Bulldozing homes in the name of developmentAdmin
by Kate Hoshour and Joanna Levitt
President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address noted that US goals for economic recovery would take time and be hard to achieve — in part because of the ‘contentious’ and ‘messy’ processes of democratic policymaking. He followed this with a thinly veiled critique of China, a country that pursues its development goals unencumbered by such processes: ‘If the central government wants a railroad, they get a railroad — no matter how many homes are bulldozed.’
This critique is warranted in light of the ruthlessness with which millions of people have been forcibly evicted in China in recent decades, their homes bulldozed or submerged, and their rights violated in the name of economic development. The silencing of protesters defending their homes and lands—through their incarceration in mental health facilities, black jails, and ‘Re-education through Labour’ facilities—deserves an international response to end these human rights violations.
This understood, it is noteworthy that Obama chose to make this comparison just one month after WikiLeaks released a diplomatic cable revealing that the US ambassador to Bangladesh, James Moriarty, has applied aggressive pressure to establish a development project that would bulldoze homes in northwest Bangladesh: the Phulbari coal project, which would establish one of the world’s largest open-pit mines and forcibly evict as many as 230,000 people from their homes and lands.
Moreover, Moriarty is attempting to push this project forward despite the fact that tens of thousands of Bangladeshi people have sustained a five-year battle to halt the project, and blood has already been shed. Three protestors have been killed, including a 14-year old boy, hundreds have been wounded, and the World Organisation against Torture has issued an emergency appeal to halt the project, due to the likelihood of further violence against project opponents.
Moriarty cited 60 per cent US ownership in this project to justify his support in spite of the risk of further human rights violations. His actions reveal that the US too, when it wants a project pushed through, is willing to ignore the protests of tens of thousands of people—when such projects are located beyond US borders. The Phulbari Coal Project is just one example of how corporate interests at home can drive undemocratic interference and actions by the US abroad.
‘Basically, if we want to win the future, we have to out-build, out-innovate, out-educate and out-hustle the rest of the world,’ Obama said to applause. ‘That’s what we’ve got to do.’
But, development should not and cannot happen at the expense of people’s
human rights and homes. If Obama
really wants to ‘win the future’, he and Ambassador Moriarty should ensure that the US leads the way in respecting human rights in development processes—both at home and abroad.
Kate Hoshour is senior research fellow and Joanna Levitt executive director at the International Accountability Project.