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UN working group flays police action in Thoothukudi

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Updated: 10:32 GMT, Jun 2, 2018 | Published: 04:17 GMT, Jun 2, 2018 |
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Thoothukudi riot

UN human rights experts have condemned the “disproportionate and excessive use of lethal force” by the Tamil Nadu police against anti-Sterlite protesters in Thoothukudi, and have called for an independent investigation to ensure that those who had violated human rights were brought to justice. They have also called on Sterlite Industries and Vedanta Resources [the parent company] to take “immediate action” to mitigate pollution and ensure access to safe water and healthcare for residents.

“The government should uphold the rights to freedom of expression and assembly, as they are the cornerstone of democratic societies and a critical tool to identify and protect against business-related human rights abuses,” said the group, led by Anita Ramasastry, chair of the UN Working Group on human rights and transnational organisations.

The group expressed concern over the use of force, including live ammunition, against protesters [who were] “marching to raise legitimate human rights and environmental concerns,” and pointed to documentation from judicial and administrative bodies of water contamination, air pollution and other forms of environmental degradation linked to the Sterlite Copper plant.

“Under the UN’s Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, all business enterprises have a responsibility to respect human rights, including identifying, preventing, mitigating and accounting for how they address their adverse human rights impact,” they said.

The working group has been in place since 2011 to promote and disseminate the UN’s Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.

The UN experts are the latest international voices to raise concerns about the events that unfolded on May 22. Human rights NGOs have also raised concerns about the handling of the protests. Amnesty International said the Tamil Nadu government had been “shockingly underprepared” to peacefully control what was expected to be a massive protest.

Human Rights Watch has called for a “prompt, impartial and transparent investigation.”

In London, where Vedanta Resources is headquartered and listed on the stock exchange, the main Opposition Labour Party has described the firm as a “rogue” corporation and called for its delisting from the London Stock Exchange (LSE) to remove the “cloak of respectability” from the firm. Several demonstrations have taken place outside the Indian High Commission in London as well as Vedanta founder and chairman Anil Agarwal’s home.

A public petition on the British Parliament’s e-petition website, calling for the UK authorities to investigate and ban the company from the stock exchange, was rejected on the grounds that the responsibility for listing companies lay with the LSE.

The LSE has thus far declined to comment on the calls to delist Vedanta Resources.

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