To what extent will the Indian state go to cover up human rights violations that take place in order to facilitate foreign industries in India?This is a question that has been worrying me as well as several other human rights activists in light of the recent events in the Eastern Indian state of Odisha where the South Korean steel giant POSCO aspires to set up an integrated steel plant and captive port in Jagatsinghour District. Video Volunteers has been collecting video testimonies that document the serious human rights violations that have gone on in Odisha. The testimonies reinforce the findings of the report- The Price of Steel: Human Rights and Forced Evictions in the POSCO-India Project - produced and released by International Human Rights Clinic (IHRC) at NYU School of Law and the International Network for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ESCR-Net) based on a year-long investigation. This organization has also sent an open letter to the CM, Odisha bringing these violations to his attention, also attached here. The video evidence and report come at a critical juncture of on going protests against the POSCO project. On the 4th of July the district administration of Odisha declared that one phase of land acquisition for the proposed steel plant was completed. While the state authorities claim that those whose betel vines have been demolished have been compensated, reports and testimonies from the ground make it clear that these were forced on the people. Project affected communities tell us that there has been no informed consent for land acquisition as claimed by the state. The affected communities and those against the project however continue to hold on hope till the National Green Tribunal’s verdict on 11th of July regarding the final clearance of the 2,700 acres of land. The area earmarked for the project is home to a flourishing and sustainable local economy.Should the project be completed, 22,000 people in Jagatsinghpur district stand to lose the livelihoods on which they have depended for generations. The anticipated economic benefits and proposed compensation packages will in no way match the existing levels of sustainability of the people. The communities have stated their firm rejection of the diversion of their forest lands for the purpose of the project in several resolutions. Under the Forest Rights Act, 2006, the forest dwelling communities have a final say with regards to the use of their land. The resolutions have in effect been ignored by the Indian government, which has proceeded in attempts to forcefully evict these residents in violation of both domestic and international laws. International legal standards require that India exhaust all feasible alternatives to forced evictions; engage in genuine consultation with project-affected communities; ensure the provision of adequate compensation for affected properties; and follow procedures established by law. The Government of India has systematically failed to live up to each and every one of these standards. Those who have spoken up against the project have been repeatedly targeted by the Indian authorities with undue violence, arbitrary arrests and detentions. There are hundreds of fabricated charges against members of the anti-POSCO movement. In addition to targeting the protestors, the authorities have also failed to protect the people from consistent and often fatal attacks by private actors motivated by POSCO’s and the state’s interests. Over the past eight years, those living in the project-affected area have been living under siege-like conditions, which has hampered their access to healthcare, schools, markets and crops. In efforts to protect their livelihoods they have faced violations of their rights to freedom of movement; of protection from arbitrary arrests; to be free from discrimination- especially on the basis of political or other opinions. We commend recent measures taken by the Union Ministry of Home Affairs following concerns raised by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) to seek clarification from the State Government of Odisha regarding its plans to forcibly evict over 20,000 people in Jagatsinghpur district for the POSCO project Video Volunteers and other human rights groups in solidarity with the anti-POSCO movement call on the government of India to:
- Suspend the POSCO-India project until and unless it complies with international human rights standards and domestic law.
- Ensure full implementation of the Forest Rights Act and cease all attempts at forced evictions and land acquisition until and unless the rights claims of forest-dwelling communities are adjudicated and recognized rights-holders consent to the diversion of forest land.
- Take decisive steps to ensure that police officials act in accordance with international standards on the use of force and do not engage in arbitrary arrests and detentions.
- Provide effective protection for project-affected communities against acts of violence committed by private actors.
- Ensure project affected communities unencumbered access to work, adequate food, healthcare and education services.
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