartial investigation into the illegal use of force by the police and a government official on the morning of 3 February 2013 and hold those with command responsibility to account;
3. Ensure adequate compensation to those injured and those who incurred loss and damage of property, and loss of livelihood;
4. Rescind the false charges filed against more than 230 individuals and several prominent leaders of the anti- POSCO movement, and
5. Uphold the rights of the affected communities established under the Forest Rights Act as well as the determination of the National Green Tribunal that raised serious environmental concerns relating to the POSCO project.
(A full list of the 250 endorsements from an international community of human rights activists, organizations and independent experts is available at the time of embargo: http://www.escr-net.org/node/365084)