Saturday, December 22nd, 2012
Activists blocked the entrance to the Institute of Directors (IoD) on 20th Dec by dumping coal in the doorway where the Annual General Meeting of GCM Resources plc(the umbrella organisation of Asia Energy), was scheduled to take place . At the same time protesters held a demonstration against GCM and their plans to build a huge open-cast coal mine in Phulbari, Bangladesh. One activist dressed as Santa gave company chairman Gerard Howell a present of a stocking full of coal. For GCM, this was a miserable day and for the protestors, organized by the UK branch of National Committee to Protect Oil-Gas-Mineral Resources and Port-Power of Bangladesh (‘UK Committee’) with the support of Phulbari Solidarity Group and four other environmental and human rights organizations based in London, this was a day of ‘Phulbari Resistance’.
The event kicked off by chanting slogans, ‘Out out out, GCM out of Bangladesh’, ‘blockade GCM, blockade the bloodsuckers’. It ended by chanting bangla slogans, Duniar majdur, ek hou juddho koro’.
Two activists from group Agitartworks dressed as GCM Resources executives kicked over a makeshift hut and covered a woman in coal as part of a street theatre outside the door. Police arrested them for breach of the peace but released them shortly after the demonstration.
The demo took more powerful and organised look after the arrests of the two activists. Angry activists chanted Bangla slogan, the slogans that were borrowed from Phulbari, ‘Bosot vita dhongso kore koila khoni hobena; masjid-mandir dhongsho kore koila khoni hobena; tomar bari amar bari Phulbari Phulbari’.
Akhter Sobhan Khan Masroor, Member Secretary of the UK Committee, welcomed the demonstrators and invited to give speeches.
Rumana Hashem, an eye witness of the violence in August 2006 and the co-ordinator of Phulbari Solidarity Group, called for two minutes silence. She explained that this was ”to honour the three martyrs, Tariqul, Salekin and Al-Amen, who were killed on 26 August 2006 when paramilitary troops opened fire on the massive protest against Asia Energy in Phulbari; and the 121 victims of the latest garment factory tragedy in Bangladesh, who died in late November, because they were denied exit via the main gate when the fire alarm was raised in their factory, which did not have any fire-escape – and were forced to burn to death.”
At the same time inside the AGM an activist dressed as santa from Climate Justice Collective gave a stocking full of coal to the company chairman saying, “Ho, ho, ho, have you been naughty or nice this year? This year you threatened to evict 220,000 people so you could profit from polluting the climate. St Nick always knows – your stocking’s full of coal!” The meeting was quickly broken up following the intervention from Santa.
During the AGM, activists from the Bangladeshi community and other organisations including World Development Movement and London Mining Network asking numerous questions about the highly contentious Phulbari project and its massive human rights impacts.
In 2006 three people were killed and over 200 injured when paramilitary troops fired on a protest of some 80,000 demonstrators in Phulbari. If completed, it has been estimated that the project would destroy the homes, lands, and water sources of as many as 220,000 people, and forcibly evict an estimated 130,000 people.
Miner GCM Resources is the subject of a complaint to the Organisation for Co-operation and Development over the controversial coal mine. Emails obtained under the Freedom of Information Act show the company also requested help to push the project forward from UK Trade & Investment.
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.”
Following local, national and transnational resistance to the project for the last six years, a couple of investors including Barclays pulled out of the project, and the UK government distanced itself from it. But a change of personnel at the company earlier this year has seen renewed efforts by GCM to push the mine forward. In October 2012, the government of Bangladesh instructed local administrators to cooperate with Asia energy, the Bangladesh subsidiary of GCM’s surveys in Phulbari, attempting to quash opposition by banning gatherings of more than five people. In response, activists and communities against the mine called a two-day general strike, with further protest planned if demands to expel GCM from the country and ban open-cast mining are not met by 31 December. The protest in London was held to express solidarity with the people in Phulbari and to strengthen the power of resistance against the proposed Phulbari Coal Project of GCM Resources.