Thursday, December 13th, 2012

Demo and picketing in London against GCM on 20 December 2012.

Seeking to avert a “humanitarian and ecological catastrophe” in the north-west of Bangladesh, Phulbari, the UK-branch of National Committee to Protect Oil-Gas-Mineral Resources and Port-Power in Bangladesh, Phulbari Solidarity Group and several other London-based environmental organisations have been campaigning against a London-based and AIM-listed multinational company, the Global Coal Management Resources (GCM) Plc, formerly known as Asia Energy.

On 13 Dec 2012, the Committee in UK, in conjunction with the Phulbari Solidarity Group,  London Mining Network, Climate Justice Collective, Corporate Watch and World Development Movement announced a demo and picketing outside Global Coal Management Resources (GCM)’s forthcoming Annual General Meeting to be held on 20December 2012.

At a well-attended and interactive press conference, the member-secretary of the UK-branch of National Committee, Dr Akhter S. Masroor, presented a detailed report on the current situation in Phulbari, addressing the risks and threats the proposed Phulbari Coal Project involves, and explaining the reasons for organising the demo outside GCM’s forthcoming AGM.

In his written press statement, Masroor said, supported by major hedge funds and banks including UBS, Credit Suisse, LR Global, and Argos Greater Europe Fund, the London-based mining company, GCM, is aggressively moving on to implement an immense open pit coal mine in Phulbari ignoring enormous human rights and environmental degradation that the project would leave.

Opposition to GMC’s Phulbari Coal project led to bloodshed in August 2006 when paramilitary forces opened fire on tens of thousands of peaceful demonstrators, killing three unarmed people Tarikul, Al-Amen and Salekin, and wounding hundreds, he said.

We would like to prevent GCM and its subsidiary Asia Energy from building one of the world’s largest open-pit coal mines that would forcibly displace an estimated 130,000 people, and would create crisis of drinking water for as many as 220,000 people, and destroy 12,000 acres of fertile farmland in one of the world’s development countries, Bangladesh, in which nearly half of all people currently live below the nutrition poverty line, said Masroor.

The potential for violence has remained high in this project ever since August 2006. In the aftermath of the killings on 26th August 2006, a national strike shut the region down for four days and was brought to an end only when the government agreed to permanently throw GCM/ Asia Energy out of the country and ban open pit mine in Bangladesh. Despite violence and intimidation aimed at silencing opponents, some 100,000 people participated in a 250-mile Long March from Dhaka, Bangladesh’s capital, to Phulbari, in October 2010, Masroor added.

The project has generated grave concern at national and international levels including the United Nations and among human rights and environmental organisations worldwide. With their concerns about impending and grave human rights violations unaddressed, seven Special Rapporteurs of the United Nations issued a joint UN press release on 28 February, 2012, calling for an immediate halt to the project on the grounds that it threatens the fundamental human rights of hundreds of thousands of people, including entire villages of indigenous people, and poses an immediate threat to safety and standards of living.

The situation in Phulbari has become very tense and volatile since 9 Nov, 2012, when the Government in Bangladesh approved permission for survey to be conducted in Phulbari for the proposed cola project. A 48 – hour general strike called by the inhabitants of Phulbari halted trains, blockaded highways, and closed all shops and educational institutions on 22-23 Nov 2012. National press in Bangladesh have reported that security forces including about 500 police, Rapid Action Battalion forces (denounced as “a death squad” by Human Rights Watch), and members of the Bangladeshi border guard have been deployed to Phulbari, Masroor adds.

Despite huge protests and the volatile situation in Phulbari, GCM Resources plc is aggressively moving on to implement this immense open pit coal mine. They claim to have a valid contract for coal extraction in Phulbari while the Energy Advisor of Bangladesh has repeatedly denounced this claim.

In this situation, and as part of National Committee’s commitment to Protect Oil-Gas-Mineral Resources and Port-Power in Bangladesh, the Committee in conjunction with Phulbari Solidarity Group is holding a demo outside the Annual General meeting of GCM, at 10:00am at the Institute of Directors, 116-123 Pall Mall London, Greater London SW1Y 5ED. Several international human rights and environmental organisations including London Mining Network, Corporate Watch, Climate Justice Collective, International Accountability Project, World Development Movement, Cultural Survival, and the Socialist Party in UK have expressed full solidarity to the Committee’s decision to hold the demo.

The Committee is determined to throw GCM Resources/Asia Energy out of Bangladesh. Masroor concluded his statement by calling upon Bangladeshi community in UK to attend the demo on Thursday, the 20th December in London. Masroor’s report was followed by question – hour in which other speakers of the panel attended.

In response to what the Committee and their alliance are doing apart from organising demo and public events, Rumana Hashem, the co-ordinator of Phulbari Solidairity Group and an eye witness of the killing in Phulbari, said, we are working on many fronts. We work from street to the UK parliament and we reached out to policy level to avert a humanitarian crisis to emerge by GCM’s proposed Phulbari Coal Project. But for strategic reasons we cannot tell you everything that we do  here and which policy makers we reach out to when.

In response to whether the campaigners have tried to reach out to British Parliament, Rumana said, there have been a number of efforts to reach out to British MPs and we were successful in reaching out to a number of them who have already spoken out against GCM’s unethical business and corruption. If you look at our hand out, MP John McDonells comments in the Parliament on 28 November (http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201213/cmhansrd/cm121128/halltext/121128h0002.htm), you would get justification to my above claim. However, there are many other British MPs who failed to respond to our appeal to avert a humanitarian crisis that a British mining company is intended to create abroad, she added.

Rumana then presented a detailed report on the reluctance of the British parliamentarians to respond to the cause of Phulbari. She said, in May 2009, we submitted three separate reports on Asia Energy’s corruption and violence in Bangladesh to the Joint Committee for Human Rights (JCHR) in UK. Only one of these reports, submitted by our friends in World Development Movement, was published. The other reports, including my eye witness of Asia Energy’s corruption and unethical activities, which I submitted and co-authored with my colleague from University of East London, Paul Dudman, was never published. Instead of publishing our reports, the JCHR privately contacted the investors of GCM to give their comments on our reports which got published in JCHR’s Annual report, providing enough space. I was told that the UK parliament couldn’t publish my report because they needed to ‘save printing costs’, as if the British parliament was facing tremendous financial hardship, says Hashem.

She added that in 2011 she and her friends from London Mining Network and International Accountability Project, USA, had attended several meetings with various parliamentary bodies in UK, as part of their annual campaign programs. A few of these meetings were successful. However, British Parliamentarians did not appear to be very helpful to the cause of Phulbari, she said.

Supporting Rumana’s point, the coordinator of London Mining Network, Richard Solly said, we had a meeting with UK’s Department for Business Innovation & Skills last year which Rumana just mentioned. This year I have tried to gather information about the number and kind of correspondences the UK parliamentarians had with GCM and with Bangladesh government. According to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), they are supposed to provide us information. But we didn’t get the information that we have asked for. Now we have written to Trade and Investment, and we are waiting for their response, said Richard.

In response to whether the organisers have sought permission to hold demo from the Metropolitan Police, Richard Solly said, there is no need to seek permission for a demo in this country.  We are holding and attending many protests throughout the year which did not require approval of the Metropolitan Police. It is our democratic right to hold demo in this country, he added.

Speakers at the press conference also complained that the investors are not only aggressive towards the implementation of the proposed Coal Project in Phulbari, but they are also aggressive and abusive in manners. These investors do not know how to talk; they are frequently calling names and swearing at people of Bangladesh. While commenting on the situation in Phulbari on 25 Nov 2012, an investor commented that the Prime Minister of Bangladesh is a ‘bloody woman’. This is outrageous, said Rumana Hashem.

She said, this years’ demo will make sure that the investors of GCM end their propaganda against the people in Phulbari and Bangladesh. The forthcoming demo against GCM in London is organised to tell GCM to end their unethical business.

London, 13 December 2012

Media Contacts:
Akhter S. Masroor, Member Secretary, the UK-branch of National Committee, 07846012646, [email protected]

Chris Kitchen, Co-ordinator, Climate Justice Collective,07578603226, [email protected]

Richard Solly, Co-ordinator, London Mining Network, 07929023214,[email protected]

Rumana Hashem, Co-ordinator, Phulbari Solidarity Group, 07936047597, [email protected]

Sam Sender, Campaign Officer, World Development Movement , 02078204900 [email protected]