Bianca Jagger (Founder and Chair of the Bianca Jagger Human Rights Foundation) and tribal leaders of the Kondh people have been joined by 47 internationally respected opinion makers to send an open letter to India’s Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh.
Names include Judge Weeramantry, Former Vice President International Court of Justice, Baroness Helena Kennedy QC, Member of the House of Lords, Chair of Justice and President of SOAS and Julia Häusermann, MBE, Founder and President, Rights and Humanity Organisation.
The letter urges the Indian Government to consider the impact of plans by mining company, Vedanta Resources, to build an open-pit mine on Niyamgiri Mountain, the spiritual and ancestral home of the Kondh tribal people.
Ms Jagger, who has campaigned on human rights and the rights of indigenous peoples for nearly thirty years, is working alongside ActionAid and Amnesty International to stop the Vedanta project which she, ActionAid and Amnesty International believe will undermine the Kondh people's collective identity and way of life. The Kondh people have recently filed an appeal to the Indian government asking for environmental permissions around the mine to be withdrawn.
Ms Jagger said: "The mine will cause irreversible damage to the ancestral home of 8,000 tribal people, I urge the Indian Government to listen to Kondh people’s concerns and to protect their rights."
It is predicted that mining will lead to massive deforestation, the destruction of local ecosystems and threaten water sources. The mountain is the habitat of many endangered species and has been proposed as a Wildlife Sanctuary.
Ms Jagger is also highlighting a damning UK Government investigation into the company that found that, “Vedanta did not respect the rights and freedoms of the Dongria Kondh consistent with India’s commitments under various international human rights instruments, including the UN.”
With Vedanta’s shareholders now under increasing pressure, the open letter states that the Norway Pension Fund has already withdrawn an investment of US$15.6 million in Vedanta, based on the findings of the Pension Fund’s Ethics Committee that pointed to serious human and environmental rights abuses in Lanjigarh and elsewhere.
ActionAid spokeswoman Meredith Alexander said: “India’s Minister of Environment and Forests, Jairam Ramesh, has already expressed his concerns at the way the original permissions to start the mining operation were allowed.
“It is time for the Indian government to uphold the rights of the Kondh tribal people and stop this destructive project from going ahead.”