New Delhi: United Nation’s human rights experts have criticised the “disproportionate and excessive use of force” by the police during the anti-Sterlite protest in Thoothukudi in Tamil Nadu on May 22. The police firing and violence had left 13 dead and scores injured and had evoked widespread criticism in India and abroad.
Stating that the protesters were raising “legitimate human rights and environmental concerns”, UN experts have called upon the Indian authorities “to carry out an independent and transparent investigation, without delay, and to ensure that perpetrators of human rights violations be held accountable.”
“The government should uphold the rights to freedom of expression and assembly, as they are the cornerstone of democratic societies and a critical tool to identify and protect against business-related human rights abuses,” the experts said.
The Wire had earlier reported how many believed that the police firing was pre-planned. The reverberations of the incident have been felt strongly both in India and abroad. After a wave of protests, Tamil Nadu deputy chief minister O. Panneerselvam on May 28 said the government will take steps for permanent closure of the copper plant at Thoothukudi. Meanwhile, in the UK, the opposition has demanded that Vedanta be delisted from the London Stock Exchange.
The firing and police action had taken place when on the 100th day of demonstrations against copper smelting facility the protesters tried to march to the district collectorate.
The UN experts also noted that the plant is run by Sterlite Copper, a business unit of Vedanta Ltd., which is a subsidiary of the UK-based company, Vedanta Resources.
The UN experts, who are part of the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council, the largest body of independent experts in the UN human rights system, pointed out that local and national judicial and administrative bodies have documented water contamination, air pollution and other forms of environmental degradation linked to the copper smelting plant and related activities.
These experts – who are not UN staff and independent from any government or organisation, serving in individual capacity and working without salary – further pointed out that “under the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, all business enterprises have a responsibility to respect human rights, including identifying, preventing, mitigating and accounting for how they address their adverse human rights impacts.”
They also called on Sterlite Copper as well as its parent company, Vedanta Resources, to take immediate measures to mitigate pollution and to ensure access to safe water and healthcare.
Finally, they urged the government of India to “take all the necessary measures to ensure that all business enterprises respect national as well as international human rights and environmental norms, and that the Sterlite Copper’s smelting plant resumes operations only after meaningful consultation with affected communities and when fully complying with Indian environmental laws.”
The group of experts comprised Anita Ramasastry, chair of UN Working Group on human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises; Baskut Tuncak, special rapporteur on the implications for human rights of the environmentally sound management and disposal of hazardous substances and wastes; Agnes Callamard, special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions; Michel Forst, special rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders; David Kaye, special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression; Clément Nyaletsossi Voulé, special rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association; John H. Knox, special rapporteur on human rights and the environment; and Léo Heller, special rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation.