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Unconventional violations of human rights by the gas industry

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A hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking" site typical of the industry that should be banned (Screenshot via YouTube)

A recent tribunal has determined that the unconventional gas industry is violating human, social and economic rights, writes Shay Dougall.

IN MAY 2018, the International Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal (PPT) held a special session on Human Rights, Fracking (Unconventional Gas) and Climate Change. Australia contributed to the evidence heard by the Tribunal which included local evidence and evidence from NSW, WA and NT. 

The Australian evidence was collated and presented to the Tribunal by convenor Shay Dougall, who lives in Chinchilla, Queensland, a large town located in the heart of the Western Darling Downs. A Preliminary Statement was prepared and one year later in April 2019, the PPT has handed down their final Advisory Opinion.

What is the Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal?

The Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal, headquartered in Rome, is an internationally recognised civil society human rights tribunal functioning independently of State authorities. It applies internationally recognised human rights law and policy to cases brought before it.

The goal of PPT sessions is recovering the authority of the people when the States and the International Bodies fail to protect their rights.

The PPT is a human rights institution focused on highlighting alleged human rights abuses of victims around the globe.

The findings

Ultimately, the findings were that the unconventional gas industry violates the full spectrum of human, social, economic, civil, political and cultural rights endowed upon the people that host the industry. The serious rights violations suffered by people and nature are accompanied by little, if any, economic and social benefits to those communities while the profits go directly to the corporations and other “benefits” go to complicit State officials. 

Further, the investigation found that because Government policies and industry operation are procedurally and operationally organised, integrated and implemented around the violation of these rights, it creates a situation whereby both Government and industry are fundamentally incapable of enacting and upholding these human rights — the industry should be banned.

The outcome and final report is particularly timely and applicable to the Chinchilla area and wider Western Downs as our community is currently the frontier for the unconventional gas industry (and the frontier of the injustice) as evidenced by the recent Government announcement for the latest Arrow Energy Surat Gas Project.

A gasfield proposal to reality (Graphic by Shay Dougall)

The PPT findings have validated the claims of those who have fought the industry for the last ten years. The issues have been repeatedly raised at the 17 Government inquiries into the industry, all concerns falling on deaf ears. 

The PPT validated the known violations of peoples’ rights and, just as importantly, in doing so the PPT findings validated the reason for the petition to the PPT in the first place: the ongoing and relentless negation and denial of these rights by the Government and industry and the impact of denying these rights (suffered by those on the frontline).

The final report brings the injustice perpetrated by Government and industry to light and has publicly vindicated the experiences of those who are expected to live with unconventional gas (industry calls this co-existence). The Government and industry can no longer deny the yawning gap and vacuum in the installation of the industry through stripped down and merely symbolic “environmental laws”. 

The PPT has legitimised and validated access to a whole new language and way of justice with which to protect ourselves and the environment.

The PPT has recommended substantive changes to existing legislation regulating the unconventional gas industry. This includes specific recommendations for all levels from the United Nations to State and Federal Governments to enable positive steps to be taken to acknowledge the damage done by industry and how to remedy through law changes. The report advises ongoing, facilitated, mandated working groups to not only prevent future damage and impacts but to identify and address damage and impacts to date.

The PPT also acknowledged the urgency of action needed for those living at the frontier of the Government and industry injustice in the present and that any substantive legislative changes will take time that those communities do not have. The PPT supported those communities to resist the industry in any way possible, by specifically requiring these rights to be upheld in all interactions with the Government and industry now.

Gasfield impact map created by Shay Dougall

Practical examples of how this newly validated language and tools are being utilised in the Chinchilla area include:

  • individual farmers who are being engaged by the industry right now are seeking out independent third party support in identifying the information and actions of the industry that are required to fulfil these rights prior to providing any signature on access documents;
  • utilising existing legislative instruments to help support their demands for protection and fulfilment of their rights, such as the Work Health and Safety Act;
  • engaging the newly passed Human Rights Act for Queensland in further legitimising the actions by individuals to have these rights fulfilled prior to any signatures and in pursuing compliance with existing access agreements;
  • continuing the operation of the Australian Tribunal into the Human Rights Impacts of Unconventional Gas and supporting individuals, groups and communities to identify and exploit every opportunity to require that their human rights are fulfilled;
    • provide focussed resistance to the industry; and
    • monitoring and exposing violations to the rights of people, nature and communities by existing operations.

What exactly are the rights being violated?

Specifically, procedural human rights protected by international law. Especially the rights to health; of access to information and participation in decision-making; the environmental impact assessment obligations; the basic right of self-determination by failing to attain the fully informed and free consent of the victims of human rights violations that follow the entrance of industry operations into a community. The rights of the ecosystems and natural resources, impacts on physical infrastructure and human settlements and impacts on livelihoods, health and security.

  • Violation of obligations to those who are particularly vulnerable (women, children and First Nations peoples);
  • violations of obligation to protect human rights against abuses by third parties;
  • violations of obligation to provide access to an adequate remedy, judicial or non-judicial, when human rights are violated by non-State actors; and
  • violations of the right to life, self-determination, development, food, water and sanitation, health, housing, education, meaningful and informed participation, the rights of those most affected by climate change and the rights of future generations.

What types of substantive changes are required in the law?

  • Procedural laws to ensure transparency in all decisions regarding the legal rights and activities of corporations;
  • laws to ensure accountability for corporate violations, such as compensation and reparations and laws to protect the rights of those likely to be placed in danger by unconventional gas;
  • the need for procedural due process;
  • to require more than the mirage of consultation and to ensure that without informed consent, the UOGE operations will not be allowed to proceed;
  • to reform laws that favour the interests, directly or indirectly, of corporations over people and communities; and
  • to protect, by decriminalisation, the rights of those who wish to exercise their moral duty to protest illegal or unjust actions of the state or corporations.

Shay Dougall is an expert safety professional who through her 20 years of consultancy, has provided health and safety support in Australia, UK and USA across a range of industries with a strong connection to the construction/waste/gas to energy industry.

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