Technology – Danwatch https://danwatch.dk/en/ undersøgende journalistik Tue, 19 Feb 2019 10:09:06 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.8 https://danwatch.dk/dw-content/uploads/2017/09/cropped-Danwatch_fav-450x450.gif Technology – Danwatch https://danwatch.dk/en/ 32 32 Behind the investigation https://danwatch.dk/en/undersoegelse/behind-the-investigation/ Thu, 31 Jan 2019 11:36:35 +0000 https://danwatch.dk/undersoegelse/behind-the-investigation/
A Danwatch investigation

Behind the investigation

A Danwatch investigation
A probe into hundreds of EU and International Organization for Migration (IOM) tenders and awarded contracts, including technical specifications for the bidders, show that the EU is funding video surveillance cameras, communication equipment, patrol vehicles and seismic sensors worth €2 million for the benefit of the Belarusian State Border Committee (SBC). This is how we revealed EU’s funding of border equipment that violates human rights.
Emilie Ekeberg

Journalist

Emilie Ekeberg

Journalist

Research: Johanne Rübner Hansen (Danwatch)

Redaktør:

In cooperation with OCCRP
A probe into hundreds of EU and International Organization for Migration (IOM) tenders and awarded contracts, including technical specifications for the bidders, show that the EU is funding video surveillance cameras, communication equipment, patrol vehicles and seismic sensors worth €2 million for the benefit of the Belarusian State Border Committee (SBC). This is how we revealed EU’s funding of border equipment that violates human rights.

In a collaboration with Belarusian journalists, we have documented that the entity, which has received the equipment is accused of human rights violations. Specifically, the Belarusian government is responsible for cracking down on the  political opposition and civil society, violating the rights of Chechen refugees, and meting out harsh treatment on migrants and refugees passing through Belarus on their way to the EU’s external borders.

 

The Belarusian government is also targeting independent and critical media. For that reason, a number of precautions have had to be taken to protect the Belarusian journalists involved in the investigation. Following harassment from the authorities, it was decided that a byline from a participating journalist would be withheld. Plans to approach particular sources and locations were also cancelled in order to maintain the safety of the journalists.

 

The team consists of the investigative reporting platform Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) and Danwatch, a Copenhagen-based independent media centre specialized in investigations of states’ and companies’ impact on human rights and the environment, who has partnered up to investigate the money trail from the EU to Eastern European authorities with poor human rights records.

The project has been funded by a grant from IJ4EU.

All of the articles from this investigation. Where to start is up to you.

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Rights of refugees and migrants violated at EU-equipped borders https://danwatch.dk/en/undersoegelse/rights-of-refugees-and-migrants-violated-at-eu-equipped-borders/ Thu, 31 Jan 2019 11:34:35 +0000 https://danwatch.dk/undersoegelse/rights-of-refugees-and-migrants-violated-at-eu-equipped-borders/

Rough methods: “Show your hands” Belarusian border guards shout as they apprehend a group of migrants passing through Belarus in April 2018, according to a video posted by the authorities on YouTube. The border guards have been equipped with patrol and surveillance equipment by the EU.

Video: Belarus State Border Committee/Youtube

Rights of refugees and migrants violated at EU-equipped borders

A Danwatch investigation
A Chechen refugee fleeing torture was stopped at a Belarusian border point equipped by the EU and returned to Russian authorities. Videos expose the inhumane treatment of migrants by the Belarusian border authorities receiving surveillance equipment from the EU.
Emilie Ekeberg

Journalist

Emilie Ekeberg

Journalist

Journalist: Mikita Matsiushchankau / Research: Johanne Rübner Hansen (Danwatch)

Redaktør:

Published in collaboration with OCCRP
A Chechen refugee fleeing torture was stopped at a Belarusian border point equipped by the EU and returned to Russian authorities. Videos expose the inhumane treatment of migrants by the Belarusian border authorities receiving surveillance equipment from the EU.

For many years, Belarus has served as a transit country for refugees travelling from the former Soviet Union to Europe, primarily Poland, in search of asylum. Most of the refugees come from Russia, especially from the Chechen Republic.

To limit irregular migration, the EU has made it a priority to provide training and border control equipment to the border authorities in countries along the EU’s eastern land borders. This includes Belarus, whose border authorities have received surveillance cameras, patrol cars and boats, from the EU in order to better detect people crossing their borders.

The border authorities that received the equipment have been implicated in the pushbacks of refugees, however, in violation of their rights, in both 2017 and 2018.

Video footage of border authorities apprehending migrants as they transit Belarus, has also raised concern that the EU may be indirectly contributing to human rights violations.

According to the border authorities, the officers in the specific video material handled the situation in “strict compliance with Belarusian law”.

Afghans brutally detained by hooded border guards

In May 2018, the Belarus State Border Committee posted a video on YouTube in which border authorities detain a group of Afghan and Indian migrants who had crossed into Belarus from Russia illegally, in their attempt to reach the EU.

The video shows hooded border guards aggressively detaining the migrants in an operation that was carried out in cooperation with the Russian Federal Security Service, FSB, according to the Belarus Border Committee.

Play Video

In another video, posted in April 2018, a Belarusian border guard runs towards a car on a stretch of road close to Minsk. The car’s passengers are described as migrants. They appear to be unarmed. With a gun raised, a border guard shouts at the migrants to show their hands, before he breaks the car window with the gun. Border guards proceed to pull the migrants out of the car, before the migrants are handcuffed and placed face down on the side of the road.

Play Video

Martin Lemberg-Pedersen, associate professor in Global Refugee Studies at Aalborg University, thinks the videos should “cause concern” among EU leaders that have equipped the border guards with patrol and surveillance equipment.

“The videos are frightening to watch. If this is how Belarusian border police act against migrants, then the EU and its member states are equipping a regime that showcases its ‘shoot first, ask later’ control practise against migrants and refugees,” says Lemberg-Pedersen.

In an email, official representative of the State Border Committee of the Republic of Belarus Anton Bychkovskiy says:

“As for the video showing the detainment of persons in a car, Belarusian officers acted in strict accordance with the law, because the border guards had information concerning the committing of serious criminal offense related to illegal migration and human trafficking. Before starting the investigation (interviewing detainees), it was not possible to identify victims, organizers and facilitators of this heinous crime.”

Returned to the torturers

The migrants and refugees in the video are not alone. Refugees from Chechnya, a Russian republic where human rights organisations and media have documented torture and disappearances, have also suffered rough treatment at the hands of the Belarus border guards.

In their reports on Belarus report for 2017 and 2018, Amnesty International states that Belarus lacks “a functioning asylum system and repeatedly handed over individuals seeking international protection to authorities of countries where they were at real risk of torture or other ill-treatment”.

In collaboration with the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), Danwatch have examined two cases in which Belarusian border guards ignored requests for asylum from Chechen refugees, before returning the refugees to Russia. According to Josephine Liebl, Head of International Advocacy at the European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE), this practice directly violates international refugee law.

“States are required to grant access to an asylum procedure to those seeking protection under both international law and the European Union asylum acquis. The directive specifies obligations to inform people in need of protection of the possibility to apply for asylum, as well as to promptly register claims when they are made,” she says.

The pushback of Chechens to Russian authorities is also a violation of the so-called principle of “non-refoulement”, which is a cornerstone of international refugee protection and international human rights law.

“This principle prohibits states from transferring or removing individuals from their jurisdiction or effective control when there are substantial grounds for believing that the person would be at risk of irreparable harm upon return, including persecution, torture, ill-treatment or other serious human rights violations,” says Liebl.

According to ECRE, Belarus violates these principles.

“While we do not know the exact facts of the case, the practice of Belarusian border guards handing over Chechens to Russian authorities without giving them the opportunity to claim asylum in Belarus violates the principle of non refoulement.”

Seems like window-dressing

The EU leaders are increasingly choosing to support human rights violators with border control equipment, in order to to curb the influx of refugees and migrants says Martin Lemberg-Pedersen.

“Criticism of the EU’s policy of supplying border control equipment to police states or states with poor human rights records is not new. But instead of ending the support, European countries have chosen to escalate their support to a string of problematic regimes, such as Egypt, Libya, Algeria, Morocco, Turkey or Saudi Arabia over the past decade,” he says.

“It therefore seems an awful lot like window dressing when the EU on the one hand talks about fundamental rights, while simultaneously increasing its involvement with countries and regimes that act in direct violation of those same rights.” 

Case 1

Met his persecutor

On the night of June 8, 2017, Murad Amriev, a Chechen MMA fighter, was mistreated by Belarusian border guards at the border checkpoint Veselovka, which is located at the Belarusian side of the border with Ukraine – the same stretch of border that has been equipped by the EU.

According to reports by Human Rights Watch, Amriev was fleeing persecution in Russia. On June 4, police detained him in the Bryansk region for allegedly using a forged document and held him for 48 hours at the police station. By the morning of June 6, the police had yet to charge Amriev and, according to his lawyer, he was legally free to leave.

A group of Chechen police officers then arrived at the police station, claiming they were there to arrest Amriev. Amriev told his lawyer that he identified one as having tortured him in 2013 when he was being held for two days by officers seeking information about his older brother who had fled Chechnya years earlier.

Amriev was handcuffed and attached to a radiator. He spent around six hours sitting on the cold floor. During this time, his requests for water, food, and a toilet were ignored. Moreover, he was not told the justification for his treatment, especially given that he had never resisted and had complied with all orders.

Early in the morning of June 9th, Amriev was handed over to the police and brought to the small town Dobrush in Belarus where his lawyer visited him. Russian TV reporters also arrived and captured a video of him inside the police station where he can be heard shouting from the window of the detention cell that his requests for asylum were being ignored.

Play Video

APPEAL: From a detention center in Belarus, Murad Amriev shouts to lawyers and TV reporters that he wishes to seek international protection in Belarus. Instead, he was returned to his persecutors in Russia.

According to Nasta Loika, Amriev was handed over to Russian security services later that same day.

Numb hands

In a documentary about the events, Amriev says that even after four or five months he cannot fully feel his hands because of the way he was handcuffed.

Play Video

Broken nerves: Amriev explains that he has problems feeling his own hands. According to a Ukrainian doctor, Amriev’s nerves were damaged as a result of being held in  tight handcuffs for several hours.

Nasta Loika adds that Amriev also suffered a back injury  from being forced to sit on the floor of Veselovka. She argues that the border guards did not have grounds to place Amriev in handcuffs because  he complied with the police’s orders without resisting.

“The grounds for his apprehension was not a terrorism charge but rather an accusation of document forgery. Finally, to force a handcuffed person to sit on a concrete floor for six hours definitely amounts to unjustified degrading treatment,” says Nasta Loika.

Nasta Loika says she helped Murad to write complaints to the prosecutor’s office and to the State Border Committee (SBC). After the SBC reviewed the complaint, they ruled that no violations had taken place. 

Nasta adds that “generally speaking, the border guards have the same problems as all other security services in Belarus: they do not know how to ensure the rights of people in border procedures. They never tell people about their rights, duties or the basis for the apprehension”.

In an emailed response to  the inspections and detentions at checkpoints SBC official representative Anton Bychkovskiy states:

“Border guard officers operated within the framework of the law, in accordance with established procedures that are within their competence. It is also a common European and world border guard practice. Further inspections and decisions regarding each particular case are beyond the competence of the border guard service. If any person reasonably believes that he was mistreated, then he has the right to file a complaint, which will be necessarily considered. It is also applicable to the mentioned case with Murad Amriev”.

Case 2

Pushed back to Chechnya

Amriev is not the only Chechen refugee whose rights have been violated by SBC border officers.

In March 2017, Imran Salamov and his family – Russian nationals of Chechen origin – left Chechenya for the fear of persecution by the authorities. Like many Chechens before them, they stopped in the Belarusian town Brest on their way to Poland, where they planned to apply for asylum. But they never made it past Brest.

The family arrived in the town on March 21 and over the course of the next eight days made eight attempts to apply for asylum in Poland. According to Belarus NGO Human Constanta, which assisted the family in asylum proceedings, Polish border guards repeatedly ignored their requests for asylum and returned them to Belarus.

Early in the morning of April 5, Imran and his family passed through a passport control at a Belarusian border checkpoint in a train station in Brest. They had done so  eight times before in order to board the train to Poland. But on that morning Imran was prevented from leaving Belarus. According to a press release from Human Constanta, SBC officers annulled an exit stamp that had been placed in his passport a few minutes earlier, before  interrogating him for approximately 40 minutes about the purpose of his stay in Belarus. Imran was subsequently released. The same series of events repeated on the following day.

“The SBC has no right to deny someone exit from Belarus without an appropriate reason”, says Nasta Loika.

The next time that Imran and his family attempted to leave Belarus for Poland was on the morning of April 13. They passed through the passport control at the train station as usual, but this time, Imran was apprehended by SBC officers and handed over to the police shortly after.

It was later revealed that, on the evening of April 5, 2017, Chechen security services opened a criminal case against Imran and placed him on an international wanted list, for allegedly assisting a member of an illegal armed group. According to the documents sent from Chechen to Belarusian authorities, the alleged supposed ”assistance” amounted to purchasing 10 pairs of underclothes, two pairs of shoes, and food for an alleged member of an illegal armed group.

The police decided to hold Imran in detention prior to deporting him  to Russia. While in detention, Imran applied for international protection in Belarus claiming that he would be tortured in Chechnya. When his application was rejected in August 2017, he legally had 15 days to appeal the decision during which time authorities could not remove him from the country.  However, Imran was expelled two days before the 15 day appeal period, in violation of the law.

According to an Amnesty International report from November 2017, although Imran’s “lawyer and wife met with him at the City Police Headquarters in Grozny on September 11th, all subsequent efforts to locate him have failed and the authorities had claimed he is not in their custody.”

Nasta Loika says that she “doesn’t know real reasons behind two instances when Imran Salamov was denied exit from Belarus” but her guess is that “this could have happened in accordance with an agreement with Belarusian migration services, which in turn were asked by Chechnya’s authorities,”.

“It can be said the border guards apparently violated Imran’s rights but it’s impossible to say that they are directly responsible for his disappearance in Chechnya,” adds Nasta.

 

This investigation was conducted in collaboration with Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), published in the Danish Daily Politiken and financially supported with a grant from the IJ4EU fund.

All of the articles from this investigation. Where to start is up to you.

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Border authorities instrumental in Belarus regime crackdown on political opposition https://danwatch.dk/en/undersoegelse/border-authorities-instrumental-in-belarus-regime-crackdown-on-political-opposition/ Thu, 31 Jan 2019 11:32:35 +0000 https://danwatch.dk/undersoegelse/border-authorities-instrumental-in-belarus-regime-crackdown-on-political-opposition/

Police officers detain participants in an opposition rally in the Belarusian capital Minsk on March 2017.

Border authorities instrumental in Belarus regime crackdown on political opposition

A Danwatch investigation
EU-funded surveillance equipment has been delivered to Belarusian border authorities who systematically search and harass political opposition. The State Border Committee say that they act according to the law.
Emilie Ekeberg

Journalist

Emilie Ekeberg

Journalist

Journalist: Mikita Matsiushchankau / Research: Johanne Rübner Hansen (Danwatch)

Redaktør:

In cooperation with OCCRP
EU-funded surveillance equipment has been delivered to Belarusian border authorities who systematically search and harass political opposition. The State Border Committee say that they act according to the law.

The human rights situation in Belarus has been steadily declining since president Alexander Lukashenko took power in 1994. Political opponents, bloggers, independent journalists, environmental activists, members of an independent trade-union, and human rights activists are among those who have been persecuted.

Their only crime seems to be that they disagree with the Belarus government.  

The regime has developed many tactics to harass its rivals over the years, from imposing fines on peaceful protestors to imprisoning opposition leaders on spurious charges.

The Belarusian State Border Committee (SBC), that appears to play a be central role in the  crackdown on the political opposition, has received surveillance equipment worth more than €2 million from the EU, including surveillance cameras, communication equipment and patrol vehicles.

The SBC stop and harass individuals who are “uncomfortable” to the state, most often at border crossings on their return to Belarus from abroad. The harassment can include complete searches of their private belongings and communication equipment. Sometimes they are strip searched.

“I regard this as persecution for my professional activities and as an act of pressure. There is no practical sense in stopping a person at the border four times in a row”, says Andrej Stryzhak.

He is vice-chair of a local division of the Belarusian Radio and Electronics Industry Workers’ Union (REP), an independent trade-union that has been targeted by Belarusian authorities. He was stopped and searched at border checkpoints four times in the past two years, and each time he was told that it was a random stop.

The Belarussian border authorities will not comment on specific incidents, but all border stops have been made in accordance with Belarusian law and practice for European border control, Anton Bychkovskiy writes, official representative of the State Border Committee of the Republic of Belarus, in an email.

HARASSED: Trade unionist Andrej Stryzhak (Photo: Private)

23 dissidents experienced border searches

In collaboration with the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), Danwatch has examined 23 cases between 2012 and 2018, in which dissidents were subject to border searches. Among them are prominent human rights defenders, opposition politicians, anarchist activists, and trade unionists.

The border stops usually coincide with waves of persecution against certain groups. Andrej Stryzhak experienced border searches after REP leaders were charged by the authorities in August 2017 for evading €10,000 in taxes, after allegedly receiving a financial contribution from the Danish trade union 3F. The charges were a result of Belarusian legislation aimed to limit NGOs from receiving financial aid from foreign organisations or individuals.

Last month, the chairman and the chief accountant of REP were found guilty and sentenced to four years of “restricted freedom” and forced to step down from their managerial positions. More than 800 trade union members were interrogated during the investigation that both REP and the  International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) regard as political pressure that was applied to discredit and limit the trade union’s activities.

Although Andrej Stryzhak was told the repeated border searches were random, he says that he now knows for a fact that they were not.

“I found out during the trial against REP’s leadership that there was a request from an investigator to subject certain persons to a special inspection at border controls. Among these persons were me and my wife,” he says.

Human rights organisations have also taken notice of the harrasment of dissidents at border points.In its 2017 human rights report on Belarus, the US Department of State declares that: “Security forces continued to target prominent opposition and civil society leaders with arbitrary searches and interrogations at border crossings and airports.

The report identifies a case in which border officers searched the belongings of a prominent opposition politician, and confiscated his flash drives.

Stopped five times after rallying

Dissidents reported that they were searched after a State Border Committee officer checked their passport and a “red signal” came up.

“When you give your passport, you can see on the border guard’s face that something is wrong. Then they call a superior. When I ask what is wrong, they say that they cannot disclose this information”, says Maria Rabkova, a political activist who has been stopped twice at border crossings over the past two years.

STOPPED: Maria Rabkova, here pictured with her boyfriend (Photo: Private)

Maria Rabkova believes that she is on a government database of extremists, after she was identified as a suspect in a criminal case that was opened after unidentified persons threw paint at the building of the state-owned media corporation Belteleradiocompania. Most dissidents regard the media corporation as the prime deliverer of state propaganda. The case against her was eventually dropped.

“All activists who have ever attracted the attention of Belarusian security services are being stopped at the borders,” says Rabkova.

Her story is similar to the one told by Lena, a political activist who asked to remain anonymous and to be identified only by her first name. In March 2017 she was detained before attempting to   participate in opposition rallies, which were shut down by the authorities. She says that she has since been stopped and searched by border agents on five separate occasions.

According to the Viasna Human Rights Centre more than 700 people were detained during the rallies, and detentions were carried out with a disproportionate use of force.

“I don’t know if they want to exert moral pressure, or demonstrate that we are watched over,” she says, adding that the stops are a “big stress”.

“Usually, when you go through a passport control, border guards separate you and tell you to wait. Then they check the passports of all other passengers on the bus, and the bus leaves. You remain at the border crossing, and you are not told what is happening.”

The first time was the worst, Lena says.

“It was not at all clear to me what would happen. The last two times, I embraced the stops with a laugh. And I make sure not to buy a direct ticket back to Minsk when I travel, in order not to lose too much money if I get stopped at the border,” Lena says.

Red signals

Andrej Stryzhak of REP has seen his name marked with red on the computer screens used by the border guards.

“The border guards have a database, where they receive alerts during passport checks. Sometimes there is a possibility to peek on the screen of the passport scanning devices. There appears a red or an orange light with a text detailing what has to be done with the person. Usually, it is an inspection or seizure of certain things, for example, valuables, money or technical devices,” Stryzhak says.

RED ALERT: Andrej Stryzhak was taken off the train from Vilnius to Minsk on 23. March 2018 (Photo: Private)

The search or seizure of technical devices and communication equipment is especially worrisome according to Joshua Franco, head of Technology and Human Rights at Amnesty International, who has carried out research on Belarusian telecom surveillance.

“Device search is a type of surveillance that is very invasive. If the authorities gain access to your computer or your phone, it can reveal a lot, especially in a country like Belarus, where you penalise political opposition,” Franco says.

Stripped to their underwear

After border guards have received an alert you are handed over to officers of the State Customs Committee, who then conduct inspections, searches and confiscations, Lena explains.

“You are taken to a separate room. There the officers very thoroughly inspect all of your belongings. Then you are ordered to undress until you remain only in your underwear, and they look through your clothes, probe the seams, and knock the soles of the shoes. Twice they confiscated my books but then, after some time, they returned them to me. Last time, I was not let to go to a toilet until the officers had finished with the personal inspection,” she says.

Andrej Stryzhak also describes being forced to undress to his underwear. Hee regards the border searches primarily as a means to demoralise dissidents.

“I don’t think the main purpose is to get information. When you have been stopped once, you understand that you must travel ‘clean’. That is why I assume that the aim of the border stops is to apply pressure, to demoralize you and obstruct your work,” Stryzhak says.

According to Anton Bychkovskiy, official representative of the State Border Committee of the Republic of Belarus, all episodes at checkpoints have been in compliance with Belarusian law.

“Regarding the inspections at checkpoints and detentions of persons, border guard officers operated within the framework of the law, in accordance with established procedures that are within their competence. It is also a common European and world border guard practice. Further inspections and decisions regarding each particular case are beyond the competence of the border guard service. If any person reasonably believes that he was mistreated, then he has the right to file a complaint, which will be necessarily considered,” he states in an email.

This investigation was conducted in collaboration with Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), published in the Danish Daily Politiken and financially supported with a grant from the IJ4EU fund.

All of the articles from this investigation. Where to start is up to you.

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Equipping the dictator https://danwatch.dk/en/undersoegelse/equipping-the-dictator/ Thu, 31 Jan 2019 11:30:35 +0000 https://danwatch.dk/undersoegelse/equipping-the-dictator/
A Danwatch Investigation

KEEPS CONTROL: President Alexander Lukashenko, often referred to as Europe’s last dictator, has kept Belarusian civil society under tight control during his 25 years of rule. His government’s crackdown on the political opposition has escalated since 2017.

Equipping the dictator

A Danwatch investigation
Despite EU embargoes to limit the crackdown on critics of the Belarus regime, the EU is supplying surveillance equipment to the same Belarusian authorities responsible for the repression of the democratic opposition.
Emilie Ekeberg

Journalist

Emilie Ekeberg

Journalist

Journalist: Mikita Matsiushchankau / Research: Johanne Rübner Hansen (Danwatch)

Redaktør:

In cooperation with OCCRP
Despite EU embargoes to limit the crackdown on critics of the Belarus regime, the EU is supplying surveillance equipment to the same Belarusian authorities responsible for the repression of the democratic opposition.

The EU has funded surveillance and patrol equipment worth more than €2 million for the benefit of the Belarusian border authorities, a Danwatch and OCCRP probe into EU-funded tenders and contracts show.

The equipment includes surveillance cameras, communication equipment, seismic sensors, and patrol vehicles and boats.
President Alexander Lukashenko has maintained tight control on Belarus over the past 25 years, relying on authoritarian policies to limit democratic opposition, free speech and critical media. Belarus remains the only European country still using the death penalty.

These are among the reasons for the EU’s embargo of Belarus,which prohibits the supply of equipment that may be used for political repression in Belarus. The embargo, which the EU Council last renewed in February 2018, prohibits the sale, supply, transfer or export of the equipment, as well as its financing.

In an email, Anton Bychkovskiy, official representative of the State Border Committee of the Republic of Belarus (SBC), writes that: the equipment is “intended to improve the security of the ‘green’ and water border of the Republic of Belarus with Ukraine. This refers to the border guard between the checkpoints”.

This is what Human Rights Organizations have to say about

the current state of affairs in Belarus

Human Rights Watch

“A government crackdown on civil society started in 2017, with authorities carrying out the broadest wave of arrests of peaceful protesters since 2010. For the first time in 10 years, authorities registered a political opposition movement, although no new political party has been able to register since 2000. Restrictive legislation continues to prevent rights groups from registering and operating freely. Belarus is the only European country to still use the death penalty and the authorities have not undertaken any steps towards its abolition.”

Read more

Amnesty International

“Between February and April (2018, edit), the authorities violently cracked down on peaceful protests. The government continued to refuse to accept the mandate of the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in Belarus. Several individuals seeking international protection were returned to countries where they were at risk of torture and other ill-treatment. Heavy legislative restrictions on media, NGOs, political parties and public assemblies remained in place. One person was executed and four were sentenced to death.”

Read more

UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Belarus, Miklós Haraszti

“Belarus continues to be governed by a deeply entrenched repressive legal framework, which is aggravated by cyclically recurring waves of massive violent repression against those who attempt claim their human rights. Peaceful demonstrators, non-governmental organizations, political opponents, human rights activists and independent media workers continue to be the targets of a systematic harassment.”

Read more

"The EU is sacrificing human rights in the eagerness to limit migrants and refugees from reaching the EU. It is a worrying trend.”

Joshua Franco, Amnesty International Tweet

The risk of human rights abuse

The risk of human rights abuses in Belarus increases following the delivery of surveillance equipment, according to Joshua Franco, head of Technology and Human Rights in Amnesty International.

“We have seen human rights abuses linked to surveillance in Belarus, and we have seen abuses of the rights of asylum seekers and migrants”.

Franco argues that the EU has a responsibility to ensure that they do not facilitate human rights abuses, when supplying equipment of this type to a country like Belarus.

Surveillance equipment can facilitate human rights abuses in a variety of ways, according to Franco.

“If the equipment is delivered to borders, there is the risk of push back of asylum seekers. In terms of internal repression, surveillance in general has a chilling effect on civil society. It is all conducted in secrecy, and the fact that no one can know, when they are subject to surveillance, causes people to self-sensor,” Franco says, adding:

“The EU is sacrificing human rights in the eagerness to limit migrants and refugees from reaching the EU. It is a worrying trend.”

12 EU contracts

Surveillance and patrol equipment for Belarusian authorities

 

Company Value_EUR Date_Contract Contract_Title
Pulsar Expo s.r.o., Czech Republic 230,202.00 5/1/2016 Supply and delivery of all-terrain vehicles for the benefit of the State Border Committee of the Republic of Belarus
Friendly LLC, Republic of Belarus 17,834.74 11/1/2016 Supply and delivery of communication equipment for the benefit of the State Border Committee of the Republic of Belarus
Friendly LLC, Republic of Belarus 402,525.30 11/1/2015 Supply and delivery of communication equipment for the benefit of the State Border Committee of the Republic of Belarus
Macht-Project LLC, Russian Federation 21,253.93 12/1/2015 Supply and delivery of antenna masts for the benefit of the State Border Committee of the Republic of Belarus
Prikladnaya Radiofizika LLC, Russian Federation 307,800.00 11/1/2015 Supply and Delivery of Integrated security system (ISS) equipment to perform construction works to equip the checkpoint flanks, including cables and wires for the benefit of the State Border Committee of the Republic of Belarus
Polus ST LLC, Russian Federation 380,976.75 12/1/2015 Supply and Delivery of Seismic sensor sets (sensors, receiving device, accessory equipment) for the benefit of the State Border Committee of the Republic of Belarus
Technoplast DLC, Republic of Belarus 765,642.24 3/1/2016 Supply and delivery of motor and patrol boats for the benefit of the State Border Committee of the Republic of Belarus
RBB Moto LLC , Republic of Belarus 70,359.44 8/1/2015 Supply and delivery of quadro-cycles for the benefit of the State Border Committee of the Republic of Belarus
«Agromashresurs» LLC, Republic of Belarus 32,558.72 8/1/2015 Supply and delivery of snow and swamp-going vehicle for the benefit of the State Border Committee of the Republic of Belarus
DEKK International LLC, Republic of Belarus 19,428.62 8/1/2016 Supply and delivery of IT equipment for the benefit of the State Border Committee of the Republic of Belarus
LEARA PPUE, Republic of Belarus 21,888.00 11/1/2015 Supply and delivery of flashlights for the benefit of the State Border Committee of the Republic of Belarus
Autosalon-AV Ltd, Belarus 16,400.00 16/11/2017 Delivery of the Vehicle – Introduction of an Automated Intelligent Video-control System at road border crossing point Novaya Huta – Novi Yarilovychi at the Belarus-Ukraine Frontier

 

Read more

Crackdown on civil society

The contracts show that the equipment has been delivered to the State Border Committee of Belarus, which has been instrumental in the government crackdown on civil society that has escalated since 2017.

Border guards check identities against a database and are alerted when political activists, trade unionists and opposition politicians considered “troublesome” by the regime, attempt to cross border points. Authorities use the border crossings as pretexts for harassment, such as the confiscation of communication equipment and strip searches.

At least 23 cases of such border stops have been documented over the past six years.

Trade unionists and political activists who are being stopped regularly, say that they view the border stops as a form of repression in response to their work or political views.

“I don’t know if they want to exert moral pressure, or demonstrate that we are watched over,” said Lena, a political activist who has been stopped and searched at border points five times since she participated in opposition rallies last year.

“What I know is that they have started to stop me after the events of March 2017, when me and my friends were preventively detained on the street”, she says.

The border guards are not breaking the law, writes Anton Bychkovskiy from the State Border Committee of the Republic of Belarus in an email:

“The border guard officers operated within the framework of the law, in accordance with established procedures that are within their competence. It is also a common European and world border guard practice. Further inspections and decisions regarding each particular case are beyond the competence of the border guard service”, he states in the email.

“Totalitarian infrastructure”

Most of the equipment is supplied as part of an EU programme to strengthen border control in countries neighboring the EU, which was implemented to prevent migrants from reaching EU territory.

The UN’s International Organization for Migration (IOM), which was hired by the EU to carry out the project, procured the surveillance and patrol equipment from Belarusian and Russian security companies.

Martin Lemberg-Pedersen, associate professor at Aalborg University, has carried out extensive research into the EU’s policy of supplying third countries with border control equipment in order to limit the number of refugees and migrants reaching the external border.

“But the type of equipment that is supplied does not distinguish between a citizen, a migrant or a refugee. It is not only used to target refugees and migrants – this is totalitarian infrastructure that gives regimes, like the one in Belarus, the possibility to surveil everyone within its borders, including its own citizens. And Belarus is a regime with a long track record of violating the fundamental rights, which the EU claims to uphold,” says Lemberg-Pedersen.

EU may be violating its own embargo

The EU may be violating its own embargo on equipment that may be used for internal repression by supplying surveillance equipment to the Belarusian regime, experts say.

EU

The Embargo against Belarus

In 2011 the EU introduced an embargo on the export, supply, sale or financing of arms and equipment that may be used for internal repression to Belarus, after violations of international electoral standards and international human rights law, as well as the crackdown on civil society and democratic opposition. The embargo has been renewed several times, last in February 2018.

The embargoed equipment that could be used for internal repression includes vehicles specially designed for the transport or transfer of prisoners and/or detainees, night vision, thermal imaging equipment and image intensifier tubes, and razor barbed wire.

The Council Decision from 2012, which was renewed in February this year, states:

“1. The sale, supply, transfer or export of arms and related material of all types, including weapons and ammunition, military vehicles and equipment, paramilitary equipment and spare parts for the aforementioned, as well as equipment which might be used for internal repression, to Belarus by nationals of Member States or from the territories of Member States or using their flag vessels or aircraft, shall be prohibited whether originating or not in their territories.

2. It shall be prohibited to:

(a) provide, directly or indirectly, technical assistance, brokering services or other services related to the items referred to in paragraph 1 or related to the provision, manufacture, maintenance and use of such items, to any natural or legal person, entity or body in, or for use in, Belarus;

(b) provide, directly or indirectly, financing or financial assistance related to the items referred to in paragraph 1, including in particular grants, loans and export credit insurance, for any sale, supply, transfer or export of such items, or for the provision of related technical assistance, brokering services or other services to any natural or legal person, entity or body in, or for use in, Belarus;”

Read more

Most problematic is the supply of infrared illumination surveillance cameras, a technology designed to detect people even in dark conditions, as the EU embargo prohibits the supply of “night vision and thermal imaging equipment”.

The cameras were delivered as part of a €300,000 contract with a Russian security company, financed by the EU border control programme. The infrared cameras are able to detect people up to a distance of 110 meters, according to tender documents.

“The IR surveillance cameras risk violating the embargo, dependending on the technical specifics of the delivered equipment, since they enable night vision or low light surveillance,” says Peter Danssaert, and expert in the arms trade and defense logistics with International Peace Information Service (IPIS). Danssaert has worked as a consultant to both the EU and the UN.

Another defense analyst, Jon Hawkes from the renowned British defense research agency Jane’s, says:

“Generally speaking I would say that a device listed as ‘video surveillance IP-cameras with infrared illumination’ could be something I would expect to fall within the classification of ‘Night vision, thermal imaging equipment and image intensifier tubes’. However this is subject to clearer identification of the equipment.”

EU: Focus is enhancing security

We asked the European Commission whether the EU risks contributing to internal repression or human rights violations against refugees in Belarus, resulting from the supply of surveillance equipment to Belarusian border authorities.

This question remains unanswered, but in an email, Alceo Smerilli, Press Officer at the European Neighborhood Policy & Enlargement Negotiations and for EU Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, states:

“The focus of the SURCAP II program is on enhancing security levels on the Belarusian-Ukrainian border as regards notably irregular migration, smuggling of goods (alcohol, tobacco, and drugs), human trafficking, and organized crime. It also aims at promoting respect for human rights, such as rights of migrants, asylum-seekers, victims of trafficking and smuggling in persons. Trainings and study visits were organized to a number of EU Member States to learn from the best EU practices in working with irregular migrants (including on how to ensure respect for human rights).”

This investigation was conducted in collaboration with Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), published in the Danish Daily Politiken and financially supported with a grant from the IJ4EU fund.

All of the articles from this investigation. Where to start is up to you.

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EU-funded surveillance equipment supplied to Belarusian security forces https://danwatch.dk/en/undersoegelse/eu-funded-surveillance-equipment-supplied-to-belarusian-security-forces/ Thu, 31 Jan 2019 11:28:35 +0000 https://danwatch.dk/undersoegelse/eu-funded-surveillance-equipment-supplied-to-belarusian-security-forces/
A Danwatch investigation

EU-funded surveillance equipment supplied to Belarusian security forces

Emilie Ekeberg

Journalist

Emilie Ekeberg

Journalist

Journalist: Mikita Matsiushchankau / Research: Johanne Rübner Hansen (Danwatch) / Photo: International Organization for Migration

Editor:

In cooperation with OCCRP

This investigation was financially supported with a grant from the IJ4EU fund.

  • Despite EU embargoes to limit human rights abuses and internal repression in Belarus, the EU is funding surveillance equipment for Belarusian authorities that are instrumental in the crackdown of the political opposition and critics of the regime in the country known as “Europe’s last dictatorship”.
  • A probe into hundreds of EU and IOM tenders and awarded contracts, including technical specifications for the bidders, shows that the EU has financed video surveillance cameras, communication equipment, patrol vehicles and seismic sensors worth €2 million, for the benefit of the Belarusian State Border Committee.
  • Despite EU embargoes to limit human rights abuses and internal repression in Belarus, the EU is funding surveillance equipment for Belarusian authorities that are instrumental in the crackdown of the political opposition and critics of the regime in the country known as “Europe’s last dictatorship”.
  • At least 23 such cases have been documented over the past six years. In interviews, trade unionists and political activists who have been subjected to regular border stops, say that they regard the activity as a form of repression in response to their work or political views.
  • The phenomenon has been documented by human rights organisations. In its 2017 human rights report for Belarus, the US Department of State declares that: “Security forces continued to target prominent opposition and civil society leaders with arbitrary searches and interrogations at border crossings and airports”.
  • Belarusian border authorities have also endangered Chechen refugees by returning them to Russian authorities and denying them access to seek international protection in Belarus, a practice that violates the non-refoulement principle in international law.
  • One Chechen asylum seeker who was fleeing torture, was stopped at a Belarusian border point equipped by the EU. Footage shows that his request for asylum was denied by the Belarusian border authorities, and that he was subsequently returned to Chechnya. This is a violation of international law.
  • Due to the human rights situation in Belarus, the EU has embargoed the export, supply and funding of equipment that may be used for internal repression. According to experts, the EU is at risk of violating its own embargo through the funding of infrared video surveillance cameras.
  • According to the State Border Committee of the Republic of Belarus, “the border guard officers operated within the framework of the law, in accordance with established procedures that are within their competence”.

All of the articles from this investigation. Where to start is up to you.

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Servants of Servers https://danwatch.dk/en/undersoegelse/servants-of-servers/ Mon, 05 Oct 2015 13:53:39 +0000 http://danwatch.dk/undersoegelse/servants-of-servers/ Few Rights for Workers in the IT industry https://danwatch.dk/en/few-rights-for-workers-in-the-it-industry/ https://danwatch.dk/en/few-rights-for-workers-in-the-it-industry/#respond Mon, 29 Dec 2014 13:12:16 +0000 https://danwatch.dk/few-rights-for-workers-in-the-it-industry/ SEOUL. Outcries from more than 700 hundred workers and unionists clashed against the steel walls of the Samsung Electronics Headquarter building. Teargas was sprinkling like rain from the sky, as just as many police officers were trying to keep control of the angry crowd. Their demands were clear. They wanted Samsung Electronics to stop harassing workers, who try to unionise. The workers wanted rights.

The demonstration took place in May 2014 and a few days earlier, 16th of May, the 34- year old, Yeom HoSeok, lit fire to a small pile of charcoal at the bottom of his car and awaited the toxic fumes to take him away from his life. In a farewell letter to his parents, he wrote: “I can no longer sit by as more sacrifices and more pain are wrought upon our unionists”.

Suicide in the electronics industry is not a new phenomenon. In 2008, a 26-year old female engineer from a Nokia factory in India hung herself because of harassment from her managers. In 2010, fourteen workers at Apple’s factories took their own life, and at Samsung Electronics, Yeom HoSeok is the latest in a line of workers, who are willing to dedicate their death to the struggle for labour rights.

When workers die for rights

Following Apple, Samsung is the second biggest brand in tablet and mobile phone manufacturing according to business magazine Forbes with a 22,5% market share of global tablet production in 2014. In addition to this, Samsung Electronics is the second biggest supplier of microchips used in tablets and mobile phones according to an IHS ranking in 2013. This means, if you have an Ipad or an Iphone, it is likely to hold a chip from Samsung.

More than 90.000 South Koreans are employed by Samsung in South Korea alone, and according to Samsung Electronics, ‘the company takes great care to provide a workplace environment with the highest industry standards of health, safety and welfare’.

“We remain steadfastly committed to all labour and human rights laws of the countries in which we operate”, the company writes in an email to DanWatch.
Still, allegations from current and previous workers, NGOs and lawyers tell another story of harassment for attempts of unionizing, so called union busting.

No need to unionise

Samsung Electronics has a long tradition for preventing unions. Since the foundation of the company in 1938 by Lee Byung-chul there has been a strict no-union-policy.
In 1977, when female workers at a plant in Gimpo tried to form a union, Lee Byung-chul was famous for saying: “I will never permit a union! Over my dead body!”
Instead, he told the company to create good working conditions so that workers would never feel the necessity to organise themselves.

A strategy Samsung Electronics has maintained until today. In the 2013 Samsung Sustainability Report it says, that the company ‘strives to provide superior working conditions (…) so that employees do not feel the need for a labour union’.
Recently, an alleged internal Samsung document,‘S group worker management Manual’, which describes policy and practises involved in Samsungs ‘no-union-policy’ was leaked.
In terms like ‘the dissolution of unionization movement’ by employment of ‘the union-response strategy and tactics’, it is explained, how Samsung management respond to laborers efforts to form unions.

The company is listening

Some workers who have tried to unionise talk about multiple meetings with their management that usually results in promotions or threats of degradation. Or the risk of losing their job. Should the workers not seize their unionization efforts, the HR department in Samsung sets in. Wiretapping and shadowing of workers in and outside working hours in order to prevent them from forming a union is not uncommon, says a former high ranking employee in a Samsung Electronics HR Department, who in detail – anonymously – describes his participation in several attempts of union busting.

“The workers were watched for 24 hours. An observing vehicle was assigned on them, and we were also watching from higher plane using telescope. At dawn, five vehicles were awaiting order in a specific area. Starting from the workers’ front door to the expressway, vehicle observing points were assigned, so we could monitor the workers every movement. This was common practise, it would drive them insane”

This was in 2007, but the procedure of surveillance and wiretapping is confirmed by a current employee, Mr Sang su-Kim, who has been trying to form a union in Samsung from 20011-2013.Mr Sang su-Kim is not his real name, and he is clearly afraid of the consequences of talking to journalists. The 54-year old engineer has been working for Samsung since 1987 and through this period seen the failure of several attempts by workers to unionise.

“I have been followed by someone assigned by the company to watch me. Every time we try to meet, management staff will be waiting outside my house to try and prevent me from going by either delaying or physically blocking me”, he says quietly.
“My phone has been tapped, which I am sure it still is”.

The allegations about wiretapping and shadowing are ‘not true’, according to Samsung Electronics.
“We respect union activities under the laws and regulations of the Republic of Korea, and we are committed to complying with the laws and regulations in countries, where we operate”, Samsung Electronics states in an email to DanWatch.

The Republic of Samsung

A common nickname for South Korea is ‘The Republic of Samsung’, which describes the national pride and influence the conglomerate holds in addition to being responsible for more than 20% of South Korea’s export.

Unionizing is legal in South Korea but difficult in a society that favours conglomerates, says the 31-year old attorney, Mr Ha Kyung Ryng, who is providing legal counseling to workers trying to form unions in Samsung Electronics.

“There is a lot of interference from the company: penalties if you join the union, threats of being fired, threats if you participate in union activities or protests. A one-person protest is legal in Korea, but all the security guards from Samsung come down and block them, they show them away and they beat them, and the police do nothing”, says Mr Ha Kyung Ryng.

South Korea has never ratified the ILO conventions, ‘Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise’ or ‘Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining’.
This means, the right to strike is limited and strikes considered illegal by authorities are punishable with large fines.

A small step towards rights

Outside the Samsung Electronics HQ in May, the protests from mourning union members of the death of Yeom HoSeok continued for three days. The three day period is how long a korean funeral takes.
Yeom HoSeok was hired on a contract basis for Samsung Electronics Service, and he was also helping his co-workers form a union in Busan-Yangsan.

According to union members and friends of Yeom HoSeok, management had substantially reduced assignments for him, and by the time of his suicide he earned $400 (294 euro) a month in a country with a average monthly wage for an engineer of $3083 (2308 euro). Yeom HoSeok felt he was being harassed by his company because of his union activity.
According to Korean media, the demonstrations continued for 41 days until 28th of June, where Samsung Electronics Service workers seemed to reach a tentative agreement with management on wage, working conditions and unionisation.

Chong Hyewon, Executive Director of the International Department at the Korean Metal Workers Union which represents the protesting workers, welcomed the agreement.
“This struggle is historic in that it represents the first time a mass-organised union of Samsung workers has achieved a collectively bargained framework agreement for trade union recognition and working conditions at Samsung, creating a fissure in Samsung’s 76-year ‘no union’ corporate policy”.

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The Human Cost of Tablets https://danwatch.dk/en/the-human-cost-of-tablets/ https://danwatch.dk/en/the-human-cost-of-tablets/#respond Mon, 29 Dec 2014 13:02:41 +0000 https://danwatch.dk/the-human-cost-of-tablets/ She was just 21 years old, when she died in the backseat of her fathers taxi. Yumi  Whang and her parents were on the way to the hospital for one of her treatments. For two years, Yumi had suffered from severe cancer, myeloid leukemia, a disease only 3 in 100.000 Koreans get, according to Journal of Korean Medical Science. And yet, the past year numbers of leukemia cases have been dramatically rising in South Korea.

As of March 2014, more than 300 Korean workers in the electronics industry have been diagnosed, not only with various forms of leukemia but also several cases of multiple sclerosis and aplastic anemia. All of them have been employed in the electronics industry in South Korea. The vast majority of them were employed at Samsung Electronics.
More than 100 known cases of cancer victims, who had previously worked at Samsung Electronics, have died according to the group, ‘Supporters for the Health And Rights of People in the Semiconductor industry’ (SHARPS).

A dream job

Getting a job at Samsung Electronics is a dream for most young Koreans who live in one of the provinces of Seoul, where opportunity rarely comes by. This was the case for the 19-year old Yumi Hwang who lived with her parents in the village Sokcho and had just graduated from high school in October 2003, when she got a job at Samsung’s Giheung plant.

”She was so happy,” Mr Hwang remembers, smiling.

It was Yumis first job, and she was looking forward to live with the other, mostly female, workers in the dormitories at the Giheung plant.
Yumi worked as an operator in line 3, where she was wet-cleaning manually. All the workers had to wear a bunny suit. Garments that would protect the electronics from dust, but allegedly not the workers from chemicals.

Between 500 and 1000 different chemicals are used in the semiconductor industry, including many carcinogens like solvents (trichloroethylene, benzene, dichloroethane), arsenic, and heavy metals like cadmium and lead. Workers are also exposed to electromagnetic fields as well as ionizing and non-ionizing radiation.

At first, Yumi’s father thought that her frequent nausea, dizziness and bruises was nothing serious, but a health check with her doctor quickly determined her diagnosis in June 2005. Yumi had leukemia and began immediate treatment.

The morning of March 6 2007, Mr and Mrs Hwang began the three hours well-known drive to the hospital, where Yumi was receiving treatment. Yumi was lying in the back seat, they were less than an hour away from the hospital, and they had just stopped for some rice. Yumi was sweating and then freezing and when Yumi’s mother turned to comfort her daughter, she was no longer breathing.

“Her mother gently closed Yumi’s eyes, and as I was standing there it occurred to me that we were in the middle of the road,” Mr Hwang says quietly.
“I put a blanket over my daughter, and we drove back home”.

Victims of tablet production

Ten years earlier, the 17th of January 1995, another young girl, the 19-year-old senior high school student Suk-young Lee, started working at the exact same line 3 at the Samsung Giheung Factory. In 2003, she and Yumi Hwang worked together as operators, but after a few years, she started getting rashes and respiratory diseases.

In June 2006, Suk-young Lee discovered she was pregnant, but suffered a miscarriage and not more than one month later, she was diagnosed with the same kind of leukemia as Yumi. In August 2003 she died from aggressive leukemia, 31 years old.

39-year-old Seong-ok Lee has worked in line 3 with Suk-young Lee for ten years:
“I was only introduced to production processes, never any safety measures,” she says.

Seong-ok Lee was mainly assigned to work in photolithography processes. She remembers the first days of work at Samsung.
“No one ever told me about the chemicals I was working with or the dangers related to my work. The older workers talked about risks but mainly to protect the products we were working with. They told me, that if I had chemicals in my eyes, I should rinse quickly. Nothing else”.

High levels of radiation

Seong-ok Lee was only 18 when she started working at the Samsung Giheung plant at the same time as Suk-young Lee in 1995. Six days a week, eight hours a day or night, since they were three teams working in shifts, and then two days off. The pay was good for an 18-year-old high school student, 1,2 million won (1561 dollars) a month.

But not enough to risk the life of her unborn child, so when Seong-ok Lee in 2005 realized she was pregnant, she resigned from Samsung Electronics.
“It was common knowledge that you shouldn’t keep working in the semiconductor industry if you were pregnant because there is a high risk of a miscarriage or that the baby will be born with deformities,” Seong-ok Lee says today.

The safety precautions for her unborn child didn’t apply to herself, and in 2011 she found out that she had thyroid cancer.
“My feelings overwhelmed me, I couldn’t believe, that I had cancer in my body”, she remembers.
“When I discovered what kind of chemicals I was working with and the level of radiation my body was exposed to during my work, I was certain. I asked the doctor if my diagnosis, in his opinion, could be related to my previous work at Samsung, and he said that it was likely, but hard to find documentation”.

Is cancer related to IT industry?

Piles of different research have tried to examine whether the semiconductor industry causes cancer amongst its workers. Some research claims that this is not the case. A study funded by Samsung and conducted by Environ, an international environmental and human health consultancy, could not find correlation between workplace environment and employee illness at Samsung’s semiconductor operations.

Others, like a sample analysis by the Educational-Industrial Institute of Seoul National University, however, show a somewhat contradictory result. The study concluded, that even though the study had limitations ‘including healthy worker effects, information bias and insufficient power, all of which are associated with underestimation’, there was an ‘excess risks for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (NHL), leukemia, brain tumor and breast cancer’. The study also pointed to ‘reproductive risks from fabrication jobs, including spontaneous abortion, congenital malformation and reduced fertility’.

Outsourcing of a sick industry

Cancer clusters in the electronics industry is a well-known phenomenon from USA and Europe in the 90ies, that moved to Asia with the outsourcing of a lot of manufacturing industries during 2000.
In 1980, the California Department of Industrial Relation reported that semiconductor workers were exposed to carcinogens and toxic agents. At IBM, 12 workers contracted cancer, but when they filed a lawsuit to get their diagnosis recognized as work related, none of the plaintiffs were upheld in court.

In Scotland, The UK Health and Safety Executive (HSE) published a study that pointed to an increased risk of National Semiconductor UK workers contracting certain kinds of cancer. According to the study, female workers were at two to three times higher risk of developing lung cancer, four to five times higher for stomach cancer and five times higher for breast cancer. Male workers had a four times greater risk of brain cancer compared to the rest of the population.

Global supply chains and expansion of the electronics industry have spread cases of cancer to most of Asia. In the 1990s four workers died and 200 workers were diagnosed with lead poisoning in one Thailand HDD company. Since, similar incidents have been detected in India, Taiwan, Malaysia and China.

In China, hundreds of workers at Nokia and Apple factories are still exposed to toxic chemicals, despite multiple statements from Apple saying that the toxic chemicals have been removed from their production, claims the non-profit organization Green America.

Only three cases recognized

Samsung Electronics, despite South Korea founded and based, is a global supplier of microchips to the majority of the electronics industry, including market leader Apple.
In South Korea, the government has investigated cancer risk among semiconductor workers in response to the rising concern over cancer cluster in Samsung Electronics.

The 23rd of June 2011, Yumi Hwang and the relatives of Suk-young Lee won their first administrative litigation case against Samsung Electronics on occupational disease. In its ruling, the court said:
“Even if the cause of the acute myeloid leukemia that occurred in the late Ms. Hwang has not been clearly ascertained in medical terms, it is possible to deduce that the leukemia arose or was expedited through her continued exposure to various hazardous chemicals while working on the No. 3 line at the Giheung workplace semiconductor plant, and also through her exposure to ionizing radiation, albeit in very doses.”

Sorry – but not responsible

In 2011, Samsung Electronics invested §88 million in improvement in their semiconductor infrastructure, and according to the company, Samsung ‘manages chemical exposure levels to ensure they remain significantly below any level that could cause harm to humans and the environment’.

May 14th 2014, seven years after Yumi Hwangs death, Samsung Electronics apologized to the victims.
“Several workers at our production facilities suffered from leukemia and other incurable diseases, which also led to some deaths”, Kwon Oh-hyun, the CEO of the Samsung Electronics, said in a statement.
“We should have settled the issue earlier, and we are deeply heartbroken that we failed to do so and express our deep apology. We will make due compensation to the victims and the families”. The company has begun negotiations with the victims and their families through SHARPS about the size of compensation, but they maintain that cancer cases are not work related.

Epilog

November 7th, 2014,  a Seoul court ordered the government to compensate a woman who died of a brain tumor after working at a Samsung Electronics Co. plant, recognizing her as an industrial disaster victim as her death was linked to Samsung Electronics’ work environment. Lee Yun-jeong, 32, died in 2012. She was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor in 2010 after having worked at a Samsung semiconductor plant in central South Korea from 1997 to 2003. The Korean Workers’ Compensation & Welfare Service (KCOMWEL) refused to cover her medical treatment after a probe by the Occupational Safety and Health Research Institute (OSHARI) showed no link between her illness and the work carried out at the factory in Asan, some 80 kilometers south of Seoul. Lee Yun-jeong filed a lawsuit to reverse the decision in 2011 but died a year later. Her widowed husband took over as plaintiff along with her former colleague, Yu Myeng-hwa, who was diagnosed with aplastic anemia, an irreversible blood disorder, in 2001. Yu, 32, had worked at the same factory from 2000 to 2003. The Seoul Administrative Court ruling said the plant’s environment appeared to have led to Lee Yun-jeong’s death, and the government should have covered the costs of her treatment.

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Overtime turned into flextime at Hungary’s electronics factories https://danwatch.dk/en/overtime-turned-into-flextime-at-hungarys-electronics-factories/ https://danwatch.dk/en/overtime-turned-into-flextime-at-hungarys-electronics-factories/#respond Tue, 15 Jan 2013 14:31:14 +0000 https://danwatch.dk/?p=20454 Low wages, use of flextime instead overtime and 12-hour work days varying between day and night shifts. These are among the challenges that workers at electronics factories in Hungary face each day, a new report by makeITfair shows. MakeITfair has investigated the working conditions at Hungarian factories in Hungary owned by the electronics giants Nokia, Samsung, Foxconn and Flextronics.

Eastern Europe the new Asia?

Hungary has become one of the most important players in the European electronics industry. There are tax incentives, low export tariffs, the country is close to the West European market, the infrastructure is well-developed and labour is cheap. This has prompted electronics giants such as Nokia, Samsung and Foxconn to move some of their production to Hungary. Although the components are still manufactured in Asia, much of the assembly work is now carried out in Hungary.

Flextime a little too flexible

Hungary’s labour rules also make it attractive for companies to move their production to the country. The labour rules permit a flexible time registration system which can turn overtime into flextime. In the so-called ”Time-bank system”, working hours are not calculated per day but over a longer period. This gives the employer flexibility to pay a regular wage rate instead of overtime payment over a period. According to the report, the ”Time-bank system” violates international labour standards, which set a work week limit of 60 hours, 12 of which should be paid as overtime.

Long work days detrimental to health

The long work days at a low wage is not the only concern for the Hungarian factory workers who assemble mobile phones for European consumers. The survey documents that health and safety is also affected by the 12-hour work days, which can vary between night and day shifts. Problems documented included dizziness, back pain and fatigue. At Flextronics’ factory the working conditions are so taxing that an ambulance from the local hospital stops by several times per week to pick up employees who either feel ill, have passed out, or suffer from high blood pressure or stress.

Strategies and compliance is not enough

Although the examined companies comply with Hungarian legislation and their global CSR strategies have been implemented and are monitored locally in Hungary, this is insufficient to prevent violation of fundamental labour rights, the survey argues. ”Maybe the factories comply with Hungarian rules, but it is still Samsung and Nokia’s responsibility to ensure that their products are manufactured under decent conditions,” says Claus Jørgensen of the Danish Consumer Council to Avisen.dk. Claus Jørgensen advises consumers to make demands on the companies when choosing which products to place under the Christmas tree. However, he acknowledges that it is difficult for consumers to perceive how the products have been made.

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