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NGOS urge response to grievances over Three Gorges resettlement

October 2, 2000

As violence grows in the Three Gorges resettlement areas, international NGOs call for immediate action by government and investors to address affected peoples' grievances.

Reports from the areas to be flooded by the mammoth Three Gorges Dam tell of an alarming rise in violent incidents sparked by resentment against resettlement. Officials summoned troops to quell one protest.

On Friday, Sept 29, the South China Morning Post reported that long-standing complaints that resettlement plans are ill-conceived, funds inadequate and that monies allocated for this purpose have been embezzled by corrupt officials continue to be ignored, while the date for filling the reservoir grows ever nearer. In many cases, years of peaceful petitioning has brought no relief, and frustrated residents are increasingly resorting to public protests, sometimes resulting in clashes with police or local officials. The homes of between 1.2 to 1.9 million people are to be flooded.

Reports of growing tension and violence contradict official statements that the first stage of resettlement is proceeding smoothly. They also demonstrate that the Chinese government's resettlement regulations and policies, praised by the World Bank as a model for the developing world, are often nothing but empty promises for displaced people. In addition, they reveal the serious inadequacy of complaints mechanisms in China, where the constitutional right to petition the authorities for the redress of grievances generally means little in practice.

A number of recent examples of disturbances illustrate the seriousness of the problems in the Three Gorges area. In mid-September, about 300 peasants from Gaoyang Township in Yunyang County attacked officials in charge of the county Resettlement Bureau, injuring at least one. In another protest in September, farmers hurled objects that injured some officials, including the deputy party chief, who was hit with a brick. Officials summoned troops to quell the violence. Earlier this year in Gaoyang, more than 1,000 peasants staged a protest and demanded a meeting with county leaders to demand more equitable compensation and access to official policy documents detailing the terms and conditions of resettlement.

A group of 300 farmers resettled in Zhanjiang in Jiangsu Province is returning to the Three Gorges area because each household had received the pitiful sum of only 9,000 yuan ($1,200 dollars) to build new houses. Last week, another group of 300 farmers sent to Taofu state farm in Hubei Province returned to Gaoyang and assaulted local resettlement bureau officials, accusing them of embezzling money earmarked for the construction of their new homes.

Farmers have signed dozens of petitions to complain that their representatives had been detained and threatened by local officials and even charging that petitioner representatives had been knifed by local gangsters on the orders of a local official.

These are just a few among a catalogue of incidents resulting from severely inadequate resettlement planning, endemic corruption and mismanagement, problems the International Rivers Network and Human Rights in China have been warning for some years create an explosive situation in the Three Gorges area as large numbers of people began to be moved under the resettlement program.

For over eight years, the International Rivers Network has been lobbying financial institutions to ensure they will not support the project. "We call on the international community to cease involvement in Three Gorges Dam until abuses of civil rights are addressed. By financing the project, U.S. banks are aiding in the creation of the most development refugees for a single project ever. Until Morgan Stanley Dean Witter implements necessary environmental and social policies governing core business operations, International Rivers Network is spearheading a consumer boycott of the firm's Discover Card and I-Choice brokerage services. Financial institutions don't deserve our business if they don't take responsibility for their environmental and social impacts" said Doris Shen, IRN program officer.

Since 1995, Morgan Stanley Dean Witter's joint venture, China International Capital Corporation based in Hong Kong, has served as the Three Gorges Project Development Corporation's advisor on raising overseas capital. In May 1997 and 1999, Morgan Stanley Dean Witter helped underwrite $830 million in bonds for the China Development Bank (CDB). Three Gorges Dam is listed as CDB's top loan commitment. (see for more details)

Human Rights in China is disturbed at the evident failure of the authorities at all levels to address the grievances of people forced to move by the Three Gorges Dam. "As in so many cases, promises made to people displaced for hydropower projects are proving to be not worth the paper they are written on" said Sophia Woodman, HRIC research director. "People whose rights are ignored have no effective means of redress, and their efforts to organize to protect their interests are met only with repression. This kind of approach is a recipe for instability and unrest. In the Three Gorges, it could mean out-and-out violence as the resettlement program advances."

"We call on the Chinese government to act immediately to ensure that the rights of people displaced by the dam are fully respected, and to undertake serious, good faith investigation of all complaints. We recommend that foreign investors suspend their involvement in the Three Gorges Dam project until these problems have been satisfactorily addressed," Woodman added.

Companies that are currently involved in the project include: GEC Alsthom of France, ABB of Switzerland and Sweden, Agra Monenco of Canada, GE Canada, and Voith Hydro and Siemens of Germany.

Financing firms involved in financing include: Morgan Stanley Dean Witter, China International Capital Corporation, Merrill Lynch, Salomon Smith Barney of Citigroup, Goldman, Sachs & Co., Credit Suisse First Boston. For a complete list of foreign involvement in Three Gorges: