January 27, 2011Stephen Bywater, Chief Executive
Fax: + 44 (0)20 7290 1631
Dear Mr. Bywater,
Cultural Survival advocates for the human rights of Indigenous Peoples, including the right to protect their lands and natural resources and to maintain and express their unique cultures, languages and spiritual traditions. We are guided in our advocacy by the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which endorses Indigenous Peoples’ right to free, prior, and informed consent for any development project that would affect them and their environment.
In this regard, we respectfully request your attention to Global Coal Management Resources’ (GCM) proposed construction of an open-pit coal mine in Phulbari. If your government permits this project to move forward, it will forcibly remove at least 2, 200 Indigenous people from their homes and farmlands—in violation of the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Even in the face of reported government threats and repression, Indigenous residents of Phulbari continually express their opposition to the mine and their refusal to be forcibly displaced. To them the mine means ethnocide. If their small communities are broken apart and dispersed, they may not be able to maintain the cultural traditions, religious practices and languages that have sustained them for thousands of years, as is their right.
For all of the families that would be displaced by the mine (estimated at 130,000 people by the Expert Committee), the company cannot offer equivalent land because there is none. Many studies have shown that cash payments to families displaced by development projects result in their impoverishment. In a country where nearly half the population currently has too little to eat, it is cruelly irresponsible to push hard-working families further into poverty. If the mine is allowed to destroy 5,000 hectares of agricultural land in Phulbari, this valuable and reliable food source would also lost.
The UN-recognized right to water would also be violated by the Phulbari coal mine. Dewatering the mine’s 1,000-foot-deep pits will reduce the water supply of up to 220,000 people, possibly forcing them to abandon their lands in the region surrounding the mine.
In addition to these grave human rights considerations, the Phulbari coal mine project should be rejected on environmental grounds. It would pollute the air, soil, and water for centuries to come, destroy river ecosystems, and threaten the Sundarbans mangrove forests that protect Bangladesh from cyclones and provide critical habitat to many endangered species including the Bengal tiger. It would produce greenhouse gases that cause climate change, further endangering Bangladesh’s lowland populations.
Honorable Prime Minister, we urge you to hear the pleas of thousands of Bangladeshi citizens who have been calling for a ban on open-pit coal mining since 2005. As advocates for human rights and environmental protections, Cultural Survival joins them in denouncing GCM’s Phulbari project. Whatever short-term benefits the company may offer, the price in human lives and environmental destruction is too high.
By rejecting the Phulbari project and banning open-pit coal mining, you will gain the respect and gratitude not only of your citizens, but of a world that is turning away from fossil fuels toward a new sustainable energy future. This is your call to be a leader among nations.
Paula Palmer, Director
Global Response Program
Cultural Survival, Inc.