MAC: Mines and Communities

London Calling reviews a unique report on global forced evictions - but finds it badly flawed

Published by MAC on 2009-12-06
Source: Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE) (2009-12-01)

If more than four million of the world's poorest people can be arbitrarily uprooted from their homes and land over a brief two years, "forcible evictions" clearly constitute a major global violation of human rights.

When many more millions are threatened by "involuntary" removals - due to rising seas, melting glaciers, and other impacts of what's euphemistically dubbed "climate change" - we're  morally bound to push this issue to the top of our campaign agendas.

The Geneva-based Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE) publishes surveys on "Forced Evictions" which purport to  be the only analysis of the phenomenon with a truly global compass.

Its latest survey, just released, appears to be an impressive, well-referenced, piece of research; with its authors arriving at a remarkably precise figure of those "affected by threatened or forced evictions in 2007 and 2008" -  4,312,161 persons.

But the report is severely flawed.

For, when you look into the country-by country case studies, and the evidence on which these are based, it's clear that numerous instances of egregious people-removals simply haven't been included: those caused by mining and other extractive industry projects.

Moreover, COHRE seems oblivious to a wider definition of involuntary displacement that must, surely, include the failure to check global greenhouse gas emissions - for which mineral-dependent industries, collectively, are most responsible.

In fact, the study provides only two examples of forced evictions relating to mining (in Colombia and the Dominican Republic) and these are given short shrift.

While we're told that "forced evictions are frequent in the context of mining" in Papua New Guinea, that's all: no further detail is provided.

It's true that somewhat closer attention is paid to "threatened" evictions - of communities at Mohlohlo (Angloplat) in South Africa; in Cajamarca, Peru; in Zulia, Venezuela; at Vatukoula in Fiji; and in West Nusa Tenggara, Indonesia.

There are also brief mentions of ArcelorMittals' threats to those living in Orissa; by the Jindals in Andhra Pradesh; and by India's state uranium company, UCIL, in Meghalaya.

Burma, however, rates only one sentence - which simply mentions the threats of "large-scale investment in mining".

And yes - there's an allusion to potential displacement of families living within the Cerrejon coal concession area in Colombia's La Guajira province.  But, extraordinarily, that reference is included under a section on Chile!

As for the rest of the world - silence.

It's as if Central and West Africa, Nigeria, most of Peru, Brazil, Ecuador, India, Aboriginal Australia, Burma, the Philippines, and virtually all of China (to name but a few) were now miraculously freed from the malicious intents of gem traders, coal and iron barons, gold diggers - and the regimes which aid and abet them.

Although the authors point out that they rely on information from numerous sources, much of which may not be easy to check, they also acknowledge the assistance given by accounts from NGOs.

So which, of the numerous mining advocacy NGOs (or their websites) did they consult?

None at all, it would seem.

This is all the more puzzling, considering COHRE has drawn on material published by NGOs like Amnesty, Human Rights Watch and IWGIA (with reference to Meghalaya uranium) and which themselves cite information derived from mining-affected communities and their supporters.

There's no denying the validity - and strength - of much of the information in this report. It paints a highly disturbing picture of the impacts on impoverished  people - women and landless in particular - from ruthless administrations taking the part of agri-business, private "developers", and their own armed forces.

No doubt rightly, it focuses on increased "urbanisation" as a prime cause of the distress being created for hundreds of thousands of uprooted people. (It provides welcome comment on India's current policies which are the more relevant, given that Indian Home Affairs' minister, P Chidambaram, wants 85% of his fellow citizens to be eventually ensconced in cities.)

Self-fulfilling prophecy?

Nonetheless, COHRE acknowledges that the urban "push" accounts for only 42% of forced or threatened evictions.

The organisation doesn't even mention extractive industries as among the prime factors in separating people from their rural livelihoods. 

It lists eight causes of forced evictions.; among these only "development and infrastructure projects" comes anywhere close to including mining. Yet, the holding of "large international events, major sporting events, conferences etc" is cited as a prime causative factor.

So, in one vital respect, the report is a self-fulfilling prophecy. COHRE itself is city-based. While that's no limitation per se, it suggests a too-narrow view has been taken of what "housing" signifies to the majority of those threatened with forced removal from their residences and resources.

Having paid very little attention to mining's impacts, and without taking the trouble to source available data, mining, oil and gas companies have thus been allowed (albeit not intentionally) to get away with criminal acts - and even murder.

COHRE declares that: "Forced evictions of individuals, families and communities rank among the most widespread, yet chronically under-reported human rights violations across the world."

All the more pity, then, that COHRE itself has chronically under-reported some of the worst such violations.

This is especially regrettable, considering that the companies and governments which extract and use coal, oil and gas, or manufacture cement and steel, are the biggest industrial contributors to adverse global climate change.

And that global climate change is fast becoming the worst threat to involuntary removal from their land that our planet's poorest peoples have ever faced.

COHRE releases Global Survey on Forced Evictions # 11 (2007-2008)

Press Release

1 December 2009

The Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE) has posted to its website the 11th edition of the Global Survey on Forced Evictions. The Survey Series monitors the practice of forced evictions throughout the world.

Global Survey 11 presents 835 cases of forced evictions identified by COHRE in Africa, Latin America, Asia and Europe. According to the data recorded in Global Survey 11 a total of 4,312,161 people were affected by threatened and implemented forced evictions in 2007 and 2008.

Global Survey on Forced Evictions 11 compiles information about forced evictions in the period 2007-2008 from a variety of sources, including COHRE's own research, work of partner organisations and media sources.

Global Survey 11 covers an important period in the history of urbanisation. In 2007 the number of slum dwellers around the world reached the one billion mark and 2008 marked a historic shift in the urban-rural population divide, when more than half of the world's population was recorded as living in urban areas. With the increase in pressure on urban infrastructure many municipal authorities have resorted to extreme and counter-productive measures such as forced evictions.

Forced evictions of individuals, families and communities rank among the most widespread, yet chronically under-reported human rights violations across the world. Carried out in the name of development, city beautification initiatives or under the guise of law and order, forced evictions typically affect the most vulnerable and marginalised sections of society's [sic] across the world with the effect of exacerbating underlying problems rather than solving them.

Global Survey 11 and previous Global Surveys (1990 to 2006) can be downloaded from COHRE's website at http://www.cohre.org/globalsurvey. Hard copies are available from the COHRE International Secretariat in Geneva.

--

Hannah Neumeyer Researcher Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE) Email: hannah@cohre.org --

Prabhjot R Khan Women's Housing Rights Officer - Asia and Pacific Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE) Mumbai 400102 INDIA

COHRE International Secretariat 83 rue de Montbrillant 1202 Geneva Switzerland

Email: prabhjot@cohre.org

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