As if it doesn’t have its hands full while it goes about its business of setting up a multi-billion-dollar plant in India, South Korean steel maker POSCO was served another shocker, this time from a totally unexpected source.
A United Nations Human Rights panel has asked POSCO to immediately cease all activities at the US $12 billion mega steel project in the Indian state of Odisha as it threatened to displace at least 22,000 people.
MetalMiner, which has been closely following the POSCO story as it unfolds, examined a press release issued by the UN. In the release, a panel of eight UN independent human rights experts said construction of the massive steel plant and port in Odisha by POSCO must not proceed without ensuring adequate safeguards and assuring that the rights of the thousands of people are respected.
The UN independent experts brought their concerns to the attention of both Indian and South Korean governments and POSCO, following allegations of human rights abuses and potential negative human rights impacts linked to the project.
“Forced evictions constitute gross violations of human rights,” said the UN Special Rapporteur on adequate housing, Raquel Rolnik, “and may only be carried out in exceptional circumstances and in a manner consistent with human rights law, including after a genuine consultation, without leaving people homeless or vulnerable to further human rights violations.”
The UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Olivier De Schutter, warned that the forcible removal of people from their lands could be tantamount to depriving them of their means of subsistence. “People who would be evicted for the POSCO project have relied on their lands for generations in order to obtain adequate food and sustain themselves and their families,” he said.
“People should not be impoverished in the name of development; their rights must take precedence over potential profits,” stressed the UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Magdalena Sepúlveda. “Projects such as these, with such a large potential impact on the rights of people living in poverty, must not go ahead without the meaningful participation, consent and involvement of the community affected.”
The experts’ panel also urged POSCO to exercise human rights due diligence throughout all stages of their activities, “to ensure meaningful consultations with potentially affected stakeholders, to carry out a human rights impact assessment and to act on and incorporate its findings into the project operations in order to avoid, mitigate and ensure remedy for any potential or actual human rights impacts, as required by the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.”
“We are encouraged by our initial dialogue with the Government of the Republic of Korea regarding this issue, and we urge the Government of India to respond to our concerns to ensure that the human rights of the affected people are fully respected and protected,” they said.
What Now for POSCO
At the time of writing this piece, POSCO was still to respond to this new “opposition” to its project, which, almost a decade later, is still to get off the ground. But analysts in India and those watching developments on this steel project now feel the UN Human Rights warning will give the movement by those protesting against the plant, including local tribals, a fresh surge of energy in their opposition against one of the world’s biggest steelmakers.
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