Friday, February 22, 2013


During the course of the last decade we have seen a whole new breed of political prisoners.  These are folks who challenged the powers that be, sometimes sitting in a chair in their home, in a whole new way.  These are hacker whistleblowers. Since taking office, President Obama's administration has waged an unprecedented war on whistleblowers and hackers who actually are whistleblowers.  As noted by SC magazine, his administration has invoked the Espionage Act,  " prosecute more people under the law than all previous presidents combined."

The vigorous prosecutions of six Americans accused of providing information to the media because they in principal believed it belonged in the public domain is just one aspect of Obama's excessive pursuit to maintain secrecy and silence dissent. The U.S. Department of Justice has been just as zealous in its handling of cases involving activist hackers, or "hacktivists," accused of infiltrating corporate and government information systems to extract data – not to profit off it, but to expose reprehensible corporate behavior and systemic wrongdoing or to, simply, embarrass the powerful. Among those facing long prison sentences are Jeremy HammondBarrett Brown and Andrew Auernheimer. That list would have includedAaron Swartz, had he not hanged himself last month in his Brooklyn apartment, a few months before he was to be sentenced, the victim, his girlfriend and family believe, of an unwavering prosecution that sought decades of imprisonment.

 Jeremy Hammond, you notice, is on that list.  Jeremy has been accused by the government of the USA of participating with Anonymous and a couple of other offshoot hacker actors with bothering it.  

This week  federal judge Loretta Preska refused to refuse herself in the case even though as RT writes:

...the name and email address of Judge Preska’s husband, attorney Thomas Kavaler, were included in the files pilfered from Stratfor and then circulated by members of Anonymous and the media. The internal correspondence, some of which has led to significant news breaks in their own right, has also been continuously published by the WikiLeaks whistleblower site.

Uh, conflict of interest maybe?

Anyway, Jeremy Hammond who has been called the "other Bradley Manning" by the mainstream media has refused to sit quietly in prison with his mouth shut.  Held without bail for almost a full year and still not likely to be tried for some time, Hammond seems undeterred.

The government doesn't like that.

Writes Dissident Voice:

Hammond now has been moved to solitary confinement and has been virtually cut off from all interaction with the outside world. On February 14, the Jeremy Hammond Support Network posted a message on social media that heavy restrictions were put on him. The Network reported Hammond now is not allowed any commissary visits to buy stamps for letters and food, as he does not get enough to eat. Now visits are limited to his lawyer and telephone contact is restricted to his brother.

His case is another example of the expanding unchecked authoritarian power in the justice system in general. Here Hammond appears to be following similar footsteps as Bradley Manning who also was placed into solitary confinement. Nahal Zamani, Advocacy Program Manager at the Center for Constitutional Rights, argued how solitary confinement is a form of torture and is “clearly cruel and unusual punishment. Indeed, the use of solitary has been condemned as torture by the international community.”

And still Jeremy Hammond finds ways to speak out.

The following is from The Sparrow Project and is presented in Scission's regular feature "Prison Friday."

Jeremy Hammond on Aaron Swartz & the Criminalization of Digital Dissent

The following is Jeremy Hammond in his own words, written from solitary confinement at The Metropolitan Correctional Center (MCC) in New York City…

jeremy hammond
The tragic death of internet freedom fighter Aaron Swartz reveals the government’s flawed “cyber security strategy” as well as its systematic corruption involving computer crime investigations, intellectual property law, and government/corporate transparency. In a society supposedly based on principles of democracy and due process, Aaron’s efforts to liberate the internet, including free distribution of JSTOR academic essays, access to public court records on PACER, stopping the passage of SOPA/PIPA, and developing the Creative Commons, make him a hero, not a criminal. It is not the “crimes” Aaron may have committed that made him a target of federal prosecution, but his ideas – elaborated in his “Guerrilla Open Access Manifesto” – that the government has found so dangerous. The United States Attorney’s aggressive prosecution, riddled with abuse and misconduct, is what led to the death of this hero. This sad and angering chapter should serve as a wake up call for all of us to acknowledge the danger inherent in our criminal justice system.
Aaron’s case is part of the recent aggressive, politically-motivated expansion of computer crime law where hackers and activists are increasingly criminalized because of alleged “cyber-terrorist” threats. The United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Preet Bharara, whose office is prosecuting me and my co-defendants in the Lulzsec indictment, has used alarmist rhetoric such as the threat of an imminent “Pearl Harbor like cyber attack” to justify these prosecutions. At the same time the government routinely trains and deploys their own hackers to launch sophisticated cyber attacks against the infrastructure of foreign countries, such as the Stuxnet and Flame viruses, without public knowledge, oversight, declarations of war, or consent from international authorities. DARPA, US Cyber Command, the NSA, and numerous federally-contracted private corporations openly recruit hackers to develop defensive and offensive capabilities and build Orwellian digital surveillance networks, designed not to enhance national security but to advance U.S. imperialism. They even attend and speak at hacker conferences, such as DEFCON, offer to bribe hackerspaces for their research, and created the insulting “National Civic Hacker Day” – efforts which should be boycotted or confronted every step of the way.
Aaron is a hero because he refused to play along with the government’s agenda, instead he used his brilliance and passion to create a more transparent society. Through the free software movement, open publishing and file sharing, and development of cryptography and anonymity technology, digital activists have revealed the poverty of neo-liberalism and intellectual property. Aaron opposed reducing everything to a commodity to be bought or sold for a profit.
The rise in effectiveness of, and public support for, movements like Anonymous and Wikileaks has led to an expansion of computer crime investigations – most importantly enhancements to 18 U.S.C § 1030, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA). Over the years the CFAA has been amended five times and has gone through a number of important court rulings that have greatly expanded what the act covers concerning “accessing a protected computer without authorization.” It is now difficult to determine exactly what conduct would be considered legal. The definition of a “protected computer” has been incrementally expanded to include any government or corporate computer in or outside the U.S. “Authorization,” not explicitly defined by the CFAA, has also been expanded to be so ambiguous that any use of a website, network, or PC that is outside of the interest, agenda, or contractual obligations of a private or government entity could be criminalized. In Aaron’s case and others the government has defined violating a service’s Acceptable Use Policy (AUP), Terms of Service (TOS), or End-User License Agreement (EULA) as illegal. Every time you sign up for a service like Gmail, Hotmail, or Facebook and click the “I agree” button that follows a long contract that no one ever reads, you could be prosecuted under the CFAA if you violate any of the terms.
The sheer number of everyday computer users who could be considered criminals under these broad and ambiguous definitions enables the politically motivated prosecution of anyone who voices dissent. The CFAA should be found unconstitutional under the void-for-vagueness doctrine of the due process clause. Instead, Congress proposed bills last year which would double the statutory maximum sentences and introduce mandatory minimum sentences, similar to the excessive sentences imposed in drug cases which have been widely opposed by many federal and state judges.
The “Operation Payback” case in San Jose, California is another miscarriage of justice where 16 suspected Anonymous members (including a 16 year old boy) allegedly participated in a denial-of-service action against PayPal in protest of it’s financial blockade of Wikileaks. Denial-of-service does not “exceed authorized access,” as it is virtually indistinguishable from standard web requests. It is more akin to an electronic sit-in protest, overloading the website’s servers making it incapable of serving legitimate traffic, than a criminal act involving stolen private information or destruction of servers. PayPal’s website was only slow or unavailable for a matter of hours, yet these digital activists face prison time of more that 10 years, $250,000 in fines, and felony convictions because the government wants to criminalize this form of internet protest and send a warning to would be Wikileaks supporters.
Another recent case is that of Andrew “Weev” Auernheimer, who last November was convicted under the CFAA. Andrew discovered that AT&T was publishing customer names and email addresses on it’s public-facing website, without password protection, encryption, or firewalls. Instead of acknowledging their own mistake in violating customer privacy, AT&T sought prison time for Andrew. Andrew has defended his actions saying, “We have not only a right as Americans to analyze things that corporations publish and make publicly accessible but perhaps a moral obligation to tell people about it.”
I am currently facing multiple computer hacking conspiracy charges due to my alleged involvement with Anonymous, LulzSec, and AntiSec, groups which have targeted and exposed corruption in government institutions and corporations such as Stratfor, The Arizona Department of Public Safety, and HB Gary Federal. My potential sentence is dramatically increased because the Patriot Act expanded the CFAA’s definition of “loss.” This allowed Stratfor to claim over 5 million dollars in damages, including the exorbitant cost of hiring outside credit protection agencies and “infosec” corporations, purchasing new servers, 1.6 million dollars in “lost potential revenue” for the time their website was down, and even the cost of a 1.3 million dollar settlement for a class action lawsuit filed against them. Coupled with use of “sophisticated means” and “affecting critical infrastructure” sentence enhancements, if convicted at trial I am facing a sentence of 30-years-to-life.
Dirty trial tactics and lengthy sentences are not anomalies but are part of a fundamentally flawed and corrupt two-tiered system of “justice” which seeks to reap profits from the mass incarceration of millions, especially people of color and the impoverished. The use of informants who cooperate in exchange for lighter sentences is not just utilized in the repressive prosecutions of protest movements and manufactured “terrorist” Islamophobic witch-hunts, but also in most drug cases, where defendants face some of the harshest sentences in the world.
For Aaron Swartz, himself facing 13 felony CFAA charges, it is likely that it was this intense pressure from relentless and uncompromising prosecutors, who, while being aware of Aaron’s psychological fragility, continued to demand prison time, that led to his untimely death.
Due to widespread public outrage, there is talk of congressional investigations into the CFAA. But since the same Congress had proposed increased penalties not even one year ago, any efforts at reform are unlikely to be more than symbolic. What is needed is not reform but total transformation; not amendments but abolition. Aaron is a hero to me because he did not wait for those in power to realize his vision and change their game, he sought to change the game himself, and he did so without fear of being labeled a criminal and imprisoned by a backwards system of justice.
We the people demand free and equal access to information and technology. We demand transparency and accountability from governments and big corporations, and privacy for the masses from invasive surveillance networks.
The government will never be forgiven. Aaron Swartz will never be forgotten.
Get involved with the Jeremy’s Support Network at
On Facebook at
On Twitter @Free_Hammond
Please consider mailing a letter, book, or postcard of support to Jeremy while in prison:
Jeremy Hammond – #18729-424
Metropolitan Correctional Center
150 Park Row,
New York, NY 10007

Thursday, February 21, 2013


Ship Breaking?  What is that?  It is the most dangerous job in the world according to many.  In Bangladesh it is big time big business.  Big Business which pays its workers as little as 47 cents per day to break up huge, rusting ships and tankers for up to twelve hours per day, seven days per week.  Ship Breaking in Bangladesh is second only in size to Pakistan.  Ship breaking  as Australia's Sunday Night describes it:

It’s one of the most jaw-dropping sights of the modern world. For as far as the eye can see, along a stretch of coastline in Bangladesh, hundreds of mammoth supertankers lie beached on the sand.

This is the place where the world’s ships come to die. The country’s lax labor laws and poor environmental standards mean the Bangladeshi coast is the final dumping ground for these lumbering giants.

A 2010 investigative report from the Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights found that amongst the thirty thousand workers involved in this most perilous and grueling work are children.  The report found that on the average one worker is injured each day and one dies every three weeks.

Workers are exposed to numerous toxins without any protection. Each ship contains an average of 15,000 pounds of asbestos and 10 to 100 tons of lead paint. Workers also come in contact with mercury, arsenic, dioxins, PCBs and carcinogenic fumes. Helpers, often children who go barefoot or wear flip-flops, use hammers to break apart the asbestos inside the ships, which they carry out and dump on the sand.

The ship-breaking workers lack even the most rudimentary protective gear. Cutters, who use blowtorches to sever ship hulls, wear sunglasses rather than protective goggles. They wrap dirty bandanas around their noses and mouths since they are not given respiratory masks. And they wear two sets of shirts for lack of welding vests and hope that the sparks will not burn through to their skin. Still, it happens every day.

The workers live in misery, with six sharing a small room, often sleeping directly on the dirty concrete floor. No one has a mattress.

“The workers are very clear on two points,” Kernaghan said, “that they will die early, and that there have been no improvements whatsoever over the last 30 years with respect to worker rights or health and safety. It does not have to be this way! Every child worker could be sent to school for $750 a year—including a living stipend to replace their wages. For less than $350 a year, every worker could be provided safety gear—which would save lives. The G-20 nations, which dominate world shipping, must guarantee respect for the legal rights of workers and must remove all toxic materials from their ships before they are sent to Bangladesh for scrapping.”

16-year-old Khorshed Alam was one of those lucky workers.  He  was crushed to death on July 17 when a metal plate fell on him. The boy had left school to start working in the yards and support his family. He worked a 12-hour night shift at the SRS shipbreaking yard in Chittagong for 25 USD cents an hour, or just under 3 USD per day.  He is dead.

Again, this is big business.   Of the approximate 45,000 ocean-going ships in the world about 700 are taken out of service every year. At the end of their sailing life, ships are sold so that the valuable steel – about 95% of a ships mass can be reused.  Research Initiative for Social Equity writes:

Ship breaking on the beach, which already at that time was prohibited in most countries, could be done in Bangladesh without any concern. Poverty and millions of people without education were looking for livelihood opportunities. They provided cheap and exploitable human man power needed for the ship breaking industry. No major investments were required for engaging in ship breaking. The present type of ship breaking in Bangladesh just require a large winch, some blowtorches and maybe a bulldozer. Rest of the operation is just raw human man power. Labour is extremely cheap, environmental and labour standards are loosely applied and no pre-cleaning of the ships are required for entering the ship breaking beach in Chittagong.

Ship breaking is therefore a lucrative business with few risks for the yard owners, investors and money lenders. The ship breaking industry in Bangladesh is estimated worth an annual turn over of around 1.5 billion dollars. Globally some 700 ocean-going vessels are scrapped each year, and more than 100 of them are scrapped in Bangladesh. Some of the ships are 350 meter long with a weight up to 10-15.000 tons. It is estimated that app. 30 percent of the world’s Light Displacement Tonnes (LDT) were scrapped in Bangladesh during the period 2000-2010.

It was found that majority of the labour (40.75%) are between the ages of 18-22 years old. Only 1.13% of labour is between 46-60 years old. One of the most disturbing findings was that child labour (under the age of 18) made up 10.94% of the workforce. 46.42% of yard workers are illiterate while 43.02% attained primary school education. There are no arrangements for pure drinking water, healthy food, hygienic toilets and living conditions for the workers. It was observed that 86.44% of the labour force stated that they received no medical facilities from the ship yard owners, 5.93% said they received medical facilities, 4.15% said they got medical facilities but in a nominal way or by way of first aid treatment and 1.69% stated sometimes they got medical facilities and sometimes not. As the government has not recognised it as an industry, the industry based labour laws (for example the Factory Act 1965) do not apply. Though the workers have been working in the scrap yards for years they are not allowed to form or join a trade union to bargain and enforce their rights. The workers are deprived of proper compensation due to the lack of a valid contract. In order to maximize profits little is done to minimalize the risk of accidents (Source: YPSA’s baseline survey).

Working in the ship breaking yards is a very dangerous job, which involves many human health risks. Sometimes gases explode killing workers. It also happens that workers are crushed by tumbling or falling steel parts. Sometimes workers fall from the high sides of ships on which they are working without safety harnesses. Many of the oxyacetylene cutters work without goggles. Few wear shoes, let alone protective clothing. Local organisations in Bangladesh estimate that some 1000-2000 workers have died in the last 30 years, and many more have suffered serious injuries. General health statistics show that the percentage of people with disabilities in the Chittagong area is above average for the country as a whole, because many workers have lost limbs or got other disabilities from working in the ship breaking yards.

The labourers lack basic equipment. When a new ship arrives, there are containers, chambers and tanks, which contain oil, petroleum and poisonous gases. One method used for checking the level of danger in these parts of the ship is to lower down chickens in a string to check whether there are dangerous gases. If the chickens survive, the first workers will enter to clean for oil, petroleum and other flammable substances. The flammable substances are often burned off before the cutters enter to rip the ship apart. Gas explosions is a common phenomenon.

It is estimated that half of the workers are under 22 years and nearly half of them are illiterate. Some believe that up to around 20 percent of the total work force consist of children. The workers are poor and they have no other alternatives for supporting themselves and their families than to work in the ship breaking yards. There are often no other job alternatives for them. The workers do not know much about rules and regulations on basic occupational health standards and safety. The labourers or their families are poorly compensated when injured or killed.

Are you getting the picture.  

This is not a job you want.  This is a job you have no choice but to take.  This is a job of the Empire.

This ships that are being broken up by poor workers in South Asia, of course, come from other, more developed parts of the Empire...places like Europe.  The technology and the like obviously exist in Europe for Europe to take care of its own shit, but it is much more profitable to drop them off on the beaches of places like that is where they go.  

The government of Bangladesh does next to nothing to protect these workers.  The governments of Europe turn their eyes in the other direction and act as if they have no responsibility.  The masters of global capital could care less.  The safety, the lives of workers is not their concern.

It's a global world we live in.

The following if from NGO Shipbreaking Platform.

Press release – European Shipowners dumped 365 Toxic Ships on South Asian Beaches Last Year

European Shipowners dumped 365 Toxic Ships on South Asian Beaches Last Year

Need for financial mechanism to hold shipowners accountable and prevent reflagging is urgent

Brussels, 5 February 2013 – A record-breaking number of 365 toxics-laden ships were sent for breaking by European shipowners to the beaches of South Asia in 2012, according to a list released today by the NGO Shipbreaking Platform, a global coalition of environmental, human rights and labour rights organisations working for safe and sustainable ship recycling. This number represents a 75% increase from 2011, when 210 EU-owned ships were sent for breaking in India, Bangladesh and Pakistan[1].

Despite the possibility of proper disposal in Europe or other developed countries, the vast majority of European shipping companies continue to profit by having their ships broken cheaply and dangerously on the beaches of South Asia. The EU must adopt mechanisms that will prevent European shipowners from exporting toxic ships for breaking in developing countries and instead recycle them according to the health, safety and environmental laws and standards of their own countries,” says Patrizia Heidegger, Executive Director of the NGO Shipbreaking Platform.

Of the top 10 European “global dumpers” in 2012, Greek shipowners were number one, dumping 167 ships on South Asian beaches, or nearly half of all ships sent by European shipowners in 2012. German shipowners represented the second largest group of toxic ship dumpers (48 ships) followed by shipowners from the UK (30 ships), Norway (23 ships), Cyprus (13 ships), Bulgaria (8 ships), Denmark (6 ships) and the Netherlands (5 ships). Shipowners from all countries, except the Netherlands and Norway[2], increased the number of end-of-life ships exported to Asia, with Italian shipowners sending three times as many ships in 2012 compared to the year before and MSC, the main Swiss containership and cruise ships company[2], beaching 23 ships in 2012, compared to only 5 in 2011. The rest was sent by shipowners based in Estonia (3 ships), Sweden (3 ships), Lithuania (2 ships), Belgium (2 ships), Romania (2 ships), Latvia (1 ship) and Poland (1 ship).

The Platform’s 2012 list shows that most of the end-of-life ships sent by European shipowners did not fly an EU flag[3]. In fact, 240 of them used what is commonly referred to as the “flags of convenience” phenomenon, using flags such as Panama, Liberia, the Bahamas or St Kitts-and-Nevis, which makes it more difficult for the EU to prevent their dismantling in substandard facilities. The NGO Shipbreaking Platform is currently working with the European Parliament to introduce a financial mechanism that would help shipowners internalize the costs of proper disposal of the hazardous materials found in end-of-life vessels. The Platform wants the mechanism to apply to all ships calling at European ports, instead of only addressing EU-flagged vessels. The financial mechanism could be a fund financed by fees paid by shipowners; an insurance; or a savings account guaranteeing that funds are put aside for safe and environmentally sound ship recycling. The EU Commission failed to introduce such a financial mechanism in its proposal for a European Regulation on ship recycling published in March 2012. Under the Cypriot Presidency, which ended in December, the EU Council failed to strengthen the Commission proposal. Coincidentally, in 2012, Cypriot shipowners sent 13 ships to the South Asian beaches. Also Greece and Germany, the two biggest European ships dumpers, do not show the political will to stop the export of end-of-life vessels.

China is another major destination of concern for end-of-life ships sold by EU-based shipowners. Both China and the EU have ratified the Basel Ban Amendment that prohibits any transboundary movement of hazardous waste exported from OECD to non-OECD countries. While today’s list focuses on end-of-life ships sent to beaches in South Asia, and even though the Shipbreaking Platform welcomes the fact that China has outlawed beaching and uses a higher level of mechanization, it notes with continued concern, the absence of independent trade unions in China, the lack of proper downstream management of toxic residues such as PCBs as well as the fact that such exports are likely to violate the Basel Ban Amendment.

Patrizia Heidegger
Executive Director
NGO Shipbreaking Platform
Rue de la Linière 11
1060 Brussels
+32 2 6094 419


The 2012 list can be downloaded in PDF or Excel format

[1] The 2011 list is available here:

[2] Although Norway and Switzerland are not amongst the 27 Member States of the European Union, both are part of EFTA (the European Free-Trade Association) and shipping companies based in these countries need to abide by certain EU laws, including the Waste Shipment Regulation.

[3] In 2012, out of the 365 EU-owned ships sent for breaking to South Asia, only 83 flew European flags. 90 ships used the flag of Panama; 60 used Liberia; 30 used Saint Kitts-and-Nevis; 23 used the Marshall Islands; 15 used Comoros; 12 used Saint Vincent-and-Grenadines; and 10 used the Bahamas. Some shipping companies based outside of the European Union also used a European flag for their end-of-life ship, amongst whom: Japan (1 Dutch flag), Ukraine (1 Slovakian flag), the United Arab Emirates (1 Maltese flag), Croatia (1 Maltese flag), the USA (1 Greek flag), Singapore (1 Norwegian flag and 1 Cypriot flag), China (2 Cypriot flags), Monaco (2 British flags) and Russia (3 Cypriot flags).


The European origin of the ships is determined either by their use of a European/EFTA flag (Iceland, Norway, Switzerland, and Liechtenstein) and/or because the last owner of the ship before the shipbreakers bought it was European-based. We have chosen to use the last beneficial owner of the ship as a reference in all previous reports. As defined by maritime database Lloyd’s List, the beneficial owner “may be the vessel’s management company or the trading name of a group, both of which are generally perceived to represent the ultimate owners of the vessel”. Therefore when looking at the report both these factors need to be taken into account when considering the data. The only destinations for end-of-life ships taken into account in this report, as for the Platform’s previous reports, are Gadani in Pakistan; Alang, Sachana, and Mumbai in India; and Chittagong in Bangladesh. Some ships may be missing from this list, which does not pretend to be exhaustive. Some data are provided by the industry on a voluntary basis. The list was compiled using Lloyd’s List, Intermodal, Robin des Bois reports, Equasis, and 

Wednesday, February 20, 2013


There may be centers in the Empire, but there is no CENTER.  The Empire is not Washington despite so many who desire it to be so.  The Empire is more than the USA.

The Empire and Capital are everywhere.  There is no outside, only inside these days.  That is what globalization really means.  Capital really is global and nation states really become weaker every day.  They are still here, mind you, but have less control over Capital every single day.

Our goal should not be to return to the "good old days."  Our goal should be to create an alter "Empire" of the Multitudes.  This would be a world without Capital, without capitalist accumulation, and exploitation.  This can only be accomplished by the multitudes.  No one else can do it -  no Party, no union, no NGO, no nation state,  just the working people of the world.

This brings us to what is happening in Ethiopia.  The land and resources which are being stolen from the people who live on them.  Who is doing what to whom.

In this instance we are talking about land being stolen by companies from India.  The article below at one point seems to imply that the Indian government is responsible for all this,  but does anyone really believe India, the nation, is ultimately behind all this?  I think that is a too simple an explanation.  Does anyone believe that New Delhi is the capital of the Empire and the bureaucrats who call themselves the government are in charge?   No one denies that those bureaucrats do not act on behalf of national and international Capital, and no one finds those bureaucrats  blameless, goes beyond that.

In the article is also the suggestion that the Ethiopian government must reform itself and act on behalf of its people.  Of course, this is also not the solution.  The solution does not lie with the government at all.  Only the multitude, the working people, farmers, peasants of Ethiopia, of India, of the world are the solution.

This is the very sort of thinking which lends to a reactionary strategy of "we need to get back to the good old days of a strongly regulating nation state," but we KNOW there were no good old days of capitalism.  Just as Marx recognized that early capitalism was actually an advance over feudalism (despite all its horror), so must we come to grips that globalization is an advance over what came before.  We do not embrace it, of course, we work to push beyond to a new world entirely, but one last time, we don't do that by going backwards.

Just saying....

The following is from Food Crisis and the Global Land Grab.

How Ethiopians are being pushed off their land
The Hindu | 19 February 2013


“It is not a land-grab, it is a life-grab. It is daylight robbery. But if we protest, if we speak the truth, we could end up in jail or worse.” Obang Metho was referring to the leasing of land to foreign companies in Ethiopia, spreading over nearly four million hectares. Nyikaw Ochalla joined in: “This is happening in the lands I grew up in, and it is my relatives and childhood friends who are being jailed, beaten up, and driven out; my childhood memories are being violated.”

Metho of the Solidarity Movement for a New Ethiopia, and Ochalla of the Anuak Survival Organisation were speaking at the “Indian-Ethiopian Seminar on Land Investments” organised on February 5-6, 2013 in New Delhi. The seminar was put together by Indian civil society groups Indian Social Action Forum (Insaf), Popular Education and Action Centre (Peace), and Kalpavriksh, the research institution Council for Social Development, and the U.S.-based research group Oakland Institute.

Indian stakes

The stories narrated by Obang and Ochalla were harrowing. The lands being leased by the Ethiopian government to companies from India, China, Malaysia, and other countries, were claimed by it to be “empty.” In actual fact these are areas occupied or used by pastoral and small farming communities, as also grasslands and forests with significant wildlife. Decisions are being taken in the country’s capital to give up these lands ostensibly to help the country produce food and generate revenues; the underlying message is that either there is no one there to do the job, or that local communities are simply not up to the mark.

Indian companies are among the biggest players in the land deals, with investments of over $5 billion, and leases over 6,00,000 hectares. Karuturi Global, a Bangalore-based agroproduce company has alone received 3,00,000 hectares. Claims by these companies and by the Ethiopian government that the deals are legal and entail no human rights violations, have been shown as false in a series of on-ground investigations. The Oakland Institute has meticulously documented the nexus of corporations, politicians, investors, and officials that has made the land-grab possible. It notes that there is no public consultation with local communities (much less their consent), many of whom find out that their pastures or fields have been sold off only when bulldozers arrive. Any form of resistance or even questioning is met with imprisonment, beating up, and even killing. Both private security companies and the Ethiopian government’s own forces are used to protect the investors. And there is a total lack of environmental and social impact assessments in these deals.

It is also stated sometimes that what Indian companies are doing abroad, is not the responsibility of the government. But this ignores the various ways in which the Indian government facilitates and supports such deals, not only through diplomatic channels but also financially (even if indirectly). For instance the Indian Export-Import Bank has pledged $640 million of credit over five years for Ethiopia’s sugar industry, and the fact that Indian companies are getting the biggest deals for sugarcane plantations cannot be unconnected.

Mass displacement

Obang and Ochalla were careful to clarify that they were not against India’s people, who they realised could not be supporting such land-grab; however, for the affected communities, “it is Indians who are doing this to us.” It is therefore important for groups here to question the intentions and actions of Indian companies and the Indian government agencies supporting them. Does their behaviour in Ethiopia meet the laws or guidelines under which Indian companies act within their own country? Does it meet international standards of human rights and environmental sustainability that India is a signatory to?

Over the next couple of years, the Ethiopian government plans to forcibly move 1.5 million people off their homelands and concentrate them into a few settlements in a process called “villagisation.” It claims that this will enable it to provide efficient and good quality services like drinking water, sanitation, schools, and clinics, which is not possible in the case of today’s scattered, small settlements. But Obang and Ochalla point out that all the relocation is taking place from lands targeted by investor companies, and that even where communities are saying they would much rather stay where they are with whatever amenities they have, they are being forcibly moved out.

The claim that such investments are a “win-win” deal for the Ethiopian people and Indian companies is also questionable. Much of the production (sugarcane, cotton, jatropha, etc) is meant for export, and local foodgrains which are the staple diet are not being grown. Very little local employment is created; there is no requirement by the Ethiopian government that companies have to hire locally. Nor is there any contractual clause by which the money generated is to remain within the Ethiopian economy. A handful of businessmen and politicians are the prime beneficiaries.

Obang and Ochalla were at pains to state that part of the blame for this sell-out is located within the country’s own history, in which sometimes adverse relations between different tribes have become entrenched in the political system. The country’s ruling elite are from a tiny minority belonging to one ethnic group, who can ignore the sufferings of other groups affected by land-grab. In this sense, it is the Ethiopian people themselves who have to resolve the problem. But there is also an important role for India’s people, especially in highlighting the role of their own companies and government, and facilitating greater awareness of what is taking place in the name of Ethiopia’s development.

Odisha parallel

What is happening in Ethiopia (and other African countries) is an outcome of India’s own aggressive push towards globalised economic growth. The growth fetish has led to situations of both internal and external colonisation, in which farms, waterbodies, forests, grasslands and other natural resources are all up for grabs.

It was an ironical coincidence that on the very days the consultations on Indian land-grab in Ethiopia were taking place in New Delhi, police action was under way to forcibly evict villagers in Odisha to make way for the Korean multinational Posco. Representatives of movements from Jharkhand, Karnataka and elsewhere told Obang and Ochalla that they were facing similar repression while resisting forcible takeover by the government or by corporations. The currently dominant model of “development” is pushing such violence across the globe, wherever dominant nation-states and giant corporations are eyeing land and resources.

In such a situation, people in India who care for human rights, ecological sustainability, and basic justice, have to raise fundamental critiques of “development” and centralised governance, and work towards radical alternatives that secure the rights of all people to food, water, shelter, energy, learning, health and livelihoods. Such alternatives are already demonstrated to be feasible at thousands of sites across the world, but it requires a mindset change for both the Ethiopian and Indian governments to facilitate the empowerment of local communities to adopt them, rather than paving the way for corporate takeover. Neither the founders of India nor of Ethiopia would have dreamt of a future in which development takes place at gunpoint.

(Ashish Kothari is with Kalpavriksh, Pune.)