(362-3.profiles) WISE Amsterdam -
(December 6, 1991) The World Uranium Hearing (WUH) will take place from 13-19 September in Salzburg, Austria. It is a project founded in Munich, Germany by Claus Biegert in 1987 to spread information on the problems Indigenous people throughout the world have suffered because of uranium mining, nuclear weapons testing, and nuclear waste storage. The method is a week long series of speeches and cultural events by Indigenous people in front of an audience of prominent, well-known people and journalists (called "The Board of Listeners"). All the parti-cipants will try and attract attention of the world mass media, but that is not all. The goal is also to, "initiate a concrete advocacy effort to remedy and prevent both human rights viola-tions and environmental degradation affecting Indigenous peoples."
The city of Salzburg as well as the Salzburg State Government are the official hosts and will, together with private enterprises, take full financial responsibility for witnesses and listeners during the Hearing. These commitments were just made in November 1991, which primarily accounts for the delay in being able to confirm hearing participants. A travel fund for Indigenous peoples has been established. Interest in attending has been expressed from many parts of the world. Already many African writers have agreed to attend. Also, the Goethe Institute in San Francisco will have a satellite conference with the Hearing as well as a follow-up event.
The WUH has gotten endorsements and statements of support from an impressive group of people. A few are quoted below. Others include: Chingiz Aitmatov, Soviet Ambassador to Luxemburg and writer; Willy Brandt, German statesman; Julie Christie, actor; Richie Havens, musician; Hazel Henderson, economist; Petra Kelly, founder, The International Green Party; Amory Lovins, Rocky Mountain Institute; Pete Seeger, musician; Olzhas Suleimenov, President Nevada-Semipalatinsk Movement; Jakob von Uexküll, philantropist, founder of the Right Livilihood Award (Alternative Nobel Prize); and Joe Vallentine, Western Australian Senator.
"In their eagerness to create nuclear weapons and then to exploit the potential resources of nuclear energy, scientists and politicians have under-estimated or overlooked the longterm harmful effects both to [hu]mankind and the environment... With regard to the effects of uranium, we are not only concerned with the rights of many defenseless people living in various parts of the world but also of future generations... I am therefore happy to give my support to the World Uranium Hearing and its worthy goals." His Holiness, The Dali Lama.
"The Australian Conservation Foundation will help to publicize the World Uranium Hearing." Peter Garrett, President A.C.F. and musician.
"I would like to be a listener." Robert Redford, actor.
The Hearing will certainly be a gathering of a character that has never happened before. There have been many international gatherings where Indigenous people have eloquently spoken out about their problems, but never with such a combination of celebrities and concentrated effort to attract authors, lawyers, and the mass media.
WUH literature reads,
"The Board of Listeners will be made up of international personalities from the cultural, political, academic, and economic communities as well as prominent representatives of the world's religions. Within the Board of Listeners, two councils -- one of scientists, one of jurists -- will play a vital role: The expertise of the 'Council of Scientists' will cover the disciplines of medicine, biology, physics, ethnology, chemistry, geology, geography, archeology, meteorology, and anthropology, as well as history and the science of religions.
"The 'Council of Jurists' will consist of scholars with commitment and exper-tise in human rights and environ-mental law at the international and national levels, as well as lawyers who have worked to promote sustainable development to protect the interest of Indigenous peoples, and to protect the public from nuclear risks.
"Worldwide publicity is the first step. The second step will be a legal one: an energy policy and technology which violates human rights and destroys life daily must be condemned in court.
"The jurists will begin the work of collecting the evidence and testimony needed to petition an International Environmental Court (when consti-tuted) for an injunction against further suffering, death and destruction from nuclear technology... Given the rapid development of international environmental law and the global nature of numerous environmental threats, the formation of such a court appears essential and certain.
The Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL) in Washington, D.C., has agreed to assist in preparing legal documentation for the cases presented at the Hearing. CIEL will also assist in selecting jurists for the "Council of Jurists". CIEL has also offered to oversee the assistance given to Indigenous peoples after the Hearing.
The serpent at the Upper Yule River, Australia: Long before the first white man set foot on the continent, this cliff painting of the Njamal in northwest Australia was created. According to Aboriginal mythology, the Rainbow Serpent, asleep in the earth, guards over those elemental powers which lie outside of [hu]mankind's control. Any attempt to seize these underworld elements will disturb the sleep of the serpent, provoking its vengeance: a terrible deluge of destruction and death.
Source: World Uranium Hearing leaflet.
A six page leaflet suitable for mailings is available in English and German. Also helping to promote the WUH is a video, "The Death that Creeps from the Earth" (in English, German and Russian), and the first European Group Show of the Atomic Photographers Guild. This photo exhibition will remain in Europe until the end of 1993. For more information contact the Munich WUH office.
Whether or not Robert Redford attends, the World Uranium Hearing will be an event of importance.
World Uranium Hearing Contact Addresses:
- Claus Biegert, Hannes Bojarsky, Uwe Peters, John Otranto-Semmler, Praterinsel 4, D-8000 Munich 22, Germany. Tel. 49-89-228-5924. Fax: 49-89-228-5340.
- Etienne Vernet, c/o Ecoropa, 24, rue de l'Ermitage, F-75020 Paris, France. Tel. 33-1-4636-4525. Fax: 33-1-4349-6970.
- Barbara Pecarich, Penta Hotel, Executive Office, 7th Ave. and 33rd St., New York, New York 10001-2062, U.S.A. Tel. 1-212-502-8706.
- Anna Rondon, Box 5058, Gallup, New Mexico 87301, U.S.A. Tel. 1-505-778-5737.
- Marc Chenier, C.P. 114, Montreal, Quebec, Canada H2Y 3L2. Tel. 1-514-987-8023.
RIO TINTO ZINC DIVESTITURE/ANNUAL GENERAL MEETING CAMPAIGN
By Roger Moody
The emperor had no clothes, and the young boy alone had the nerve to reveal the fact. That's divestiture with a vengeance! Another form of the art has been practised by anti-corporate campaigners in Britain against the mining giant Rio Tinto Zinc (RTZ). Lead by People Against Rio Tinto Zinc and Subsidiaries (PARTIZANS), with autonomous groups in London, England and Wisconsin, U.S.A., the goal has been to encourage investors to sell their shares. An important part of the campaign has been to purchase the minimum amount of shares to allow attendance at the company's annual general meeting (AGM). Since 1978, RTZ AGMs have been a forum for dissenting shareholders to vigorously present evidence of RTZ's catastrophic effects on people and land. The resulting attention has greatly increased awareness of RTZ's wrong doings, and without question been a major factor in influencing many investors to sell their shares.
In Britain, this campaigning started in the late 1960's with anti-apartheid university students disgruntled at involvement by Barclay's Bank in South Africa. Essentially, the pro-testors wanted fellow students to refuse to be seduced by the glib packaging Britain's biggest bank has customarily directed at callow first year students. Later it grew into a determination that university bodies and other institutions should be morally responsible for money channelled from pension funds to private investors.
The Barclay's campaign was successful. The bank finally pulled out of South Africa in the mid-1980's, although it profited handsomely from selling to its South African affiliates. Several years before this, Barclay's chairperson, Sir Anthony Tuke, changed seats to become chair of RTZ. Almost from the moment he began his new job, he faced another divestment campaign. This time the protestors were a strong coalition of anti-nuclear, pro-land rights and anti-apartheid factions.
In 1978, in response to a request for support from Australian Aborigines, PARTIZANS was set up as the umbrella organization for this new and unexpected coalition. The Aborigines were from Northern Queensland and victims of the world's largest bauxite strip mine, which is controlled by a subsidiary of RTZ. Three delegates of the affected Aborigines travelled to London that year but had to leave before the RTZ AGM. A group of 20 PARTIZANS campaigners did, how-ever, attend that year and the following two AGMS. Over the succeeding years, about a dozen Aborigines have attended RTZ AGMs, representing their communitys' concerns over a host of issues, including: uranium exploration in the Victorian Alps, desecration of a sacred women's dreaming site of the Barramundi in the Kimberley region of Western Australia, and CRA's (49% owned by RTZ) attempts to gain possession of the Karlamilyi area in the Rudall River national park. Although CRA had been exploring this vast desert area for more than a decade, it wasn't until 1986 that the company admitted they found uranium. From that point, the Martu people have been struggling to stop this development and achieve their land rights.
Representatives of Native people from U.S.A. have also attended an RTZ AGM. In 1990, Gaiashkibos, the elected chair of the Lac Courte Oreilles Chippewa from Wisconsin, took his tribe's fight against the RTZ Flambeau River copper mine to the AGM. There, the chair, Sir Alistair Frame, treated him with cavalier disregard. When Gaiashkibos returned home, the reception he received at the AGM got headline news, and rein-forced his people's fight against the mine. In late 1991, the tribe (along with the Sierra Club) succeeded in halting development of the project. The official reason was discovery of several endangered species down-stream of where the mine effluent would be flushed into the river.
The biggest "incident" at an AGM was in 1982. Then, two Aboriginal delegates, Shorty O'Neile from Queensland and Jimmy Biendurri from the Kimberley Land Council, rose, holding an Aboriginal land rights flag, and asked the chair, Sir Anthony Tuke, why the company had desecrated numerous sacred sites in construction of the Argyle diamond mine. The chair abruptly, and without warning, announced the closure of the meeting. Spontaneously, Shorty and Jimmy moved towards the platform accompanied by about 30 other protesting shareholders. The directors made a quick getaway. Shorty and Jimmy then occupied the platform and, for about 15 minutes, held an open session on the company's crimes. This ended when all 30 protestors were ejected by the police. This was the first and only time that police are known to have thrown shareholders out of their own company meeting. The ejection got massive press around the world the next day (all the way from Tokyo to Rio), and general condemnation even from those who usually do not criticize company meetings. Learning its lesson, the next year the chair gave the floor to protestors questions for nearly two hours, until all the other shareholders had given up and gone home! PARTIZANS, also having learnt a lesson, has since then ensured that only the most important questions are asked, and, if straight answers are not returned from the board, protests (sometimes very vociferously). "PARTIZANS is now part and parcel of the whole scenery of the RTZ AGM," comments Digby Knight, of PARTIZANS in London, "to such an extent that, if we didn't turn up one year, our most dedicated enemies would feel cheated out of a good show. Success brings you into this kind of double-bind."
PARTIZANS' strategy has been to establish a persistent, longterm, presence right in the heart of the company - at its AGM. Digby Knight has commented, "Some of us have been attending these AGMs for years. We are so well known to the board and other shareholders that the chair makes remarks looking at us and using our names. This of course can be a hidden danger - familiarity may breed content, as it were. However, the company has never made an attempt to draw us into some spurious 'negotiation' process. In 1987 they invited us to a meeting to complain about one of our reports. But, when we came up with a comprehensive rebuttal they didn't want to pursue the process any further. What we've found over the past decade is that, while longstanding shareholders have not necessarily been moving in our direction, institutional investors realize they cannot afford to ignore what we're saying. The eccentrics and extremists of today could be the flavor of the year tomorrow!" There is truth to this belief, as evidenced by the remarkable degree to which institutions have divested since 1981. Although PARTIZANS cannot be sure how many of these institutions have responded to their campaign, they estimate that it is at least 200.
Some local authorities are very reluctant to acknowledge that they divested on moral grounds, since they can be accused of misusing pension fund money, which by law must be invested for the maximum possible return. Digby Knight notes, "We know the Anglican church pulled out because of RTZ's South African interests, and we know that certain local authorities, Tyne and Wear for example, withdrew because they call themselves nuclear-free zones and couldn't reconcile this with the fact that RTZ is the world's biggest private producer of uranium. The Greater London Council announced when it was taken over by the Labour Party in the early 1980's, that RTZ was first on its divestment list. From that point on they were bombarded by conservative and pro-nuclear opposition members. It wasn't until 1988, in the last week of Greater London Council's short radical life, that they finally shed their RTZ shares."
"Privatization has made the divestment strategy popular," declares Digby. "Friends of the Earth phoned us to find out how to secure shares in water authorities, and anti-nuclear groups have asked us how to get shares in electricity companies. The new breed of Greens have also been keen on acquiring shares in certain companies, though we still haven't seen any results."
PARTIZANS stress that the share-holding and divestment strategy should not be used lightly or as a one-time event. "Companies don't suffer much from a flash in the pan outrage," says Digby Knight. "If a few organizations divest, the share price may go down a few points, but others will pick up the shares very quickly. The aim should be to wage war over a long period of time, so that the company automatically becomes as-sociated with controversy and public opposition. This may not get rid of most present investors, but it sure deters others from buying!"
PARTIZANS is willing to advise on how to go about getting shares in a public company and campaigning for divestment by large public organizations. For more information contact Digby Knight, PARTIZANS, 218 Liverpool Road, London, N1 1LE, England. Tel. 44-71-609-1852.
Note: The next RTZ AGM will be late May or early June 1992.
- "RTZ Uncovered" PARTIZANS, 1986
- "DiRTy BiZness," PARTIZANS, 1987
- Parting Company, Newsletter of PARTIZANS; subscriptions 4 (about US$6.80) waged and 3 (about US$5) unwaged.