‘Attacks and killings’: human rights activists at growing risk, study claims

Research proves 34% rise in attacks against campaigners defending land, surrounding and labour rights in the face of corporate activity

Human rights defenders who challenge big corporations are being killed, assaulted, harassed and squelched in growing numbers, researchers have claimed.

A survey by the Business and Human Rights Resource Center recorded a 34% global rise in attacks against human rights activists last year, including 120 alleged murders and hundreds of other cases involving menaces, assaults and intimidation. The number of incidents were found to have risen sharply, with 388 attacks recorded in 2017 compared with 290 the previous year.

The research focused on attacks against activists involved in protests against corporate activities. Victims included unionists, protests, whistleblowers and indigenous communities.

Land rights defenders and activists linked to the mining, agribusiness and renewable energy sectors were found to be in greatest hazard. The researchers also highlighted an increased risk to lawyers, and to members of human rights and environmental civil society organisations working for corporate accountability.

In 42% of harassment instances, judicial intimidation was used in an attempt to suppress protests against record-keeping activities. This included arbitrary detention, criminalisation and aggressive lawsuits.

The Business and Human Rights Center found that companies involved in mining, agriculture, energy and construction- particularly those headquartered in the UK, US, China, Canada and France- were the most likely to use legal means in an attempt to prevent human rights protests.

” Our research highlights that companies do play a significant role in assaults on human rights defenders- the first time that this data has were consistently collected ,” said Ana Zbona from the Business and Human Rights Resource Center.

The researchers found that human rights defenders creating concerns about business operations are often criminalised on fabricated charges. Documented suits include activists accused of being involved in assassinations in Guatemala, arson attacks in Chile, and fraud and tax evasion in Turkmenistan, Russia and Azerbaijan.

” Judicial harassment deters communities, workers and activists from speaking out against corporate abuse. Legal harassment often forms part of a broader campaign which are able to include physical attacks and killings ,” said Zbona.

” Impunity from the nation and the declining strength of unions has a big role to play, as well as a growing competition for natural resources that is only gaining pace .”

Although assaults occurred in every region across the world, Brazil, Mexico, Colombia, Honduras, Guatemala and the Philippines- which collectively accounted for 212 of all incidents- were identified as the countries where attacks were most probable.

Last week, the International Council on Mining and Metals acknowledged that attacks on human rights defenders were on the increase and called on relevant government authorities to take action.

” Defenders continue to face harassment and dread for their safety when they speak out ,” members of the council said in a statement.” This is deeply concerning for companies that are committed to human rights, openness and transparency. While we may not always agree with postures taken by human rights defenders, ICMM recognises freedom of expression and assembly as fundamental human rights .”

Last month, a report by Frontline Defenders said that in 2017 there was a” well resourced and coordinated strategy of libel, criminalisation and violence deployed to intimidate, marginalise and stillnes human rights defenders “.

The group received reports on the murder of 312 rights defenders in 27 countries.

” In 2017 the alarming rise in attacks is just a continuation of what has become a very open and very aggressive attack on civil society and anyone who advocates against or challenges corporate power ,” said Katie Redford, director of EarthRights International, a civil society group that provides legal assistance to human and environmental rights activists.

Case studies

On 24 January 2018, Quintin Salgado, a labour activist and leader of the Los Mineros employees union, was attacked and killed by unknown assailants. Salgado had been working with striking miners at the Media Luna mine in Guerrero, Mexico, owned by Canadian mining company Torex Gold. Employees have been striking since November 2017 in an effort to secure better working conditions and the right to freedom of association. Salgado, a former worker at the mine, was the third person involved in the ten-strikes to be killed. In a statement following the murder, Torex Gold said:” The Company has no way of knowing who was behind the killed. It is our understanding that Mr Salgado was well known to authorities and that the investigation continues. It is genuinely sad that Los Mineros and their supporting unions have chosen to exploit these human tragedies to further their political agendas .”

On 9 January, Ronald David Barillas, a member of the Xinca indigenous parliament, was killed in Santa Rosa, Guatemala. Barillas, a vocal critic of the sugar agroindustry, had opposed the Escobal mining project, owned by Canadian firm Tahoe Resources. In a statement, the mining company said:” As an open, transparent and statute biding company, we will cooperate with authorities as requested. We are committed to the search for truth, strengthening the rule of law, and the fight against impunity in Guatemala … We recognise human rights activists are particularly vulnerable to violence and persecution. We denounce any tries by others to threaten, frighten, or attack each member of community activism groups or human rights organization .”

Attorneys in Cambodia are seeking criminal charges and pre-trial detention for three prominent human rights defenders, Moeun Tola, Pa Nguon Teang and Buddhist monk Venerable But Buntenh. If convicted, they face up to three years in prison.

Last month, palm oil company Socfinand its Cameroonian subsidiary Socapalm began defamation proceedings in Paris against two NGOs, Sherpa and ReAct, and French media outlets Mediapart, L’Obs and Le Point, over reporting of protests by farmers living near plantations run by the two companies. Socfin is part-owned by French conglomerate Bollore, one of the world’s largest companies. Sherpa claims that, collectively, Socfin and Bollore have launched more than 20 libel suits against 40 journalists, NGOs and media organisations since 2009.

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Amazon ordered to repay 250m by EU over ‘illegal tax advantages’

Commission also says it plans to take Irish government to European court of justice over failure to collect 13 bn from Apple

Amazon has been was necessary to repay EUR2 50 m( PS222m) in illegal country aid to Luxembourg, as EU authorities continue their campaign against sweetheart deals that help the biggest firms slash their taxation bills.

The European committee also announced on Wednesday that it planned to take the the Irish government to the European court of justice( ECJ) over its failure to collect EUR1 3bn in unpaid taxes from Apple, in relation to an earlier ruling.

Margrethe Vestager, the EU commissioner in charge of competition, said Luxembourg’s” illegal taxation advantages to Amazon” had allowed almost three-quarters of the company’s gains to run untaxed, enabling it to pay four times less taxation than local rivals.

” This is about rivalry in Europe , no matter your flag , no matter your ownership ,” Vestager said, dismissing suggestions she was targeting non-European companies.” Paying taxes is part of doing business in Europe .”

The commission said Amazon had benefited from an illegal taxation deal granted by the Luxembourg authorities that allowed the company to artificially reduce its taxation bill by EUR2 50 m from 2006 to 2014. The company has been was necessary to repay the full amount plus interest.

Amazon rejected the findings of the commission investigation.” We believe that Amazon did not receive any special treatment from Luxembourg and that we paid tax into full conformity with both Luxembourg and international taxation statute. We will study the commission’s ruling and hold our legal options, including an appeal .”

The country’s government said:” As Amazon has been taxed in accordance with the tax rules applicable at the relevant hour, Luxembourg considers that the company has not been granted incompatible state aid .”

In a separate announcement, Vestager said she was appealing to Europe’s highest court to enforce an earlier ruling against Apple to ensure the iPhone manufacturer repaid EUR1 3bn in back taxes.

Apple, which has appealed to Europe’s highest court to contest the decision, has neither repaid the money to the Irish government nor placed the money in an escrow account, a standard practice when court proceedings are under way.

Dublin said it disputed the commission’s ruling that it attained the incorrect decision in the Apple tax deal, but has promised to collect fund owed as soon as possible. Citing its” intensive work” on recovering the funds, the Irish government described the decision as “extremely regrettable” in a statement.

” Irish public officials and experts have been engaged in intensive work to ensure that the nation complies with all its recovery obligations as soon as is practicable, and have been in constant linked with the European commission and Apple on all aspects of this process for over a year ,” it said.

EU member states risk multimillion-euro fines when they fail to act on EU competition rulings. In 2015 the commission requested a EUR2 0m fine plus daily penalty pays against Italy over the country’s refusal to collect back taxes from Sardinian hotels that had benefited from special deals.

The commission acknowledged that Ireland had begun to work on the recovery of the back taxes, but deems the Irish deadline of” March 2018 at a very early” not good enough.

The case against Amazon centred on two subsidiaries incorporated in Luxembourg and controlled by the US parent- Amazon EU group and Amazon Europe Holding Technologies. The latter was described by the commission as” an empty shell” that had no employees or offices, but was used to bring down the company’s taxation bill.

Amazon EU group, which operates the internet company’s operations in the region, transferred 90% of its operating earnings to the holding company, where they were not taxed. As a outcome, Amazon paid an effective tax rates in Luxembourg of 7.25%, compared with the national rate of 29%.

Amazon’s blueprint was Project Goldcrest, a taxation strategy named after Luxembourg’s national bird, based on a 2003 enter into negotiations with authorities in the Grand Duchy. Amazon changed its tax operations in June 2014, a year after Brussels began investigating tax rulings across the EU.

US authorities have also been investigating Project Goldcrest, but lost in court to the retail firm. In March a court ruled against the Internal Revenue Service, which had argued Amazon owed the US $1.5 bn( PS1. 13 bn) in unpaid taxes linked to its Luxembourg companies.

Luxembourg’s role in orchestrating taxation avoidance bargains for hundreds of global companies was revealed by the Guardian in 2014, creating the issue of tax policy in one of the EU’s oldest member states.

The case continues to hang over Jean-Claude Juncker, the European commission chairperson, who served as Luxembourg’s prime minister from 1995 to 2013, and acted as finance minister for much of that period.

The commission launched the Amazon investigation in October 2014, only weeks before Juncker took office, while the fallout over the Luxleaks revelations clouded his early weeks.

Many European political leaders and business groups argue generous tax breaks dedicate Amazon an unfair competitive advantage over smaller rivals, inspiring the recent announcement of a plan to rewrite EU tax rules. But investigations conducted by unjust country assistance run broader, with the EU authorities expected to conclude an inquiry into the fast-food chain McDonald’s in the coming weeks.

The commission has also ruled unlawful tax bargains between Starbucks and the Dutch authorities, as well as Fiat’s arrangements with Luxembourg. The Apple case has generated the biggest furore, with the chief executive, Tim Cook, rejecting the claims as” total political crap “.

The commission said the sweetie deal with the Irish government allowed Apple to pay a maximum tax rate of 1 %, which fell to simply 0.005% in 2014.The usual rate of corporation tax in Ireland is 12.5%.

If the UK leaves the EU single market, it will not be bound by European the standard rules on fair taxation competition. However, any free-trade deal with the EU is likely to constrain the government’s ability to turn the UK into a low-tax haven. Vestager said she was not expecting British government’s to seek this course:” I don’t see why[ UK policy] would change .”

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