"Only after the last tree has been cut down, Only after the last river has been poisoned, Only after the last fish has been caught, Only then will you find that money cannot be eaten." Cree Indian Prophecy
Today, United Nations member states resume negotiations in the seventh session of the Open-ended intergovernmental working group (OEIGWG) mandated to elaborate an international legally binding instrument to regulate, in international human rights law, the activities of transnational corporations. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms Michele Bachelet, opened the session remarking that the world is witnessing a “growing consensus on the need of binding regulations on business and human rights”.
Global South countries intervened in strong support of the Binding Treaty process – South Africa, Namibia, India, Indonesia, Pakistan, Philippines, Bolivia, Venezuela, Cuba and Palestine among others. For the first time delegates from all major global economies shared their views on the Binding Treaty process and content. All of which goes to show that after seven rounds of negotiations states cannot ignore the urgent need for an effective instrument such as the UN Binding Treaty.
The Ecuadorian Chair of the OEIGWG opened the seventh session by affirming that the negotiations must be “State-led”, which raises concerns about how civil society´s contributions will be included.
The continuous broad participation of communities affected by transnational corporations’ activities, civil-society organisations, trade unions and social movements makes it one of the most strongly supported processes in the history of UN OEIGWGs. The Global Campaign to Reclaim Peoples Sovereignty, Dismantle Corporate Power and Stop Impunity (Global Campaign)1, representing 260 million people globally affected by Transnational Corporations has, once again, a strong presence in Geneva providing vital recommendations and critical analysis.
Tchenna Maso, from the Movement of Peoples Affected by Dams (MAB), La Via Campesina and the Global Campaign, remarked during the opening session, “Let me remind you of the basic problem that brings us together here. At the heart of the matter is the fact that, although the human rights violations committed by transnational corporations through their chains are obvious, States are usually unable to punish the culprits or to make reparations to the victims.”
Ubrei-Joe Mariere, from Friends of the Earth Africa spoke on behalf of the Global Campaign, “The climate, biodiversity and Covid crises are results of a socio-economic model that favours corporate profit over the protection of human rights and the environment. Travel restrictions due to the pandemic, unequal access to vaccines, financial barriers, digital connectivity and differing time zones limit the participation of the Global South, including States and affected peoples. For the Binding Treaty negotiations to be inclusive and fair, we must ensure that civil society – especially those most affected by the impunity of transnational corporations – are able to follow, intervene and influence the direction of the negotiations.”
Mary Ann Bayang, from the Indigenous Peoples Rights International in the Philippines, declared that, “The peoples, citizens, affected communities and social movements place great hope in the success of the process initiated in this OEIGWG to bring transnational corporations under the law. States also have an interest in the adoption of such a treaty that will allow them to recover their lost sovereignty. It is in this spirit that the Global Campaign has been engaged in the process of negotiating this Binding Treaty. We note with great regret that the current draft treaty falls far short of the OEIGWG’’s mandate. It is essential that this situation be rectified and the process put back on track.”
Participants in the negotiations emphasized the urgent need for binding regulations for Transnational Corporations in light of the Covid19 pandemic.
The Brazilian AIDS Interdisciplinary Association, member of the Global Campaign said, “Adopting a Binding Treaty is urgently needed to bring justice to people denied access to health technologies, and whose lives have been taken away by corporate greed. The treaty must include the primacy of Human Rights as a fundamental principle. Thus, interests included in trade and investment agreements must be subordinated and subjected to mandatory respect for Human Rights.”
A broad coalition of elected representatives, the Global Interparliamentary Network (GIN) supporting the UN Binding Treaty, also advocates for an ambitious and effective legally binding instrument.
Miguel Urbán, Member of the European Parliament for The Left and member of the Global Parliamentarian Network in support of the Binding Treaty added, “The absence of clear and binding international norms for the respect of human rights feeds the impunity and abuse of global corporate power.”
The Global Campaign will be in Geneva all week working to ensure that its proposals for the UN BInding Treaty are taken into account and included in the current drafting process.
NOTE TO EDITORS
For further information or to arrange interviews you can contact:
The Global Campaign to Reclaim Peoples Sovereignty, Dismantle Corporate Power and Stop Impunity (Global Campaign) – a network of over 250 social movements, civil society organisations (CSOs), trade unions and communities affected by the activities of transnational corporations (TNCs), representing 260 million people globally.
This round of negotiations is revising the third draft of the binding treaty, published on August 17, 2021, which fits in the negotiation process started in 2014 with the adoption, by the Human Rights Council, of Resolution 26/9. UN information on the Mandate of the OEIGWG
For four years, the people of the province of Cabo Delgado, Mozambique, have been devastated by gas and violent conflict between insurgents, military and mercenaries. Eight hundred thousand people have become refugees from the violence, and thousands have lost their livelihoods and been displaced by the gas industry. To make things worse, they are now in the hands of the Rwandan army, which is notorious for horrific torture of Congolese and Rwandan alleged dissidents in military detention centres. And they have gone rogue.
According to Mozambican President Felipe Nyusi, the 1000-strong Rwandan army’s mandate since July has been to “restore peace and stability”.
But since the Rwandan state became involved, things have gone even further awry than they already were. Already, on 14 September, Rwandan businessman and chairman of the Rwandan Refugee Association in Mozambique, Révocat Karemangingo, who was exiled from Rwanda in 1994, was assassinated in Maputo.
Three months before, Rwandan journalist Ntamuhanga Cassien who had applied for asylum in Mozambique, was arrested by Mozambican police, and has not been seen since.
If experts and activists who have linked the murders to the Rwandan state are correct, even though the government has repeatedly denied it, this should not come as a surprise. The Rwandan government is known for killings of political opponents and journalists both inside and outside of the country, including South Africa and Kenya.
In July this year, Amnesty International and a consortium of journalists exposed that Rwanda was one of the countries using the Israeli surveillance company NSO Group’s Pegasus software. Since 2016, the Rwandan government has used the software to unlawfully surveil the phones of 3500 activists, politicians and journalists.
The Rwandan army itself has a terrible human rights record – in 2014 Human Rights Watch reported they had been fighting alongside the Rwanda- backed M23 rebels in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Over three days in 2016, M23 soldiers killed 62 people in anti-government protests.
Even though locals around Palma have highlighted the more professional conduct of Rwandan solders in comparison to the Mozambican soldiers, the Rwandan operation relies on local intelligence and information in order to be effective. But they are not doing the dirty work of actually acquiring this intelligence themselves. It has been the Mozambican soldiers that have carried out the interrogations, arrests and intimidations to obtain information. This has been one of the causes in the increase of disappearances, unlawful arrests and torture, sometimes targeting outspoken and critical civilians within the gas affected communities.
So if the Rwandan government doesn’t care about its own citizens and civilians in the DRC, why would it put its money and army on the line for foreign nationals? And who else has an interest in them being in Mozambique?
One of the factors that can’t be ignored is Rwanda’s dynamic relationship with France, and that French company Total is one of the leaders of Cabo Delgado’s $50 billion gas industry. Total owns 26% of the Mozambique Liquid Natural Gas (LNG) Project.
It is in the process of constructing the massive Afungi LNG Park, which will house the offices and support facilities for its project as well as ExxonMobil’s Rovuma LNG project and their contractors. The gas giants are building an industry that is pushing the debt-ridden country further into poverty and not benefiting the people. Until now, it has only brought destruction.
The French government has over $520 million invested in the Mozambique gas industry through a loan from the French export credit agency (BpiFrance) for the third project, Eni’s Coral South LNG. The four largest French banks, Crédit Agricole, Société Génerale, BNP Paribas and Natixis are also involved in the industry as financiers or financial advisors.
It is the construction of the Afungi Park that has forced thousands of local people out of their homes, and away from their farmland and fishing grounds creating an angry and further disenfranchised population.
And now that the insurgency has ruined Total’s plans, it has just closed shop and stopped compensation payments to communities. After a brutal attack on Palma town on 24 March, Total decided to claim ‘force majeure’ and pull its staff out of the area, pausing the project indefinitely and saying they would return only once the area was safe.
Even then it was clear that the military had Total’s best interests at heart, not the people’s. On the day of that attack, there were 800 soldiers defending the Afungi Park while civilians have said there were only a handful of soldiers protecting Palma village. Currently, Rwandan soldiers have been using the Afungi Park as their base.
It certainly won’t be the first time that French interests, politics and violent conflict have gone hand in hand with a Total project. Some examples that come to mind include Myanmar, where the military junta is known for ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya population, and mass human rights violations including rape, sexual abuse, torture and disappearances of protestors. Since the coup of February 2021, Total has been directing revenues from its Yadana gas project in Myanmar to the junta, its biggest source of income.
Total has also been active in the Taoudeni basin of Mali in the Sahel since 1998. Since 2013, over 3000 French troops have been in Mali, and 4 other Sahel countries, with France using the same rhetoric as they and Rwanda have done in Mozambique: to rid the area of ‘jihadists’.
In Yemen, the Balhaf LNG site of which Total owns 39% was exposed for housing the base for the Shabwani Elite, an UAE-backed tribal militia since 2016. Officially a counter-terrorism group, they have unofficially become known as a group created to protect fossil fuel interests. The site also has also been exposed to house UAE notorious ‘secret prisons’ holding Yemeni detainees.
So, Cabo Delgado, where the gas region sits nearly on the border between Mozambique and Tanzania, fits neatly in Total’s mixture of politics, gas and conflict.
So back to Rwanda – Out of all potential pawns, or proxies, for France, why pick them?
France has been embarrassed, but not enough for a full apology, about the exposure of the severity of its role in the Rwandan genocide, after a March 2021 report claimed France bears ‘overwhelming responsibilities’ for the horrors that killed over 800 000 people in the Tutsi minority. However, in 2005 complaints laid by human rights groups pushed French prosecutors to open an investigation into French soldiers’ actual complicity in the genocide, which seemed like it was going to be dropped in May this year. No former French soldiers have faced trial.
While Rwanda claims this military mission to Mozambique is self-funded, others say it is Mozambique footing the bill, and yet others, say that this might be one of France’s covert means of reparations, or an olive branch trying to fix bad Franco-Rwandan relations, by offering Rwanda a crucial job: protecting French gas assets. When asked by a journalist, the French Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, Jean-Yves Le Drian, neither confirmed nor denied whether it is financing the troops, although financing does not always come in the form of cash. It could be through aid or other means that are harder to track.
It’s part of a pattern of Rwanda becoming France’s new darling: in 2019, the Rwanda Development Board (RDB) signed a reported $11.6 million a year contract with French football club Paris St. Germain as its official tourism partner. ‘Visit Rwanda’ is boasted on the the back of the men’s training and pre-game warm up kits, in the club’s stadium and on the sleeves of the womens’ team kits, with the club having renewed its contract in 2019, also reported to be $11 million a year. A point to consider is that hospitality company Accor is paying PSG $58 million a year to be its official hotel partner.
There is the possibility that these teams are giving the RDB a friendly discount. What is more likely is that the sponsorships are being subsidized by a third party.
It is clear that there are a few parties getting something out of Rwandan troops being on the ground in the gas region – Total, Mozambique and Rwanda. But certainly the one gaining the most is France – its financial assets are being well protected on the ground and it is able to maintain the international ‘non-complicit’ image it wants to regarding the genocide while still nurturing a relationship with Rwanda. It would also be a way of having military protection of its assets while not being visible. This is definitely in their interests following France’s recognition of its disastrous mission in Mali by cutting the number of troops in June this year, and now, after the death of the 52nd French soldier in eight years, French President Emmanuel Macron has said they will have no more soldiers in the Sahel by the beginning of 2022. The deployment of Rwandan soldiers would mean they will have another army in public view and decrease the political risk of failed military interventions, especially ones linked to human rights violations.
But one group that is not benefiting, are the people of Mozambique, most of all – the communities of Cabo Delgado, who are pawns, dying and devastated so that local and international elites can save political face and defend their gas assets and bonuses by any means necessary.
21 September, 2021 – International Day of Struggle against Industrial Tree Plantations
We, about 60 members of rural communities facing industrial tree monocultures on their land, coming from the provinces of Manica, Sofala, Zambézia and Nampula in Mozambique and from the province of Iringa in Tanzania; together with allies who support these communities; met – due to the pandemic only in small groups and interconnected by computers and mobile phones – during the 21st and 22nd of September 2021 at the international event “How to Resist Monoculture Plantations”.
For years, these communities have resisted the eucalyptus monoculture plantations of the Green Resources company in Mozambique and Tanzania, and those of Portucel and Investimentos Florestais de Moçambique (IFM) in Mozambique, as well as the rubber tree monoculture plantations of Mozambique Holdings in Mozambique.
The members of the communities present decided to break the silence imposed by the pandemic and denounce once again that the eucalyptus and rubber tree companies arrived on their land – in some cases many years ago – with promises of development, a future with schools, hospitals, energy and bridges. However, they denounce that none of these promises were fulfilled. Worse still, eucalyptus and rubber trees occupied and destroyed the fertile farmland, and today families no longer have food and some have nowhere to live. If eucalyptus were food, it would be much better, but it is not. In addition, companies destroy native trees and use chemicals that contaminate the soil and water. Wells and rivers have dried up and drinking water has become scarce. Instead of building bridges, companies destroyed bridges with their heavy machinery, without concern they should repair them. Communities are afraid to cross plantation areas. Even already occupying large areas, companies want to take over even more land.
We see and analyse that this whole situation is causing a lot of suffering, a lot of hunger in the communities, and affects women in a particular way. The Government opened the door to foreign companies and investors, and closed it to the people. What is happening is a new form of colonialism where the company is the new colonizer of lands where communities have lived for many generations.
Even though the companies justify that they consulted with the communities, there was no consultation where they could accept or refuse the company; there was a lot of manipulation of information and broken promises. The promised jobs do not exist, just a few, but mostly seasonal and poorly paid. Compensation payments have been absolutely negligible, insufficient to acquire another farm outside the community.
When someone decides to farm on land that the company claims is theirs, the person is intimidated and threatened. This also occurs when someone lodges a complaint with their local leaders or officials. In this case, nothing is done because these authorities usually receive something from the companies or are equally intimidated and disrespected by the company. To make matters worse, in some cases it is not just the police and the company, but the community leaders themselves that intimidate and threaten members of their own community if they file a complaint. Nor are organizations that support communities spared from intimidation. Recently, the Suhode Foundation team in Tanzania was illegally detained by the police for 19 days. All their equipment was confiscated and remains in police possession to this day. Certainly, Green Resources is behind this, in an attempt not only to divide communities, but also to prevent civil society organizations from continuing to support them.
We demand that communities and organizations that support the communities have their rights – ensured in various national and international legal instruments – fully guaranteed; that our governments defend the people and not the companies; that intimidation and threats from companies and authorities as well as community leaders stop; that our governments, instead of protecting companies, order that they be investigated for the multiple violations they are committing; that officials discuss the future with communities, so that communities can actually participate in the planning that aims to guarantee their permanence on the land, today and in the future, and improve their living conditions going forward.
Even if companies do not stop expanding, even if they try to intimidate and threaten us, we are committed to continue to unite in the fight against monocultures and the destruction and encroachment of land; even if companies and governments insult us, we will continue to look for ways for communities to retake their territories – some communities in Tanzania have already done so; even if they threaten us, we will continue to raise our voices more and more, and together we will continue to expose the situation of communities and denounce the actions of companies; even if they won’t listen to us, we won’t give up calling on our governments to join with their communities, communities that they should defend and protect above all.
We believe that together we will be stronger to resist monocultures and all kinds of usurpation of our lands, especially on this 21st of September, the International Day of Struggle against Industrial Tree Monocultures.
September 21, 2021 – Plantations are not Forests!
Membros das comunidades Rurais
Ação Académica para o Desenvolvimento das Comunidades Rurais – Adecru
Associação de Jovens Combatentes Montes Errego – AJOCME
Fórum Carajás – Brasil
Fundação Suhode Tanzânia
Justiça Ambiental – JA! – Amigos da Terra Moçambique
Movimento Interestadual das Quebradeiras de Coco Babaçu (MIQCB) – Brasil
Re: Release of the “third revised draft” during the negotiation by the Open-ended Intergovernmental Working Group on the elaboration of an international legally binding instrument to regulate the activities of transnational corporations (TNCs) and other business enterprises with regard to human rights
The Global Campaign to Reclaim Peoples’ Sovereignty, Dismantle Corporate Power and Stop Impunity (Global Campaign) notes the release of the third revised draft of the binding treaty, published on August 17, 2021. It is the result of the negotiation process started in 2014 with the adoption by the Human Rights Council of Resolution 26/9. This new draft emerges after the discussions held during the 6th negotiation session of October 2020 and the subsequent Matrix process of February 2021.
We are deeply concerned about the continuing hollowing out of key content, i.e., content that social organisations and affected communities view as critical. We hereby share our first impressions on the new draft and raise some procedural questions concerning the negotiation of successive “drafts”.
Although we note some positive changes in the third revised draft, these are mostly cosmetic, rhetorical and ineffectual. These superficial changes seek to increase the legitimacy of the proposed text, but, in reality, fail to solve the structural problems repeatedly highlighted by social movements and affected communities.
A change of direction in both content and procedure will thus be necessary to meet the objectives set out in Resolution 26/9 and to respond to communities subjected to human rights violations. It is unacceptable that the innumerable proposals for improving the draft presented throughout the negotiation sessions by representatives of the affected communities, social movements, as well as many experts and States to be omitted. The third revised draft is basically similar to the previous draft, despite the high number of concrete proposals that were made to improve it. This gives us the feeling of a lost year.
Moreover, the methodology used to revise the draft transparently considering the contributions of States and civil society organizations is a must. We appreciate the synthesis and mediation efforts of the Ecuadorian Chair Rapporteur. Nonetheless the negotiation has reached a point of maturity that requires a Member driven, open and transparent negotiation process facilitated by the Chair Rapporteur. This must ensure that the voices of civil society and affected communities are heard and taken into consideration by including the diverse text proposals in brackets during the session of negotiation. The objective of the session should be to achieve a new draft proposal of the IGWG and not just of the Chair. In short, to be true actors in the process, civil society must have both voice and influence.
In terms of content, we note once again that, following the approach presented in the previous drafts released by the Chair Rapporteur after the robust Elements Paper in 2017, and despite some positive elements, the new draft continues to present an ineffective and “toothless” instrument. We also note the use of vague, indeterminate and even non-legal concepts that may compromise the future interpretation and application of key articles.
As it stands, the draft instrument fails to meet the objectives established by Resolution 26/9, namely to regulate the activities of transnational corporations within the framework of international human rights law (in order to prevent human rights violations by TNCs and stop corporate impunity) and to ensure effective and comprehensive access to justice for affected peoples, individuals and communities. Furthermore, the current draft would not close the existing legal loopholes that allow and will allow TNCs to violate human rights with impunity and to escape liability for their actions. Without more innovative and ambitious provisions, the treaty risks becoming a new futile instrument aligned with voluntary frameworks that have already demonstrated their ineffectiveness.
Furthermore, the new text unacceptably continues a logic centered exclusively on States’ obligations, and fails to establish the direct obligations for transnational corporations, necessary to hold them directly accountable for the human rights violations they are responsible for. We are also concerned about the continued extension of the scope of the text to all business enterprises, including small and medium-sized enterprises. This dilutes the raison d’être of the binding treaty and the purpose set out in Resolution 26/9 (to address the particular obstacles to holding TNCs accountable), which clearly refers to transnational corporations and other business enterprises “with transnational character”.
Another element is the scope of prevention and legal liability of TNCs which focuses on weak provisions linked to due diligence, an inherently limiting concept. This risks a situation where TNCs escape liability as soon as they comply with due diligence processes.
We call attention to the lack of an unequivocal reaffirmation of the primacy of international human rights law over corporate, trade and investment law, the absence of a strong international enforcement and monitoring mechanisms (including an international tribunal) that would guarantee the effective implementation of the treaty, as well as the several remaining gaps in terms of inclusion and definition of global value chains, the piercing of the corporate veil, and addressing the bottom line of transnational corporate impunity.
At this stage, it seems clear that the Chair of the Working Group is steering the process towards the elaboration of a treaty emptied of its core content and focus on transnational corporations, with only generic provisions that rely on the capacity and political will of the States for their implementation and in line with corporate self-regulation. This confronts us with a text overly accommodating to the requests and interests of the corporate sector and their political allies.
This being said, the Global Campaign will continue its strong engagement in the negotiations with the unyielding intention to com up with a truly binding treaty worthy of its name and capable of becoming a bulwark against the power of transnational entities that lay claim to being the engines of our economies while they violate human rights and destroy our natural environment with impunity. In line with these commitments, the Global Campaign will, if necessary, oppose the adoption of a treaty whose content has been watered down and risks becoming a “normative trap” that closes the door on truly effective reforms in the coming years.
Today, the 7 September 2021 has been exactly 17 months since Mozambican journalist Ibrahimo Abu Mbaruco disappeared in Cabo Delgado. His last message was to a colleague saying that the army was coming towards him.
Ibrahimo worked for Palma Community Radio and had been reporting on the violence in the area. Since then, what effort has the government put into finding him and bringing him back to his family? Absolutely nothing.
Since 2017 Cabo Delgado has been ravaged by a fatal conflict between insurgents, the Mozambican military, Russian and South African mercenaries and now the Rwandan and South African armies as well, that has created 800 000 refugees. This violence is deeply linked to the gas industry that has exploded over the last few years. The industry is headed by Total (France), Eni (Italy) and ExxonMobil (US), and is one industry filled with a great amount of treachery in the Mozambican and other states involved, which forms part of the corruption trial currently in the Mozambican courts.
Over the last few months several media outlets have arrived in Cabo Delgado, after at least three years of the area being closed to international journalists.
It is a good thing that Mozambican and international media has finally been allowed there, since free media is a crucial part of any democracy. However, journalists who actually live in Cabo Delgado and were the first to report on the happenings since 2017, have not been allowed to work in the conflict areas, unless they are from state-owned media outlets.
In an article in O Pais 26 August, Cabo Delgado-based journalist Hizidine Acha wrote that journalists from the area are being humiliated by having to report on the topic from a distance, even though they are the ones who know the terrain and the local language. They fear that the lack of reporting in local languages might lead to disinformation among the communities. The article quotes journalist Emanuel Muthemba as saying, “Journalists from here have to be on the front line, because we have basic knowledge about the reality of the province, the people and the languages spoken by the population, which is very important,”; and journalist Assane Issa says “speculation grows that we are not capable of doing this type of coverage – that only those from the country’s capital are. But this is not true, because we are the ones who have been reporting on the daily life of the province.”
In fact, the article continues saying that recently 20 local journalists were invited to cover the conflict, but for reasons they were never told, were never actually able to leave Cabo Delgado’s capital and largest city, Pemba.
But even if they were able to report, the government has made it clear that they will not make it easy. On 11 April, on the ‘Day of the Mozambican Journalist’, even though his general rhetoric has been about free press, President Felipe Nyusi sent a document to O Pais, saying, journalists must report with “rigour, professionalism and patriotism”. He said “the Mozambican journalist should not be a reproducer of wishes contrary to our unity.” And he followed this in May saying that journalists have to be “disciplined”: “To have discipline is to report only the truth, to combat fake news and not to incite violence and hatred.”
This is not freedom. This is a threat. This is saying that journalists have the ‘freedom’ to write or to film or to record for radio, as long as this is in aligned with the state’s narrative. Or else.
The public media and many international journalists are reporting on the violence in the province as only a humanitarian issue created by violence caused by insurgents, and not on how many of these refugees were actually already displaced from their villages, and had lost everything, because of the Afungi Liquid Natural Gas (LNG) Park that Total is building to house the support facilities for the industry. Reporting in this way allows the gas industry off the hook for the part they have played in this humanitarian crisis and conflict, including how Total has left the displaced communities who were relying on them for compensation and aid with nothing as they pulled out of the country when claiming force majeure.
International journalists are protected by having foreign passports. But who is protecting local journalists from non-state outlets, like Ibrahimo, or like Amade Abubacar from the Nacedje Community Radio who was arrested, tortured and held without charge for 3 months in 2019 after interviewing a group of displaced people? Or the journalists of Canal de Moçambique whose office was bombed in 2020 after exposing corruption between the government and gas companies?
In April 2020, Reporters Without Borders and 16 other press freedom organisations wrote an open letter to President Filipe Nyusi, who ignored it, just like the military and relevant government officials did not even bother to respond, and the police treated it like a joke. On 8 June 2020, Ibrahimo’s brother contacted the local police to inform them that he had called Ibrahimo’s phone and it rang. He reported it to the public investigators responsible for finding him, the National Agency for Criminal Investigations. They promised they would look into it, but since then there has been silence.
But we must not stop fighting!
In January, the African Union (AU) launched the Digital Platform for Safety of Journalists in Africa. At the launch, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, who was AU chairperson at the time said: Media freedom “requires that we rigorously defend the right of journalists to do their work, to write, to publish, and to also broadcast what they like, even if we disagree with some or all of it.. The digital platform for the safety of journalists in Africa is an important tool in promoting the safety of journalists and other media workers across Africa.”
Now they must put their money where their mouth is, by holding the Mozambican government accountable for its violent media oppression and pressurise it to stop, and they must recognise how part of this oppression is to protect the gas industry. The platform was supported by the United Nations, and both they and the AU have the responsibility to find out what has happened to Ibrahimo, and must use their power to do so.
It is clear that Mozambican journalists cannot rely on their state for their protection – the very people who are obliged to protect them, but sadly are reliant rather on non-governmental organisations and media groups – both international, and local, who themselves are putting their safety on the line just by speaking out. When journalists are told they need to report with “patriotism” and “discipline”, it is clear that, just as history has shown, they cannot know that they are safe. They cannot know their colleagues will not be arrested and tortured or that their offices won’t be attacked. They cannot know that they, too, will not disappear and be another Ibrahimo.
We must not stop pushing to find out, where is Ibrahimo?
Our Say No to Gas! In Mozambique Campaign has many elements, but one of the crucial ones is confronting fossil fuel criminals involved in Mozambique’s gas industry, about the destruction, violence and devastation they have caused in Cabo Delgado province.
One way of challenging them and making demands for them to leave and stop their involvement in Mozambique gas, is attending Annual General Meetings (AGM) of several large international players in the Mozambique gas industry, which this year we did for the fourth year running. Attending these AGMs is a way to force the highest level decision-makers in these companies to hear our voices and the voices of the people whose lives they are devastating, to demand information and call them out on their crimes against the climate and peoples in a large public forum that includes their shareholders and employees. It is a way to prevent them from saying “we didn’t know” about the impacts – even though taking active measures to identify potential risks of human rights violations is part of their responsibilities. There is often media at the AGMs of the large companies, giving us another opportunity to bring to the international public the issue of Mozambique gas and the violence and destruction being perpetrated by those who profit from it tremendously.
With the Covid-19 pandemic still raging, most of the AGMs were held online.
The AGMs we attended were of Eni (Italy) which is co-leading the Coral Liquid Natural gas project with ExxonMobil; Total (France) which is leading the Mozambique LNG Project; Shell (Netherlands), who was previously involved; Standard Bank (South Africa), one of the major financiers; and HSBC (UK), another massive financier. While there are some questions specific to each company, many of them are standard. This is because, while Eni, Total and ExxonMobil may be the companies leading the actual gas extraction and responsible for constructing the offshore and onshore facilities, every player involved in the Mozambique gas industry is to some degree responsible for the negative human rights, climate, environmental and socio-economic violations and impacts it has created. Companies and governments involved often try to wriggle out of their responsibilities and accountability by claiming that they are not ‘directly’ responsible for the impacts. This is utter nonsense – without financiers, contractors or confirmed purchasers, the Mozambique gas industry would not exist.
We demand to know why they continue to invest or operate in Cabo Delgado considering the horrific violence and conflict that has been taking place for years between insurgents, the military and private security companies, in which thousands of civilians have been killed and over 800 000 people displaced. We want them to recognise that they have directly created suffering and deeper impoverishment for the communities affected by the project, who have lost their homes and livelihoods, and received no decent jobs; and we ask what is their plan to make reparations. We want them to provide transparent information, something lacking in an industry which is so opaque and secretive.
Eni insists they are ‘providing support to the basic needs of local populations’, even when we tell them that the only jobs Mozambicans have received have been menial and unskilled. They say that a mere 370 permanent jobs will be available in total over the life cycle of the Coral LNG project, although they don’t say if these will actually go to Mozambicans.
All companies refuse to see a link between the gas industry and the violence, with Eni even saying they see no risk whatsoever, and denying any human rights violation by the military, even though this had been exposed in mainstream media and international human rights organisations’ reports.
Total, which claimed force majeure in April 2021 due to the violence, putting the Mozambique LNG project on hold indefinitely, made the contradictory remark that the safety and well-being of communities was a priority, but at the same time, “our mission is to protect the interests of Total’s shareholders and our partners”. These are obviously mutually exclusive, as continuing with the project will only continue the violence and dispossession that communities are facing. While they insist that the Mozambique LNG project has not been “abandoned”, they put the responsibility of the impacts on communities solely on the Mozambican government.
Standard Bank also believes that their investments are not at risk because of the violence. Even as people in Cabo Delgado are being killed every week, they carry on with business as usual, as though the militarisation and its accompanying human rights violations creating refugees and forcing displacement, do not matter to them at all. Clearly, even though they use an undisclosed “consortium” of civil society organisations in Cabo Delgado to do “monitoring”, the lives of the rural affected peoples means nothing to them.
HSBC on the other hand, just refused to answer the questions, except to say they cannot talk about private clients and very few jobs will go to Mozambicans because of the project’s “advanced technical requirements”.
Company AGMs can be very frustrating events. Directors often dodge questions or answer them insufficiently on purpose, or just pretend they didn’t hear them at all. But this year, as with most, these experiences and actions are more than confronting fossil fuel companies and financiers, they also strengthen civil society’s collective struggle against fossil fuels and the impunity of transnational corporations.
We use these as opportunities to work with other regional and international organisations and movements who are fighting against the same company or projects for crimes they are committing in the different countries. As partners, we support each other in asking questions, gaining access, publicising on social media and holding protests, and use the opportunity to exchange with each other about the different ways we are campaigning against the same culprits. When we attend as a group, our presence is powerful. As a team, we have more numbers and confidence in our actions inside and outside AGMs, more access to media and more impact if we choose to cause any disruption. If these companies do not want to take the time to talk to us and our comrades, this is a way for us to force them to listen. The strongest outcome of attending AGMs is that we are saying clearly, with a collective voice ‘we are watching you and we are not going away’, while we demand that they leave and stop their profit-mongering activities that are killing peoples and the planet.
Peasants and brickmakers from the neighbourhoods of Primeiro de Maio and Catete have been demanding a fair compensation from both VALE and the government for the loss of their land, loss of access to water and ultimately their means of subsistence. They lost access to River Moatize due to the expansion of the VALE mine – Moatize III – in 2019. VALE claimed in March of this year that it owed nothing to these groups. Since then, it has come to recognize that it will have to pay some form of compensation. However, this process has been dragging. On the 6th of May of 2021, the brickmakers and peasants occupied Section 6 of the mine and blocked the mining road. This event was reported by JA! in a recent article. What happened on this day and, even more importantly, on the day after, invite from us a profound reflexion about the way in which VALE and our government are dealing with this situation. To this effect we have brought to bearing a first-person account of one of the members of the peasant commission of Nhantoto: Sr. Fernando Botão.
“We started telling the drivers to go stow away the vehicles and the machines, and not to circulate on that road, so that VALE would have to, at least, come give us a clarification with respect to our demands. That’s because ever since we were paralysed in our activities we haven’t been assisted [in general] nor have we even received any nutritional assistance” – says Sr. Fernando explaining what happened on the 6th of May when peasants and potters paralysed VALE’s mining road.
The paralysation lasted for a large part of the day and, according to the brickmakers, it only came to a close when they were assured by representatives of the company and the government that in the following day they would have a meeting together with VALE and the government of the district of Moatize in the neighbourhood of Primeiro de Maio.
This paralysation and the demands coming from the groups affected by VALE arise within a context of fatigue and frustration for many reasons, among which are:
– the detereoration of the life conditions of many of these families, formerly sustained by the production of bricks and by subsistence farming;
– the difficulties in the correspondence with VALE, wherein VALE insisted for some time that the group of brickmakers here in question was included in a group that was previously compensated by the company in 2018; the brickmakers and peasants of the neighbourhoods of Primeiro de Maio and Catete have attempted to explain that they are in fact a distinct group that was only affected in 2019 by the recentmost expansion of the mine Moatize III;
– the dragging of meetings between the commissions of brickmakers and peasants, the government and VALE over the past 2 years without there ever being a concrete solution to the problem; – the uncertainty and lack of information with respect to the disinvestment of VALE in Mozambique leading to concerns regarding the numerous pendencies which the company still has with the communities affected by the mine;
– the rise in conflicts between the members of the commissions of brickmakers and peasants and the respective communities; members of the commissions are acused of not being able to resolve the issues of the community, as well as of negotiaing for their own private benefit, as communities cannot deduce any productive outcomes from these negotiations.
These are just some of the reasons why the community made their demand in conjunction with the commissions of brickmakers and peasants incredibly simple, clear and legitimate: VALE and the government should meet them in their neighbourhood and speak to the entire community without any intermediaries or representatives of the commissions.
In Sr. Fernando’s testimony, we can hear with some detail how the occupation on the 6th of May was, as well as what happened on the next day – 7th of May – when the brickmakers, peasants and residents of the neighbourhoods Primeiro de Maio and Catete assembled to wait for the meeting arranged on the previous day to take place in the big square in front of the old CARBOMOC police office at Primeiro de Maio.
It was the Police who came
“The manner in which they surrounded us (the police), we didn’t expect it, we assumed that maybe they had come to garrison the terrain so that when the Administrator arrived she would see that the site was protected.” – said Sr. Fernando describing the moment when the police arrived at the location where the meeting was planned.
But the police hadn’t come to escort anyone. Neither VALE nor the government of the district showed up to the meeting on the 7th of May. The various vehicles employed by the protection police and the Unit of Rapid Intervention (UIR), which Sr. Fernando had judged to be there for security purposes, surrounded the residents and soon after, according to several reports from the community, UIR agents started approaching the people and ordering them in an intimidating manner to disperse or else – in Fernando’s own words – they would “change colours”.
“I said.. Sir (policeman), you can’t intimidate this lady, because here we are not in Cabo Delgado, we don’t have any weaponry” – retells Sr Fernando as he describes an exchange he had with a security agent who was threatening a resident.
It was then when the UIR agents decided to use tear gas and shoot rubber bullets to disperse the agglomeration. There are dozens of reports of people fainting or developing respiratory problems, including children and newborn babies. According to witnesses, the police even fired tear gas bombs inside the houses to which the people had escaped. One citizen was shot with a rubber bullet and had to be hospitalised for many days; furthermore, at least 6 citizens were taken to the police station without any accusation against them, 2 of them being detained until the following day. Some people also reported to JA the use of fire weapons, itself implied by some fires in the neighbourhood provoked by the gunshots of the police. The children who were studying in the Primary School Primeiro de Maio at that moment had to abandon the lessons, and many were lost from their families for several hours.
What can justify this violence from the police? What interests are the police and the UIR defending? The use of force to repress peaceful manifestations – a right that’s safeguarded in our constitution and fundamental to a functioning democracy – is unacceptable.
When asked about the events of the 7th of May, the Moatize District Administrator declared to JA that she did not know about them – not even about the actions of the police – until 2 or 3 days later. Moreover, she added that she was in her office during the whole day expecting the meeting with the commissions of brickmakers and peasants of Primeiro de Maio. This demonstrates, at best, a great lack of concern or competence, especially if we take into consideration the fact that even the President of the Municipal Council of Moatize was in the neighbourhood Primeiro de Maio as the events unfolded. And why, we ask, did VALE’s representatives not only not show up that day but didn’t even justify their absence to the population – especially taking into account that there have already been numerous times when police forces intervened in Moatize in alignment with the interests of the mining company.
VALE is known for conducting prolonged and non-inclusive processes as way of weakening the demands of the affected communities
It’s important to highlight here that the strategy of lengthening processes, exhausting affected groups and prolonging negotiations while excluding a big portion of the affected persons is common practice of VALE S.A. in many of the territories where it operates. This is all part of a broader strategy VALE uses to evade its responsibilities and try to delegate its commitments to the society and nature to the state, using the loopholes and institutional weaknesses existing in fragile and co-optable democracies such as ours in Mozambique. Needless to say, – for it is so widely documented and analysed – in addition to all the unjust resettlements and the environmental destruction, VALE Mozambique can also be regarded as having amounted no less than a terrible contribution in economic aspects such as fiscal income, employment generation, reduction of poverty, and inequality, which had been some of the great expectations to have been heralded when the contract for exploration was signed.
Well, taking into account the fact that VALE is preparing to sell its mines in Moatize and the Corredor de Nacala project – precisely at a time when its period of bonanza with respect to benefits and fiscal concessions comes to a close – these pending problems should be cause for concern and for sounding alarms in Mozambique as a country, but it seems for now that only the groups most directly affected by the company are recognizing the urgency of the situation. At any moment, VALE could find a buyer who is willing to invest in an obsolete deal in coal – and if it does so it will certainly do all it can to minimize any pending issues it has with the local communities or the country. On the other hand, such an investor will not to be concerned for the resettlement houses which will remain pending rehabilitation, with families still wanting for land to cultivate, or with brickmakers awaiting the conclusion of the interminable negotiations. We are not merely speculating – this is exactly what VALE did with its project in Baía de Sepetiba, in Brazil, when it sold to the company Ternium. The residents were caught by surprise with the sudden sale of the project, and today neither VALE nor Ternium are taking responsibility for the huge damage left behind.
A radically different path is necessary – and urgent
It’s urgent for us, above all else, to find ambitious and systemic ways to resolve, as a country, the problems facing most of the Mozambican people. We need to find another way that does not employ violence and repression as means to deal with discontented and frustrated citizens that decide to protest – for whatever the motive, and independently of whether it is convenient or not. We need to be able to collect heavy taxes on any large or mega-corporations operating in Mozambique so that we can invest in public services of quality for all and reduce the typical social tensions associated with a population pushed to the limit. And to guarantee the participation and protagonism of the people who are on the frontline of the impacts brought to bear by coal mines, big industries, industrial plantations, and mega-dams, so that they be the ones to define what is a just compensation for their land and territory. We cannot accept that our laws or ratified international treaties on human rights serve merely to fulfil the simple function of polishing our discourse toward financial donors or the UN – these rights need to be skin-felt, on a day to day basis, by all Mozambicans. It’s urgent for us to condemn and vehemently refuse any form of governing which oppresses and represses citizens that are against the current model of the country, in favour of the maintenance of ostentatious privileges of an elite that is becoming increasingly richer, unchallenged and criminal.
Above all, we need to rethink our pathways to the future whilst anticipating the mistakes that we have made before. We can learn a lot from the sale of the Rio Tinto mine to ICVL, from all the problems that persist in Capanga, Benga and in the resettlement of Mualadzi up to today, and refuse to allow VALE to do the same. We can learn from all that coal promised to be and wasn’t, and refuse to allow gas to do the same to us. Let us remember that VALE estimated a lifespan of about 35 years when it signed its mining contract with the government of Mozambique in 2007 – which means that, according to its calculations, there would be an international market or demand for coal until 2042. Today, a mere 14 years later, many can see the ridiculousness of this projection. When are we going to understand that to believe in the projections made by fossil fuel companies, or by research organisations funded by them, is a trap for any nation state? Are we going to continue to believe that gas is – for some special reason – going to succeed in developing Mozambique?
The stories of megaprojects that we hear all through Mozambique are not stories of employment, empowerment, or quality of life: they are in fact stories of impoverishment, despair, and social conflict. Nor are the stories that we hear about neoliberal capitalism throughout the world stories of solidarity or independence. The climate crisis, the rise in inequality, the systemic violations of human rights or the rising authoritarianism are inevitable results of a socio-economic system that rewards entrepreneurial actors for their absolute commitment to profit, independently of what the ensuing consequences might be. It is a model that is ever more shamelessly showing us what purpose it serves: the enrichment of global capital elites, with the complicity of our national elites.
In order to confront the times and crises that are coming we need a new paradigm: one which puts an end to the devastation of nature by man and re-establishes the control of the earth by local communities while prioritizing the conscious and collective use of resources that is inclusive of future generations. A paradigm which contributes to the formation of citizens motivated to act in defence of the next one by means of a competent State which is oriented to serve the people with the aim of valuing and strengthening our diversity.
We do need radical changes. And we cannot continue to allow the current socio-economic model to limit even our capacity to imagine a different model. In many places of the world, and even in Mozambique, this is already happening, in micro manifestations of resistance and social transformation that are largely repressed or not duly valued. We need space for these new paradigms to proliferate.
“Politics in our times should depart from the imperative to reconstruct the common world”, defends the Cameroonian philosopher and intellectual Achille Mbembe. It’s urgent that we start to chart this path, because we are already late and things are not getting better.
By: Melvin Arthur, Activist and partner of JA/ Nampula Province
A 15 year old girl, whose identity we’ve omitted, from the district of Palma in Cabo Delgado province, was forced by her progenitors to marry an adult of approximately 45 years of age as a way to alleviate herself from hunger within her family.
The minor, to whom we have attributed the name of Angela, arrived in the neighbourhood of Carrupeia, in the city of Nampula in May last year, when alongside 19 members of her family, she chose this capital of the north of Mozambique as a safe place of refuge against the terrorist attacks in the district of Palma.
Lacking any support, including food and shelter, from both governmental authorities and humanitarian organizations, young Angela’s parents decided (according to her) to force her to marry a 45-year-old adult, who was married already to another woman, as a way to ensure that he’d continue assisting her, especially with food, in order to guarantee the survival of the remaining members of her family.
After the marriage was negotiated, Angela began living with her first husband in a house rented by him, located still in the neighbourhood of Carrupeia, within the municipal administrative post of Napinine.
“My parents advised me to marry that man, firstly, to make things easier at home because we had no capacity to accommodate a lot of people, and secondly due to the lack of food. It was a decision made by my parents which I couldn’t refuse”, said Angela.
Angela’s marriage, though it didn’t even last a year, led to a pregnancy which resulted in a stillbirth. “After loosing the baby, I abandoned the house, against the will of my parents” she said, adding that she does not regret it, despite the difficulties she is currently going through to find food and shelter.
In Nampula, early marriages and child prostitution have been increasing lately and those displaced from the districts affected by the terrorist attacks in Cabo Delgado are the main protagonists of this reality*.
Many families of the war-displaced peoples living in the city of Nampula have been complaining because of their exclusion from the support of organizations. Some of the displaced people are begging for some coins in mosques, roads, and commercial establishments just to survive.
It should be noted that the province of Nampula has seen the arrival of a bit less than 70 thousand people displaced by terrorist attacks in Cabo Delgado, the majority of which have been living with relatives or in rented houses.
Yesterday, the 6th of May of 2021, more than a hundred brickmakers and peasants from “Primeiro de Maio” neighborhood in Moatize-Tete, invaded and paralysed the activities for several hours in section 6 of the Vale Company’s mine, as a protest for the loss of their access to the Moatize River, which is essential for the livelihoods and survival activities that they have been carrying out since 1994. These brickmakers and peasants saw recently their access to the river get cut by the mining company Vale, as part of the process of expanding the company’s activities to the Moatize III mine.
These issues were first raised in a letter, addressed to the Vale Company in March 2021, with a copy to the local government and to the Frelimo’s Party headquarters. The Vale Company replied evasively to the matter, claiming that they owed no compensation to these brickmakers since they had already signed a Memorandum of Understanding with other groups of brickmakers. In the face of threats that the work on the mine would be paralysed by the brickmakers, Vale has therefore been calling numerous meetings to try to solve the topic with the affected families. However, the brickmakers report that these meetings have been repeated week after week without having a solution for these issues, and that they already feel worn out by the company’s strategy in prolonging the processes without giving the right details as to how, when and how much the brickmakers and peasants will be compensated for the loss of their livelihoods. This strategy of the company is already known, taking into account its pending issues with groups of brickmakers and peasants previously affected by the Moatize mine, which until today have not been fully and properly compensated, as well as the pending issues with families resettled by Vale who are today still waiting for the company to pay compensation for the loss of their farmlands and to rehabilitate their houses, which are in poor condition.
That is why this Thursday, the 6th of May, the brickmakers and peasants got tired of the company’s delays and decided to block the mine since 7am in the morning, having abandoned the location only at 4.45pm, when a team from Vale called a meeting for today, the 7th of May, where supposedly the issues will be negotiated and solved for the brickmakers and peasants, that have no means to sustain their families.
Despite Vale’s announcement of divestment of the Moatize mine and its intention to sell the mine, in January 2021, the company continues to expand its activities and impact the families living in the vicinity of the mine, without compensating them properly for their losses. It is unacceptable that Vale continues with this hostile stance in Tete and that once again has sealed the access to a river that is fundamental for the livelihoods of families that live in the vicinity, without negotiating properly with the families for a fair compensation. As everything suggests, Vale intends to drag these processes on, until the sale of its project in Moatize and the Nacala Corridor, leaving countless liabilities and destruction behind.
Justiça Ambiental is in solidarity with the cause of the “Primeiro de Maio” neighbourhood’s brickmakers and peasants, as well as all other brickmakers and peasants that have been affected by Vale Mining company for more than 10 years. And once again we ask: Who benefits from coal mining? Who pays for the economic, environmental, social, climatic impacts from mining? When will we embark on a development path that benefits most Mozambicans, rather than just a small elite and international capital?
Once again, our visit to the Hapala community had repercussions on the members of the community with whom we spoke. Once again, we denounce the visible discontent of these people and the systematic abuse to which they have been subjected by some Portucel employees in the Ile District, and the question remains whether they do so at the behest of someone or independently. At the time we complained to the Head of the Socone Administrative Post, we explained that the communities continue to claim their land back, as they lost everything in exchange for promises that only served to convince them to give up their land, as these have not yet been fulfilled. These communities never knew that they could refuse to give up their land. We also publicly denounced it through our article “Portucel – The long wait for the much-promised better life”, and, as soon as we left the field, we received information that at least two of the members of the community with whom we were talking had unexpected and unwanted visits to their own homes, by three (3) identified Portucel employees. According to the community members that received the visits, these Portucel employees insistently asked what JA! intended, what they talked about and why they have met with them. One of these people is the leader of the Hapala Community, with whom we had no conversation. We did a brief courtesy visit to him, and according to our last article on this subject, we immediately realised that he was apprehensive to speak to us, due to the presence of another person, which happened to be the one who secretly took a photograph of us. Either way, the Hapala leader had to justify himself to the Portucel employees, to clarify that it was indeed a courtesy visit, as if a citizen had to answer these questions in his own home. This is clearly an intimidation, and we will not let it go, we will always denounce it!
These same three (3) employees were not satisfied with the little information they were able to extract from the leader and knowing that we did have a meeting with members of the community, they then went to the house of an elderly widow who participated in our closed meeting, to pose the same questions to her in her own house. They even snatched from her hands the brochure we had shared with her, returning it only when she protested and after having taken another photo. This peasant woman was present at our closed meeting and had shared with us her frustration for having been deceived, her despair for not having enough land to produce as she did before, and her sadness because, according to her, she has lost everything that was of most valuable to her: her land, her peaceful life. This woman told us how she feels, she told us that she just wants her land back. This woman also told us that she wants respect, she repeated countless times “we are also people, we want respect”. She also told us about the abuses which company employees have been subjecting the people to, the lack of respect with which they are treated, which also includes insults, such as “Namukwaneba”, crazy in the local language.
These acts of intimidation and even threats to members of the community who protest the most, have been recurrent. In the past, these acts have been reported to the offices of Portucel Mozambique in Maputo that has denied and ignored them. The acts have even been reported to the Office of the Ombudsman and they did get some attention, but impunity remains…
The acts of intimidation and threats have worsened. Earlier, they were visited by only 1 employee, now there are 3. Some members of the community received threats that if they continue to mention the names of the employees involved, they will be judicially sued for defamation. Others have already been called upon to respond to the District Police Command for holding open meetings with the JA! team.
We do not work in secret, our meetings are held in open spaces in the community, and local structures have our credentials, and everybody knows our work. In regard to local structures, we have already sent all the information shared here to the Head of the Socone Administrative Post and we request his urgent intervention. He thanked us for the information and assured us that he will soon go to the field with his team to meet with the members of that community to investigate the situation. He even considered the possibility of including JA! in the team that will monitor the process.
We take this moment to send a message to these intimidators in reference: if they want to know what we were doing in the community, they should come and ask us directly – not in the houses, but in our office! However, they still act like cowards, they wait for us to leave and then question the elderly widow, in her own house… who do they think they are? Are they going to intimidate a community leader because he is on the side of his community? Will they pay off everyone they can to act as spies in exchange for what? Maybe just for a phone … or for those social responsibility activities that only people who remain silent are those who will receive!!! Shameful!
JA! is not the only organisation to denounce these abuses, nor to denounce that these communities are not only not better off in life, but in fact have lost the little they had.
Intimidation will not be able to silence all voices! They will not shut us up! The more intimidation, the more threats and acts of intimidation, the louder we are going to scream, the further we are going to seek justice for all these people.