As of August 24, 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in 23,655,518 infected cases and 813,022 recorded the number of deaths. South East Asia is one of the hardest hits comprising 28% of the total cases of infections and 15% of recorded deaths. The pandemic has exposed the fragilities in the current world order; it has dented global economies to regression, and the global mining industry is one of the most affected sectors.
Thus it was apt and timely that the International People’s Conference on Mining (IPCM), International League of People’s Struggle (ILPS) Commission 19, Asia Pacific Network of Environmental Defenders (APNED), Yes to Life No to Mining (YLNM), and Asia Pacific Research Network (APRN) have organized a webinar entitled “The Global Mining Industry and People’s Resistance in the Time of COVID-19.” Attended by over 150 people, the webinar promoted solidarity and collective actions that transcended across sectors and countries in the ongoing attacks against the people and the planet amid the pandemic.
Ms. Lia Alonzo, Executive Director of non-government organization (NGO) Center for Environmental Concerns (CEC) – Philippines and Secretariat Member of the Asia Pacific Network of Environmental Defenders (APNED) led the discussion on the relation of mining and environmental defenders in the region.
Cases of killings
The Asia Pacific region is rich in natural resources that the region attracts global investors through the help of their local cohorts. These investments often lead to conflicts among businessmen and the local communities, and they often turn violent and bloody. According to Alonzo, the Asia Pacific region is a hotbed of attacks against environmental defenders. Alonzo cited country-specific cases where there have been documented cases of killings of environmental defenders.
In the Philippines, international human rights watchdog Global Witness has reported that 62 out of 163 killings were in the Asia Pacific region in 2018. In 2017, 17% of the cases reported are related to mining. According to Alonzo, the mining industry in the Philippines is marred by blood. Fifty-eight percent (58%) of all the recorded cases from 2011 to 2018 are related to mining. Victims were mostly farmers and indigenous people who have been previously labeled as “terrorists” or “communists;” the attacks were allegedly committed by state forces.
In India, the Thoothukudi Massacre resulted in the death of 13 protesters at the hands of the Indian Police. They were protesting against a copper smelting plant owned by the Sterlite Copper subsidiary of Vedanta Resources for allegedly causing pollution when the police opened fire at them.
Other forms of attacks
Environmental defenders are subjected to many forms of different attacks. Alonzo explained further that attacks against environmental defenders come in many forms. Apart from killings, anti-mining activists survive physical assault, frustrated murder, criminalization and arrests.
Such examples would be Agnes Kharshing from India who is a researcher working in a mining area when she was attacked, Thew Thew Win of Myanmar was run over of a truck owned by a mining company, and Murdani of Indonesia’s house was burned while he and his family were inside. Fortunately, the people in these cases have survived the attacks. Meanwhile, in 2019, an Indonesian anti-mining activist was arrested for protesting a mining project.
Alonzo scored other forms of threats and harassments which usually points to state forces and their elements as main culprits. Red-tagging and terror-tagging aim to justify the acts of violence committed to the victims while military encampment aims to displace families and individuals. These forms of attacks aim to pacify dissent and to sow fear to break unities and stop community actions to the advantage of mining companies.
Local state policies combined with international agreements facilitate “development” projects in resource-rich areas. These projects are mainly profit-driven at the expense of the rights and welfare of the people leading to environmental destruction. Alonzo added that investors fuelling the violence by financing abusive projects and private armies to protect their operation and to quell any resistance.
The alleged culprits behind these attacks usually point to state forces and their cohorts, such as the paramilitaries. Cases of human rights violations versus environmental defenders usually go unchecked and unresolved because of state policies that allow impunity. Governments and businesses failing to tackle the root cause of attacks result in resource conflict and environmental destruction.
Mining companies act as saviors of the economy, but in reality, mining communities say otherwise. People from these communities have attested that mining plunder has destroyed their sources of livelihood, by destroying the resources they depend on.
Points of action
Moving forward, Alonzo stressed the importance to create a strong public clamor to stop the attacks against environmental defenders. She also called for independent and thorough investigation must be done to seek accountability and justice for the victims.
The mining plunder of natural resources has left massive environmental damages. Now more than ever, the work of environmental defenders must be recognized to help protect the environment and halt the negative impact of climate change. Environmental defenders’ work must continue without the fear of reprisal. Mechanisms for stronger protection of rights and welfare should be in place and widely accessible to prevent further attacks.
Most importantly, Alonzo delved on the importance of people’s unity and collective response as a weapon against the attacks. She cited community organizing, information campaign, social movements, and international solidarity as important tools to mobilize the broadest number of people in the defense of the rights and welfare of people and the planet.
 Ray, S. (2020). India Now Reports More Daily Covid-19 Cases Than Any Other Country. Retrieved 26 August 2020, from https://www.forbes.com/sites/siladityaray/2020/08/25/india-now-reports-more-daily-covid-19-cases-than-any-other-country/#6ca567743441