By Raaj Manik, 22 December 2012
Thursday was a miserable day for the board of GCM Resources, and a day, of what the protesters of the destructive Phulbari Project called ‘ the day for Phulbari Resistance’.
Despite the heavy, grey and wet weather in London, protesters of the Phulbari Coal Project and transnational activists of climate justice and environment in London started to gather from 10am sharp at the Institute of Directors, where the Annual General Meeting of GCM Resources plc, was scheduled to take place. They were as creative as powerful in their protest against the investors and shareholders of GCM Resources.
The event kicked off by chanting slogans, ‘Out out out, GCM out of Bangladesh’, ‘blockade GCM, blockade the bloodsuckers’. It ended by chanting bangla slogans, Duniar majdur, ek hou juddho koro’. The event was organized by the UK branch of National Committee to Protect Oil-Gas-Mineral Resources and Port-Power of Bangladesh (‘UK Committee’) with the support of Phulbari Solidarity Group and several other environmental and human rights organizations based in London.
Activists from one such organisation, Agitartworks, put on an amusing street-theatre in which activists dressed as GCM executives acted out the repression which the people of Phulbari would face if the mine goes ahead. Activists blocked the entrance to the Institute of Directors (IoD) front door by dumping coal in the doorway.
They were to lock out the investors of GCM. But, desolately, the police were more interested in detaining the activistsand actors, than tackling the real crimes being discussed inside by GCM executives and investors. Two of the activists, who played a wonderful performance in featuring how abusive and violent GCM Resources is, were arrested and more armed police arrived by police van to intimidate the remainder of the protesters.
But more was to come, and many more joined the protest at the post-theatre phase. The demo took more powerful and organised look after the arrests of the two activists. Angry activists chanted Bangla slogan, the slogans that were borrowed from Phulbari, ‘Bosot vita dhongso kore koila khoni hobena; masjid-mandir dhongsho kore koila khoni hobena; tomar bari amar bari Phulbari Phulbari’.
Akhter Sobhan Khan Masroor, Member Secretary of the UK Committee, welcomed the demonstrators and invited to give speeches.
Rumana Hashem, an eye witness to the violence in August 2006 and the co-ordinator of Phulbari Solidarity Group, called for two minutes silence. She explained that this was ”to honour the three martyrs, Tariqul, Salekin and Al-Amen, who were killed on 26 August 2006 when paramilitary troops opened fire on the massive protest against Asia Energy in Phulbari; and the 121 victims of the latest garment factory tragedy in Bangladesh, who died in late November, because they were denied exit via the main gate when the fire alarm was raised in their factory, which did not have any fire-escape – and were forced to burn to death.”
She added that the silence would also commemorate Catholic priest Bert White, a close friend of some of those involved, who had died in a fire on 20th December in 1999 and who, she said, would have been on the demonstration if he had lived, as he had been very much on the side of the poor, oppressed and dispossessed, and had always opted for the cause of justice and liberation.
She concluded, “As we demonstrate against corruption and human rights violations, we take the spirit of all of the above people in our heart and we demonstrate with the spirit that they are with us on the demo.”
There were speeches by representatives of the groups involved in the action, and a memorandum from the demo to the British Prime Minister was read out.There was anger at the involvement of the British Government in support for GCM Resources’ attempts to push forward the Phulbari project. Concerned voices, chanting slogans ‘shame, shame on GCM and this government’, were many. An Eviction Notice to GCM was to have been handed over to the company, but the presence of armed police prevented demonstrators from entering the building –‘ it will therefore be delivered to the company by post’, says Rumana Hashem.
The demo ended with a vote of thanks from the Convenor of the Committee in UK.
Meanwhile, inside the meeting of GCM, activists from the Bangladeshi community, Climate Justice Collective, Corporate Watch, and World Development Movement led by Richard Solly of London Mining Network, grilled the board on the contentious project and its catastrophic human rights impacts. And to top the morning off, back inside as the meeting was drawing to a close, GCM’s board had a surprise seasonal visitor, as an anonymous activist dressed as Santa Claus presented a stocking full of coal to company chairman, Gerald Holden.
He entered the room saying, “Ho, ho, ho, have you been naughty or nice this year? This year you threatened to evict 220,000 people so you could profit from polluting the climate. St Nick always knows – your stocking’s full of coal!” Then he dumped a sack of coal over the desk on which the board was sitting. The meeting was quickly broken up following the intervention from Santa.
In London yesterday, GCM’s share price had already taken a dramatic tumble by the time executives and investors arrived at the AGM, following the publication of an article in the Daily Mail highlighting an on-going relationship between UK government officials and the company.
The London-based and AIM-listed mining company, GCM Resources had already had a scandal for the killing of three people in the North-west of Bangladesh, Phulbari, and the continued human rights violation since 2006. Supported and financed by global hedge fund and banks including UBS, Credit Suisse, LR Global, and Argos Greater Europe Fund, the company is aggressively moving on to implement an immense open pit coal mine in the region, ignoring the human rights and environmental degradation the project would leave. If the project went ahead, it would turn 14,500 acres of land into a giant hole in the ground, displacing almost 130,000 people. As the coal is so deep, huge amounts of water would have to be extracted from the surrounding area, affecting the water supply of 220,000 people.
Following local, national and transnational resistance to the project for the last six years, a couple of investors including Barclays pulled out of the project, and the UK government distanced itself from it. But a change of personnel at the company earlier this year has seen renewed efforts by GCM to push the mine forward. In October 2012, the government of Bangladesh instructed local administrators to cooperate with Asia energy, the Bangladesh subsidiary of GCM’s surveys in Phulbari, attempting to quash opposition by banning gatherings of more than five people. In response, activists and communities against the mine called a two-day general strike, with further protest planned if demands to expel GCM from the country and ban open-cast mining are not met by 31 December. The protest in London was held to express solidarity with the people in Phulbari and to strengthen the power of resistance against the proposed Phulbari Coal Project of GCM Resources.
There is no doubt that the GCM shareholders are left with much confusion by the level of resistance to the mine in both Bangladesh and the UK.