control of water

ICC to prosecute environmental crimes

The International Criminal Court released a policy document Sept. 15 calling for prosecution of individuals for atrocities committed by destroying the environment. The document, prepared by chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, sets out the types of cases that the court will now prioritize, including willful environmental destruction, illegal exploitation of natural resources, and "land grabbing." The ICC has already shown a willingness to apply its authority to situations involving environmental destruction. Between 2009 and 2010, then-prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo successfully obtained arrest warrants from the court against the president of Sudan, Omar al-Bashir, for acts of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. Among other acts, these alleged crimes involved the contamination of wells and destruction village pumps in Darfur to deprive targeted populations of water. Al-Bashir's trial has not yet commenced as he continues to evade arrest. (The Conversation, Sept. 23)

India: high court rules in violent water dispute

India's highest court ordered (PDF) the state of Karnataka to share water with the neighboring state of Tamil Nadu on Sept. 12. The two states have disputed rights to the Cauvery River for decades. Last week the court ruled that Karnataka must share 15,000 cubic feet per second for 10 days, but Karnataka appealed that decision. Karnataka officials argued that the state does not have enough water to share and that Tamil Nadu is not suffering hardship over the water. The court ordered Karnataka to release 12,000 cubic feet per second instead of 15,000. After the decision violent protests erupted which led to attacks on hotels, shops, and buses. In response, police deployed 15,000 officers to the area and are prohibiting large public gatherings.

Mexico: clashes over power plant in Morelos

Communal farmers from the pueblo of San Pedro Apatlaco in Mexico's Morelos state clashed Aug. 30 with federal riot police at a protest over construction of an aqueduct bringing water to a new gas-fired power plant under construction at nearby Huexca, Yecapixtla municipality. The clash took place as police tried to clear a bridge the protesters were occupying, linking the municipalities of Cuautla and Ayala through Apatlaco pueblo (which lies in Ayala). The farmers were attempting to bar a crew from the Federal Electric Commission (CFE) from blocking off a common area long used by residents for the aqueduct right-of-way. Troops from the new federal anti-riot force, the Unified Command (Mando Unico), were brought in to clear the bridge. Some 15 protesters were detained, with injuries reported on both sides. Opponents say the aqueduct will pass through more than 100 eijidos (agricultural collectives) and communcal lands, and that the affected communities were not consulted. There were similar protests two years ago over construction of the gas pipeline feeding the plant, part of the Morelos Integral Project (PIM). (El Sol de Cuautla, Diario de MorelosLa Jornada, Educa, Aug. 31; La Unión de Morelos, Excelsior, Aug. 30)

Colombia: illegal mining the 'new coca'?

An unprecedented ruling of Colombia's Constitutional Court last year protecting alpine wetlands or páramos from mining operations is apparently going unenforced. Coal-mining continues in the Páramo de Pisba, a supposed protected area in Boyacá department, according to Anastasio Cruz of the Network of Rural Waterworks (Red de Acueductos Rurales), who said that the mining operations over the past 12 years have left over 20 local sources dry. The operations are carried out by companies operating on the margins of the law, which he said are also seeking to re-activate an old iron mine in the area. Cruz made his statement to the press ahead of a National Meeting of Páramo Defenders held in Tasco, Boyacá, last moth. (Contagio Radio, Aug. 5)

Yemen: Saudis bomb anti-bombing demonstration

It requires a really special kind of cynicism to pull this one off—the kind born of complete impunity, when the world gives you a blank check to carry out any kind of atrocity. Saudi fighter jets on Aug. 21 carried out air-strikes on a peaceful rally in Yemen's capital Sanaa that had been called to protest Saudi air-strikes. Most recent accounts put the death toll at three, but it seems very likely to rise. The protesters were mostly armed, and began firing on the warplanes with their AK-47s after the air-strikes, in a useless act of defiance. The rally was called after Doctors Without Borders (MSF) withdrew its staff from six Yemen hospitals in response to a Saudi sir-strike on a hospital that left 19 people dead in the northern province of Hajja. It was the fourth health facility supported by MSF to be hit by Saudi-led coalition air-strikes over the course of the war, now in its 17th month. The US continues to have military advisors directly supporting the Saudis' air war in Yemen. This week, their number was cut from about 45 to five, although US officials said this was not due to concern over civilian casualties. (Nine News, Australia, Aug. 21; BBC News, Aug. 20; NYT, Aug. 18)

Mapuche militants burn machinery at hydro site

Members of Mapuche Ancestral Resistance in the pre-dawn hours of July 19 burned two excavator machines belonging to British business magnate Joe Lewis, that were being used to build a hydroelectric dam at El Bolsón, in Argentina's Río Negro province. The dam is planned for the headwaters of the Río Escondido, on Lewis' private property, and is being built in cooperation with Edenor electric company, of which Lewis is the biggest stock owner. The militants left leaflets headlined "Lewis Out of Patagonia," and listing their demands for the release of political prisoners and the eviction of oil, mining and hydroelectric companies from Mapuche traditional territories. Liberty was especially demanded for Facundo Jones Huala, who was arrested in May and is being held pending an extradition request by Chile, where he is wanted for "land usurpation." Mapuche territory is bisected by the Chile-Argentina border. (The Bubble, Buenos Aires, Clarín, Buenos Aires, July 19; Crónica, Chubut, June 29)

Panama: water shortages threaten 'mega' canal

Panama has opened the long-awaited $5.4 billion expansion of its inter-oceanic canal, completed after nearly a decade of work and forecast to boost global trade. China's container ship Cosco Shipping Panama was the first to pass through the expanded canal, crossing from the Pacific to Atlantic June 26, emerging at a ceremony attended by thousands of onlookers and foreign dignitaries. The expansion is designed to accommodate the huge "neo-Panamax" ships to move far greater quantities of cargo through the canal—also dubbed "mega-ships." But the Spanish-led consortium that carried out the expansion is demanding hundreds of millions of dollars in cost overruns. And there are long-term concerns about available fresh water to feed the expanded canal's new locks. The expanded canal is relying on the same water sources as the original canal—which are already under stress. During this year's El Niño-related drought, shippers had to significantly lighten their loads through the canal. Jorge L. Quijano, CEO of the Panama Canal Authority, has been pressuring Panamanians to conserve water to assure the functioning of the new mega-canal. (China Daily, June 27; Radio Australia, June 26; NYT, June 22; Miami Herald, June 20; American Shipper, March 22)

Anti-canal leader arrested in Nicaragua

Francisca Ramírez Torres, leader of the movement against the planned Nicaraguan canal, was arrested by National Police agents  June 25 in a raid on her village in the South Caribbean Coast Autonomous Region. Ramírez was leading a workshop at her village of La Fonseca, Nueva Guinea municipality, teaching local residents to build fuel-efficient wood-burning ovens. She was detained along with her husband, four other local campesinos and four foreigners who were participating in the workshop, mostly Mexicans. The event was part of a Mesoamerican Caravan for  Good Life, organized to support local communities opposed to the canal project. No formal charges have yet been announced. "We don't know what argument the police used to detain them and take them by force to the state," attorney López Baltodano told the AP. President Daniel Ortega said the detained had been "handling explosives." On April 22, Ramírez and her National Council for the Defense of Our Land, Lake and Sovereignty led a march of thousands of campesinos against the canal project in Nueva Guinea. (Caravana Mesoamericana, La Prensa, La PrensaConfidencialAP, June 25; Havana Times, April 25; La Prensa, April 23; Havana Times, March 12)

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