Pipeline project puts human rights on the line

Posted: 23 May 2003

A proposed £2.9bn oil and gas pipeline connecting the Caspian Sea to the Mediterranean, which is currently seeking financial support from British taxpayers, could have serious implications for the human rights of the thousands of people living in the region, says Amnesty International in a new report.

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Chris Marsden, Chair of Amnesty International UK Business Group, said:

"The legal agreements signed by the Turkish government and the pipeline Consortium effectively create a 'rights-free corridor' for the pipeline, disregarding the human rights of thousands of people in the region.

For a company like BP, which makes such claims to be socially responsible, to encourage a government to sign away its ability to fully uphold human rights is simply unacceptable. We must not allow this kind of precedent to be set, and the UK government should not lend British taxpayers' support to this outrage."Human Rights on the Line: The Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) Pipeline Project examines the framework of legal agreements governing the construction and operation of the Turkish section of the proposed pipeline, and concludes that these seriously compromise Turkey's ability to fulfil its human rights obligations.

There are grave concerns that the Host Government Agreement (HGA), negotiated between pipeline Consortium-leader BP and the Turkish government, creates a huge disincentive for Turkey to protect human rights because Turkey has agreed to pay compensation to the Consortium if pipeline construction or operation is disturbed. This compensation is payable even when Turkey intervenes to enforce parts of its law that apply elsewhere in the country.

Amnesty International warns that in reality, during the construction and 40-60 year operation of the pipeline, this could mean:

  • inferior rights of redress for the 30,000 people who will be forced to give up their land rights to make way for the pipeline;
  • inadequate enforcement of health and safety legislation to protect workers and local people;
  • serious risk to the human rights of any individuals who protest against the pipeline;
  • a threat to access to water for local people (in an area of water shortage).
While it is not unusual to find 'stabilisation clauses' - designed to reduce risk posed to foreign investors by changes in national laws or tax regimes - in agreements between companies and countries hosting large projects, Amnesty International is concerned at the radical scope of the BTC agreements.

Professor Sheldon Leader, legal advisor to Amnesty International, said:

"The HGA negotiated with Turkey for the BTC project sets disturbing political and legal precedents. The requirement for Turkey to pay compensation to the Consortium for any 'disruption to the economic equilibrium of the project' means that Turkey is caught between the obligation to protect human rights and a disincentive to do so when rights conflict with business imperatives.

The HGA risks lowering existing standards - it blatantly disregards the European Convention on Human Rights which requires states to intervene at an early stage when there is a danger that could threaten life, and substitutes the softer stipulation that Turkey may only intervene in the pipeline project when there is 'an imminent material threat' to safety or security - or face compensation claims.

The setting up of a local arbitration process, to hear complaints from those harmed during construction or operation of the pipeline, effectively usurps the state while offering no real accountability to individuals and the local community. This arbitrary behaviour with regard to basic rights."

There is concern that Turkey, anxious to secure inward investment, has been encouraged to sign the HGA, while the country is seeking to improve its human rights record. Turkey will now have to examine carefully any new international treaties it may wish to sign because it may face Consortium compensation costs.

Amnesty International is calling on the British government to make no public funding in the form of aid, loans or export credit guarantees available to the BTC project unless there are major revisions to the legal agreements. The organisation recommends that:

  • clauses should be inserted into the HGA saying explicitly that no part of that agreement shall make it more difficult for Turkey to comply with its human rights obligations under national and international law
  • an independent stakeholder committee, including local representatives, should be made responsible for monitoring standards and hearing grievances throughout the lifetime of the project; this committee should have powers to intervene in the project when it is deemed necessary;
  • the Consortium should sign contracts with all those employed to provide security for the pipeline which make human rights obligations explicit and enforceable.
Chris Marsden added:

"Human rights are not negotiable items in agreements between companies and governments - they are the bottom line. This project must not proceed without changes which guarantee they will be upheld."

  • More than 70 environment and human rights groups from 29 countries, have called for an immediate moratorium on a controversial BP oil pipeline, planned to run from the Caspian Sea to the Mediterranean. Seventy two organisations have written to the major public funders of the pipeline project, arguing that the pipeline would worsen human rights problems along the pipeline route, and that a background of lack of freedom of speech in the region made proper consultation and land compensation impossible.

    Read the full report