Investigation – 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 Investigation – 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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De får to kroner i timen for at laste Mærsk-skibe https://danwatch.dk/en/undersoegelse/de-faar-to-kroner-i-timen-for-at-laste-maersk-skibe-2/ Thu, 22 Nov 2018 22:01:35 +0000 https://danwatch.dk/undersoegelse/de-faar-to-kroner-i-timen-for-at-laste-maersk-skibe/
A Danwatch investigation
Arbejderne, der losser og laster Mærsk-skibe på Østafrikas største havn sover på papkasser bag containerne, mangler sikkerhedsudstyr og arbejder for langt under mindstelønnen. Mærsk “ser med stor alvor” på Danwatchs dokumentation.
Johan Seidenfaden

Journalist

Johan Seidenfaden

Journalist

Research: Ida Stigaard Bruhn & Johanne Rübner Hansen / Foto: Linda Bournane Engelberth

Redaktør:

I samarbejde med Ekstra Bladet. Undersøgelsen er produceret med støtte fra Danidas CSR-pulje 2015
Arbejderne, der losser og laster Mærsk-skibe på Østafrikas største havn sover på papkasser bag containerne, mangler sikkerhedsudstyr og arbejder for langt under mindstelønnen. Mærsk “ser med stor alvor” på Danwatchs dokumentation.
  • Vi har interviewet 27 havnearbejdere i Mombasa. Flere arbejdere fortæller, at man risikerer at miste sit arbejde, hvis man taler med fagforeninger eller journalister. Derfor har vi valgt ikke at bringe deres egentlige navne.
  • Det samme gælder de arbejdere, der arbejder for underleverandører til Mærsk. Vi kender deres navne og har dokumentation for, at de er ansat af Mærsks underleverandør.
  • Af samme grund viderebringer vi heller ikke navnene på de underleverandører og lokale virksomheder, der har ansat dem.

“Kan du se den container derovre? Vi lægger vores papstykker ned, og så sover vi der”, svarer en lille, lidt ældre arbejder, da han bliver spurgt, hvor han sover.

Det handler om at finde et sted til den sammenfoldede papkasse, hvor der ikke er fare for at blive kørt over af en kran eller et andet køretøj.

Den ældre herre kalder vi for Samson Bitok, og han står sammen med en håndfuld kolleger og venter på, at en traktor skal komme kørende med endnu container, som skal hejses om bord på det gigantiske Mærsk-skib bag dem.

Han flyttede til Mombasa, da han var dreng. Hele hans arbejdsliv har været på havnen, men en kontrakt har han aldrig fået. Og heller ikke ret mange penge.

“Jeg har mange gange prøvet at finde et andet job, på hotellerne og fabrikkerne. Men de siger altid, at de ikke har noget. På havnen siger de okay, de kender mig, de siger, at jeg skal komme i morgen tidlig”.

Han drømmer om at få et pas, så han kan rejse til Dubai for at finde et arbejde, der bedre kan forsørge hans kone og fire børn.

“Livet er vanskeligt i Mombasa. Lige nu prøver jeg at låne nogle penge, så jeg kan rejse hjem og begrave min bror. Men da jeg spurgte chefen, sagde han, at vi skulle vente og se om ikke min familie sender nogle penge til mig”, fortæller han.

Indgangen til Østafrika

Danwatch har besøgt havnen i Mombasa, indgangen til Østafrika og et knudepunkt for verdenshandlen, for at undersøge arbejdsvilkårene for de tusindvis af havnearbejdere, der for få kroner i timen laster og losser vores varer, og sørger for, at morgenkaffen kan finde vej fra kenyanske kaffeplantager til morgentrætte danskeres kaffekopper.

Og det er ikke bare morgenkaffen, der forbinder havnearbejderne i Mombasa med danskerne.

Mærsk, verdens største virksomhed inden for container-shipping, er også en stor spiller på havnen.

Fra hovedkontoret på Esplanaden i København har Mærsk drevet shipping-virksomhed i Kenya siden 1987. Og for de arbejdere på havnen, der er ansat direkte af den danske shippinggigant, har det skabt bæredygtige arbejdspladser med faste forhold, glinsende nyt sikkerhedsudstyr og betalte frokostpauser.

Men for arbejderne, der laster og losser Mærsk-skibe og bærer tunge sække ind i containerne for den danske shippinggigants underleverandører, ser virkeligheden helt anderledes ud.

To kroner i timen og 24 timers vagter

Et af de skibe der sejler containere for Mærsk ligger ved kajen i Mombasa. Den ældre herre, der drømmer om et liv i Dubai og hans sjak er i gang med at laste det.

De mangler ikke kun grundlæggende sikkerhedsudstyr, men også en løn, som de faktisk kan leve af.

“Det er meget vanskeligt. Jeg prøver at forsørge to børn, men det er næsten umuligt”, fortæller en 42 år gammel mand, som også bidrager til at få fragtet containerne ombord på Mærsk-skibet.

Arbejderne er ansat af en lokal virksomhed, der siden 2012 har haft en kontrakt med Maersk Line Kenya om at udføre arbejde i forbindelse med læsning og losning af Mærsk-skibe i Mombasa.

De oplyser alle, at de får en løn på 250 kenyanske shilling for otte timers arbejde. Det svarer til en timeløn på to kroner. Og det er næsten fire gange under minimumslønnen i Kenya.

Hvis vi var i Danmark ville man have givet et påbud om, at de skulle udstyres med sikkerhedssko og hjelme”, siger Hasse Mortensen, tidligere tilsynschef i det danske arbejdstilsyn, der har ført tilsyn med danske havne. (NB: På videoen optræder også arbejdere, som Mærsk ikke har et dokumenteret ansvar for.)

Video: Linda Bournane Engelberth 

”Vi har vores senge herude. De der karton-ting – afrikanske senge”, forklarer arbejdere, der er i færd med at laste et Mærsk-skib. De griner, mens en henter et par usamlede papkasser, og viser, hvad en ”afrikansk seng” er. Foto: Linda Bournane Engelberth

Fordi de ikke kan leve af lønnen, og fordi de er løsarbejdere og arbejder så meget de kan, når et skib er i havn, er det normalt, at de arbejder tre otte-timers vagter i træk.

“Jeg bor oppe nord på. Det koster 100 shilling med færgebussen hver vej, så jeg skal arbejde otte timer, bare for at betale for transporten”, forklarer Samson Bitok som svar på, hvorfor de arbejder så længe ad gangen.

Andre fortæller, at de ikke kan betale husleje, og at de ikke kan købe ris, hvis ikke de arbejder i døgndrift. Mellem vagterne sover de på de sammenfoldede papkasser, før de igen er klar til at tage en ny 24 timers vagt.

Billige hjelme i supermarkedet

Til trods for, at hjelme, refleksveste og sikkerhedssko er et krav fra havnemyndighederne til alle, der opholder sig på havneområdet, mangler arbejderne sikkerhedsudstyr. Et par stykker har udtrådte sikkerhedssko, og der er også et par slidte refleksveste. Resten har det ikke. Ingen af dem har hjelm på.

“Vi har ikke beskyttelsesudstyr. Vi har ikke engang regnjakker, når der er regntid”, siger en arbejder iført en fodboldtrøje.

Samson Bitok fortæller, at han fik hjelm og vest, da han startede i jobbet men ikke har fået nyt, efter det gamle blev slidt op. Andre arbejdere fortæller, at de selv skal skaffe alt sikkerhedsudstyr. Og det er der ikke råd til.

“Sikkerhedssko koster 3.000 shilling (næsten 200 kroner, red.). Jeg har ikke 3.000 shilling. Hjelme er også dyrt. Man kan købe nogle billigere hjelme i supermarkedet, men det er meget dårligt materiale”, siger Samson.

Mandskabet på skibene giver dem nogle gange aflagt sikkerhedsudstyr.

“De hjælper os. Også en gang imellem med mad. Når de er færdige med at spise, giver de resten af maden til sjak-formanden, som deler det med resten af sjakket”.

Hør Samson Bitok fortælle blandt andet, hvordan skibenes besætninger hjælper dem med sikkerhedsudstyr og mad.

Tunge sække og bare fødder

Det er ikke kun nede ved det store Mærsk-skib, at arbejdere, der befinder sig nederst på den sociale rangstige, knokler for Mærsks underleverandører.

Ved et af havnens pakhuse, drevet af en lokal virksomhed, løber arbejdere på bare fødder op og ned ad en provisorisk rampe, der er sat sammen af træpaller. På hovedet bærer de tunge sække, der skal fragtes ind i den ventende container.

Mærsk bekræfter, at de også gør brug af denne underleverandør. For at beskytte arbejderne, der risikerer at miste deres job, har Danwatch valgt ikke at navngive underleverandørerne.

Arbejderne får kun 70 øre for hver sæk, de bærer fra pakhuset og ind i containeren, fortæller en af arbejderne, der har indvilget i at blive interviewet, hvis vi gemmer os bag en lastbil, og ikke bringer hans egentlige navn. Derfor kalder vi ham Jonas.

“Vi arbejdere kan ikke gøre noget, for i morgen skal vi stå her igen og bede om arbejde. Hvis man er en af dem, der taler om bedre løn, så bliver man ‘mærket’. Virksomhederne vil ikke have det – de vil have deres profit”, siger han.

Der er ofte ulykker i varehusene, fortæller Jonas. Nogen falder og brækker et ben, andre træder på et søm. Når der sker ulykker lyver arbejderne og siger, at de havde sikkerhedsudstyr på, da ulykken skete, af hensyn til forsikringen.

“For ikke at skabe problemer for virksomheden”, forklarer han.

1-2-3-4. Hver sæk udløser ca. 70 øre. I højsæson, hvor der er rigtigt travlt, og tempoet er højt, kan der være 2-3 ulykker om dagen i et varehus, fortæller en bærer. 

Video: Linda Bournane Engelberth 

1-2-3-4. Hver sæk udløser ca. 70 øre. I højsæson, hvor der er rigtigt travlt og tempoet er højt, kan der være 2-3 ulykker om dagen i et varehus, fortæller en bærer.
Foto: Linda Bournane Engelberth 

Men jeg kan ikke sætte tal på risikoen for arbejderne i havnen i Mombasa, for det, de fortæller om, ligger jo langt uden for skalaen i de risiko-indeks, vi opererer med.

Anne Helene Garde, professor ved Det Nationale Forskningscenter for Arbejdsmiljø Tweet

Betydelig ulykkesrisiko

Billedmaterialet Danwatch har indhentet fra havnen har vi forelagt for eksperter i arbejdsmiljø og sikkerhed. Hos eksperterne er der ikke tvivl om, at arbejdsforholdene for de mennesker, der laster og losser for Mærsks underleverandører er opslidende og risikofyldt.

“De her arbejdere befinder sig helt nederst i hierarkiet i et arbejdsmiljø, der slider dem ned, samtidig med, at de er udsat for en betydelig ulykkesrisiko. Var vi i Danmark ville man med det samme have givet virksomheden et påbud for manglende sikkerhedsudstyr”, siger Hasse Mortensen, der er tidligere tilsynschef i det danske arbejdstilsyn, hvor han har lang erfaring med tilsyn med blandt andet danske havne.

“De arbejder rigtig mange timer i stræk og sover bag nogle containere. Det giver alle muligheder for træthed, og det nedbryder opmærksomheden. Det er typisk der, at ulykkesrisikoen er stor”, siger Mortensen.

“Udenfor skalaen”

Jane Frølund Thomsen, overlæge og leder for Arbejdsmedicinsk Center på Bispebjerg Hospital, bekræfter, at der er en åbenlys sikkerhedsrisiko for arbejderne, der losser og laster Mærsk-skibe.

“Arbejderne mangler hjelme, det vil sige at der er en risiko for hovedskader. Der må være en vis risiko for nedfald af løstsiddende dele”, siger hun.

Hun reagerer også på, at arbejderne, der bærer sække for en anden underleverandør til Mærsk, ikke har sko på.

“På billedet af arbejdere der bærer sække, er der flere uden sko. Bare fødder medfører stor risiko for at skære sig, eller få noget ned over foden med brud til følge, og sår vil nemt blive inficerede i det miljø”, siger hun, og kommenterer på de tunge løft.

“De meget lange arbejdsdage i kombination med løft af tunge byrder på nakke, skuldre og ryg giver også betydelig risiko for sygdomme i nakke og lænd, som diskusprolaps og slidgigt”, siger Frølund Thomsen.

Også Anne Helene Garde, professor ved Det Nationale Forskningscenter for Arbejdsmiljø, har vurderet materialet Danwatch har indsamlet.

Hun forsker blandt andet i sammenhængen mellem arbejdstid og ulykker.

“Det er velkendt, at lange vagter, få og korte pauser, flere vagter i træk og natarbejde, øger risikoen for ulykker. For eksempel viser nye studier, at risikoen for ulykker stiger med 34 procent , når arbejdstiden overstiger den 12. time. Men jeg kan ikke sætte tal på risikoen for arbejderne i havnen i Mombasa, for det, de fortæller om, ligger jo langt uden for skalaen i de risiko-indeks, vi opererer med”, siger hun.

Uddrag fra Mærsks Code of Conduct for leverandører:

We expect our Suppliers to pay all employees a fair and equal compensation, in accordance with national laws and regulations

We expect our Suppliers to comply with appropriate working hour requirements as established by national law or relevant collective agreements.

We expect our Suppliers to provide a safe and healthy working environment for all their employees.

Good Business Practice: The Supplier ensures that his employees are provided with protective equipment and training, necessary to safely perform functions in their position.

Good Business Practice: The Supplier documents accidents and adjusts its processes to effectively prevent recurring problems.

Good Business Practice: The Supplier has a written contract (or letter) of employment with each employee.

Good Business: Overtime hours are not required, in order for employees to earn a living wage sufficient to meet basic needs.

Good Business Practice: The Supplier ensures by policy and practice that the
maximum working hours in a week shall not – on a regular basis – exceed 48 hours, with a maximum of 60 hours per week, including overtime, unless it is permitted according to applicable laws and regulations, and relevant collective agreements.

Good Business Practice: Employees are entitled to at least one day off per week
and are given reasonable breaks while working and sufficient rest periods between shifts.

I strid med Mærsks egne retningslinier

Mærsk bekræfter, at de to lokale virksomheder er deres underleverandører, men de ønsker ikke at stille op til interview om arbejdsforholdene på havnen i Mombasa.

Derfor er der en række spørgsmål, vi ikke har fået svar på. Vi ville blandt andet gerne vide, om Mærsk betaler sine underleverandører nok til, at de kan betale en ordentlig løn til sine ansatte. Og vi ville gerne have svar på, hvordan det kan være, at Mærsk, til trods for at de hævder at de fører løbende kontrol med om underleverandørers ansatte har korrekt sikkerhedsudstyr, i seks år har haft en underleverandør, der ikke har styr på sikkerhedsudstyr?

Mærsks pressechef Signe Wagner skriver i stedet i en mail, at de “ser med stor alvor på de informationer, I har fremlagt vedrørende vores to underleverandører”.

Forholdene strider direkte mod Mærsks egne retningslinjer for underleverandører, deres såkaldte Third Party Code of Conduct.

Her står der, at underleverandører skal betale en løn, der følger national lovgivning, at de skal stille sikkerhedsudstyr til rådighed, at arbejdere skal have en kontrakt. Og endelig, at det ikke skal være nødvendigt at arbejde overtid for at få en løn, der dækker basale behov.

Igangsætter undersøgelser

Mærsk bekræfter, at begge de omtalte underleverandører er omfattet af selskabets Third Party Code of Conduct. Mærsk skriver også, at de vil blive genstand for en undersøgelse af arbejdsforhold hos underleverandører.

“Skulle vi finde overtrædelser af vores Third Party Code of Conduct, og skulle det vise sig, at vi igennem vores indkøbspraksis har været med til at påvirke i den forkerte retning, så vil vi rette op på dette hurtigst muligt”, skriver Wagner.

Mærsk bryster sig af, at have et globalt Responsible Procurement Program, hvor de følger op på, om kravene til deres underleverandører efterleves. Alligevel har de altså siden 2012 haft arbejdere til at laste og losse Mærsk-skibe uden sikkerhedsudstyr, og under elendige arbejdsforhold.

Det forklarer Mærsk med, at de i deres opfølgning har haft fokus på andre typer af underleverandører.

“I en periode har vi lagt vores fokus på andre typer af leverandører end den, som er omtalt i jeres undersøgelse”.

Kenya Ports Authority, de kenyanske havnemyndigheder, der driver havnen i Mombasa, har ikke besvaret Danwatchs forespørgsler om et interview.

Hele historien delt op i artikler. Bestem selv, hvor du begynder.

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Vietnamese workers get chronical diseases from peeling shrimp for Danish supermarkets. Antibiotic residue has also been found in the shrimps, which poses a global threat https://danwatch.dk/en/undersoegelse/vietnamese-workers-get-chronical-diseases-from-pealing-shrimp-for-danish-supermarkets/ Thu, 13 Sep 2018 09:30:35 +0000 https://danwatch.dk/undersoegelse/vietnamese-workers-get-chronical-diseases-from-pealing-shrimp-for-danish-supermarkets-antibiotic-residue-has-also-been-found-in-the-shrimps-which-poses-a-global-threat/

The full story (almost) in 48 seconds

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A Danwatch investigation

Vietnamese workers get chronical diseases from peeling shrimp for Danish supermarkets. Antibiotic residue has also been found in the shrimps, which poses a global threat

A Danwatch investigation
Tiger shrimps in Danish supermarkets is produced under outrageous conditions in Vietnam. 17 hour shifts at the assembly line and chlorine gas leaves workers with chronic, physical disorders. Supermarkets claim they did not know about the conditions.
Christian Erin-Madsen

Journalist

Christian Erin-Madsen

Journalist

Redaktør:

In collaboration with P1 Orientation
Tiger shrimps in Danish supermarkets is produced under outrageous conditions in Vietnam. 17 hour shifts at the assembly line and chlorine gas leaves workers with chronic, physical disorders. Supermarkets claim they did not know about the conditions.

In Danish

Undersøgelsen er på dansk her. Brug venligst menuen i øverste højre hjørne.

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37-year-old Ngoc Anh is working 83 hours a week on average, pealing shrimp at a Vietnamese shrimp factory. She has chronic sinusitis due to vapors from the chlorine at the factory and her body aches from dragging heavy boxes of shrimps that are sold to Danish consumers in supermarkets such as Rema 1000, Føtex and Netto.

Danwatch has been in Vietnam and interviewed researchers, doctors, health professionals and shrimp workers who paint a picture of a billion kroner industry with massive human costs.

Shrimp workers suffer from chronic sinusitis due to the hard assembly line work, they are sent home for days of fatigue and dehydration, and every month employees faint at the factories. These are the workers who help to secure Vietnam’s booming industry of tiger shrimps.

3F: “Lousy Employer Practice”

Danwatch has asked experts on working environment how they would assess the conditions of the Vietnamese shrimp workers:

“This should only occur under unusual circumstances, such as in disastrous situations, where you have to work long hours, and that is a horrible practice by employers”, says Jesper Nielsen, Head of the International Department at 3F.

Overuse of antibiotics on shrimp farms

Over the past twenty years, global demand for tiger shrimps has led to an intensified shrimp production in Vietnam and this has led to diseases in the dams. This is why antibiotics have been mass-fed to healthy as well as shrimp with diseases.

Therefore Danwatch asked The Danish Veterinary and Food Administration to test 13 different packs of frozen shrimps in their laboratory. All were shrimps bought in Danish supermarkets and produced in Vietnam.

The Danish Veterinary and Food Administration found antibiotic residues in 3 out of 13 packs – more specifically in Coop’s Kæmperejer, Planets Pride Vannamei Shrimp (sold in Meny) and Crown Seafood’s Ocean Delight (sold in Nemlig.com).
All samples were below The Danish Veterinary and Food Administration’s limit values, and the governing body therefore sees no need to follow up.

Antibiotic residues constitutes a problem

Still, every finding of antibiotic residues in food is problematic, says Hans Jørn Kolmos, professor, MD in Clinical Microbiology at The University of Southern Denmark.

“This could lead to increasing treatment difficulties. The more resistance, the more difficult the infections are to treat, the more people die from it. That’s the very elementary calculation”, he says.

Niels Frimodt-Møller, professor, MD in Clinical Microbiology at Rigshospitalet in Copenhagen, also estimates that overuse of antibiotics can have global consequences:

“Resistance is spreading in southern Europe, Africa and Asia and it is happening with a greater speed than new antibiotics is being produced. Especially in India, China and Africa there has been bad examples. This all boils down to not controlling the use of antibiotics, “says Niels Frimodt-Møller.

BACKGROUND

We love shrimps from Vietnam

Danish import of frozen tiger shrimps from Vietnam in 2017

0 millioner kr
0 ton

We import most of tiger shrimps from Vietnam (2017)

The import of frozen tiger shrimps is growing

Source: Danmarks Statistik

What is being presented here does not match our Code of Conduct, and we have already started a dialogue with our supplier to ask for an explanation.

Kasper Reggelsen, media relations manager, Salling Group Tweet

Supermarkets will scrutinize the problems

2.500 tonnes of shrimps was last year imported to Denmark. Of this, about 50 tonnes of prawns ended in Coops stores and 70 tonnes of prawns in Rema 1000 stores.

Danwatch has presented the findings of poor working conditions and overuse of antibiotics to supermarkets and importers. They all say they did not know about the problems before Danwatch contacted them. This even though they all have control mechanisms in place to prevent it from taking place.

Kasper Reggelsen, Media Relations Manager, Salling Group, writes in an email:

“What is being presented here does not match our Code of Conduct, and we have already started a dialogue with our supplier to ask for an explanation.”

Similarly, Kristian Lauge Jørgensen, Director of the shrimp importer Company Lauge Seafood Selection writes in a reply to Danwatch:

“In collaboration with the producer, we will follow up on the conditions you refer to, regarding the social conditions of the companies you have visited. It is important to ensure that employees have organized working conditions that complies with applicable rules in the area”.

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Turkey bars refugees from leaving war-torn Syria with help from EU funds https://danwatch.dk/en/undersoegelse/turkey-bars-refugees-from-leaving-war-torn-syria-with-help-from-eu-funds/ Fri, 23 Mar 2018 17:00:31 +0000 https://danwatch.dk/?post_type=undersgelse&p=25403
A Danwatch investigation
An investigation into hundreds of EU-contracts reveals how the EU is funding military equipment used by Turkey to prevent refugees from escaping the civil war in Syria. The EU are complicit in violating human rights, experts say.
Emilie Ekeberg

Journalist

Research: Ida Emilie Stigaard Bruhn / Translation: Nikolaj Skydsgaard / Photo: Getty Images

Redaktør:

Emilie Ekeberg

Journalist

Research: Ida Emilie Stigaard Bruhn / Translation: Nikolaj Skydsgaard / Photo: Getty Images

Redaktør:

In cooperation with
An investigation into hundreds of EU-contracts reveals how the EU is funding military equipment used by Turkey to prevent refugees from escaping the civil war in Syria. The EU are complicit in violating human rights, experts say.

På dansk?

Penge fra Danmark og EU hjælper Tyrkiet med at spærre krigsflygtninge inde i Syrien

Læs undersøgelsen

Two years ago refugees were roaming Danish highways and arriving on the southern shores of the Scandinavian country with ferries from Germany. Those days are over now.

The diminished flow of refugees entering Europe has been credited to a deal between the EU and Turkey. As part of the deal, the EU pays Turkey 3 billion euro to keep refugees, some fleeing acts of war in Syria, in Turkey and bar them from entering the EU.

But there are other deals with Turkey, that are lesser known: The EU is also supplying Turkey with funds for military equipment, which is being used to hinder refugees from seeking asylum in Turkey and escape the acts of war in Syria.

An investigation into hundreds of EU-contracts conducted by Danwatch and Politiken in collaboration with the European media network, EIC, reveals that EU has supplied Turkey with armoured military vehicles and surveillance equipment for border patrolling worth 83 million euro.

42 civilians killed by the border

Turkey has closed its border to Syria by erecting a three-meter high border wall, which spans 911 kilometres of the border territory between Turkey and Syria. The wall, which will be finished within weeks, effectively prevents Syrians from escaping the acts of war happening in Syria.

The border wall has been built with advanced surveillance equipment, which detects refugees approaching the border. It warns approaching refugees not to advance any further towards the border with powerful speakers. If they do, remote-controlled shooting towers commence firing deadly rounds at them.

Since September last year 42 civilians have been killed while attempting to cross into Turkey from Syria, according to Rami Abdurrahman, director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, UNHCR, confirms that while the number of refugees fleeing Syria is on the rise, it has become almost impossible to cross the border except for severely wounded or sick people.

Violation of human rights

That is a violation, states Thomas Gammeltoft-Hansen, research director at Raoul Wallenberg Institute of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law, and adjunct professor at Aarhus University in Denmark.

“If lethal rounds are fired at refugees trying to cross the border, this is an outright violation of human rights. If the border wall makes it impossible for Syrian refugees to seek asylum, this is another violation of international law, specifically the principle of non-refoulement (no return)”, Gammeltoft-Hansen said.

An investigation into EU-contracts reveals how EU-funds are financing equipment used at the Turkish border to deter refugees. The EU has, among other things, co-financed 82 armoured military vehicles known as Cobra II. The Cobras, equipped with periscope technology, can drive along the wall on the Turkish side and track refugees approaching the wall.

EU and Denmark might be complicit

It could make Denmark and EU complicit, if Turkey is illegally hindering refugees in seeking asylum and even shooting and killing them in their attempt to cross the border illegally“, Gammeltoft-Hansen said.

“EU-countries are in principle complicit, if they know that the equipment is used in a way that violates the refugees’ rights”.

The Danish Minister of Foreign Affairs will not answer questions about Denmark’s potential responsibility, but merely in a written reply to note that “it is a premise for cooperation that this is done in full compliance with EU law and international law and with full respect for fundamental human rights ‘.

A spokesperson for the European Commission said in a written response that the is EU following the situation at the border between Turkey and Syria ‘closely’ and is aware of information about violence at the border “but have not been able to get an independent confirmation from out sources nor from the Turkish authorities’, according to the answer.

Turkey’s Embassy in Copenhagen and the government in Ankara has for a week has not responded to inquiries.

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Massive pollution at Carlsberg brewery in Nepal https://danwatch.dk/en/undersoegelse/massive-pollution-at-carlsberg-brewery-in-nepal/ Thu, 08 Mar 2018 11:50:31 +0000 https://danwatch.dk/?post_type=undersgelse&p=25234
En Danwatch-undersøgelse
Water samples shows depletion of toxic waste water in connection with Carlsberg’s brewery in Nepal. A village nearby the brewery is exposed to soot pollution, which leads to an increased risk of respiratory diseases and cancer. Carlsberg acknowledges pollution, but claim that the problems have been solved.
Emilie Ekeberg

Journalist

Photo: Emilie Ekeberg

Redaktør:

Emilie Ekeberg

Journalist

Photo: Emilie Ekeberg

Redaktør:

In cooperation with
Water samples shows depletion of toxic waste water in connection with Carlsberg’s brewery in Nepal. A village nearby the brewery is exposed to soot pollution, which leads to an increased risk of respiratory diseases and cancer. Carlsberg acknowledges pollution, but claim that the problems have been solved.

In danish?

Massiv forurening ved Carlsberg-bryggeri i Nepal

Læs hele undersøgelsen på dansk.
Find den her

Dead fish in the river. Crops and laundry covered in soot. And black, thick smoke from the smokestacks of the brewery. This is everyday life for poor small-scale farmers in Nepal neighbouring up to Carlsberg’s brewery, which is backed by Danish development funds, and is now dominating the beer market in Nepal.

Nepal is not the only place where there is a downside to Carlsberg’s international expansion. In recent years Carlsberg breweries have polluted its surroundings in Laos, Malawi and China.

Carlsberg acknowledges that they used to have problems with air and water pollution near the brewery in Nepal. They claim that the problems have been corrected after they upgraded the facility’s water purifying plant and educated their employees in how to avoid soot particle pollution.

“We can confirm that the water from the brewery is within the maximum permissible value and has been satisfactorily cleaned. We have no indications of soot particle pollution from the brewery today”, says Kasper Elbjoern, Media Director at Carlsberg.

Yet, water samples collected in December 2017 and March 2018 show otherwise.

The river is polluted

Collaborating with the Danish Broadcasting Corporation (DR), Danwatch have collected water samples near the brewery, which  indicates that a massive pollution into one of the biggest rivers in the country is caused by the Carlsberg brewery. The river is also home to numerous species threatened by extinction.

Danwatch have presented the laboratory tested waste water to experts:

“With reservations to the quality of the water sample and the analysis, the sample shows that there is a source of pollution and that wastewater is being released into the river,” says Hans Christian Bruun Hansen, a professor of Environmental Chemistry at the University of Copenhagen.

“The tests show, that the river is contaminated in connection with the brewery and there is a risk that fish will die from lack of oxygen. The production would most likely had been terminated immediately, had this occurred in Denmark,” says Henrik Rasmus Andersen, a professor and wastewater expert at the Technical University of Denmark (DTU).

Water samples show pollution at Carlsberg-brewery in Nepal

Danwatch and P1 Orientering has collected water samples from the Narayani-river, before and after the Carlsberg brewery’s discharge of waste water. We have sampled the water in December 2017 and in February 2018. Both tests indicates, that the brewery is discharging waste water above the permitted levels of BOD and ammonia, which are two measurements for water pollution.

Water sample 1


Sampled upstream, before the brewery’s discharge of waste water.

Test result December 2017:
Amonia: 0,61 MG/L
BOD: 20 MG/L

Test result February 2018:
Amonia: 0,16 MG/L
BOD: < 0,5 MG/L

Water sample 2:

Sampled downstream, after the brewery’s discharge of waste water.

Test result December 2017:
Amonia: 6,2 MG/L
BOD: 84 MG/L

Test result February 2018:
Amonia: 8,5 MG/L
BOD: 360 MG/L

Risk of respiratory diseases

Based on photos of soot on crops and smoke from the brewery’s smokestack, three Danish experts say that the brewery is also the main source behind damaging air pollution.

“There is, no doubt, a soot particle pollution from the brewery,” says Jane Frølund Thomsen, leading doctor at The Department of Occupational Medicine at Bispebjerg Hospital.

“This type of pollution leads to the risk of respiratory problems such as asthma, COPD and bronchitis, and in the long term an increased risk of lung cancer and cardiovascular diseases,” says Erik Jørs, an associate professor in Occupational and Environmental Medicine at The Southern University of Denmark.

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Chairman of banana exporters: “We comply with all regulations” https://danwatch.dk/en/undersoegelse/formand-for-banan-eksportoerer-vi-overholder-alle-regler/ Fri, 15 Dec 2017 04:35:31 +0000 https://danwatch.dk/?post_type=undersgelse&p=22636
A Danwatch Investigation
Eduardo Ledesma, chairman of Ecuador’s banana exporters, has been working in the banana industry for twenty years and receives us in his office at the port of Guayaquil, the country’s largest city.
Rebeca Calabria

Journalist

Editing: Amalie Linde / Photo: Esteban Barrera (Danwatch) & Jesper Nymark (Danwatch)

Editor:

Rebeca Calabria

Journalist

Editing: Amalie Linde / Photo: Esteban Barrera (Danwatch) & Jesper Nymark (Danwatch)

Editor:

In cooperation with Dagbladet (Norway)
Eduardo Ledesma, chairman of Ecuador’s banana exporters, has been working in the banana industry for twenty years and receives us in his office at the port of Guayaquil, the country’s largest city.

"We uphold internal rules to protect employees, we pay them above the minimum wage of course, we uphold environmental standards, social agreements, banana laws, and social insurance."

Eduardo Ledesma, Chairman of banana exporters in Ecuador Tweet

The banana industry is one of the most important in Ecuador, and a great many people are dependent upon it.

More than 200,000 people pick and pack bananas on the country’s 5737 banana plantations, which sit on about 163,000 hectares of land. According to the industry’s trade organisation in Ecuador, the country accounts for 29% of banana exports worldwide.

Eduardo Ledesma is the chairman of Ecuador’s banana exporters, and he speaks of the pride Ecuadorians feel for the industry.

“Bananas are a point of reference both nationally and internationally, but it is a constant struggle between the government and the producers and exporters.  The country does not appreciate us.  Yes, Ecuadoreans are proud of their bananas, but the government does not give the proper attention to the banana industry.”

What about exports? Will it be better with the EU from now on?

Last year, we exported 319 million boxes of bananas, and this year we will probably be up around 323.  We expect to grow by 2 or 3%.

Who are your most important customers?

We sell the most to Russia, with 25%. To the EU as a bloc, we sell 33%, and then the US with 9%.

"There may be one report or many reports, but it’s not the case. Why have you not gone to Colombia, Costa Rica or Guatemala? The Philippines? India?"

Eduardo Ledesma, Chairman of banana exporters in Ecuador Tweet

How much does a banana cost in Ecuador?

They pretty much give them away in the supermarkets.  They are not sold individually, and a kilo costs about $0.50.  Let’s say about 10 cents per banana.  The supermarkets are the big winners, but they are also the most demanding.  Ecuadorian banana production complies with all international regulations.  We uphold internal rules to protect employees, we pay them above the minimum wage of course, we uphold environmental standards, social agreements, banana laws, and social insurance.  The bananas satisfy EU requirements regarding pesticide tolerance.  The tendency in Ecuador is to remove pesticides corresponding to particular countries’ needs or requirements.  Ecuador does not use products that are not permitted in the EU or the USA.

I can guarantee you that some of the plantations we visited were using pesticides forbidden by the EU.

I don’t know what plantations you visited where you saw pesticides not approved by the EU, that you can make that accusation.  I am not surprised, because anything is possible.  As a trade organisation, we try to persuade our partners to uphold the rules.  All I know is, this is some kind of European terrorism, coming to disrupt and influence the Ecuadorian banana sector.  Why don’t you go to Guatemala, where they pay six dollars, when we pay nearly thirty? Why don’t you go to Guatemala, to influence and annoy them?  We have asked the Foreign Ministry to look at the situation and complain about these organisations trying to damage Ecuador.

Do the pesticides used in Ecuador affect people’s health?

Some do and some don’t.  They must be used according to pesticide regulations. The pesticides that are used here are the same as those used in Guatemala, Colombia, in all countries.  If they are forbidden by the EU, then I can assure you they are not used here.  And in that case, tell me the name of the product and the banana producer.  Tell me who they are.  If you are a good journalist, tell me that.  My partners do not use pesticides that are forbidden in the EU.

"Stop insisting on that, because it’s a lie. I have obviously been present when they are spraying, and no one is so stupid as to do that."

Eduardo Ledesma, Chairman of banana exporters in Ecuador Tweet

We have spoken with workers who find themselves under crop dusters when they are spraying pesticides from the air.

That’s a lie.  That’s a lie, because the workers are notified.  Stop insisting on that, because it’s a lie.  I have obviously been present when they are spraying, and no one is so stupid as to do that.  I tell you, it is a lie.  If you really want to make the truth into a lie (pounds on the table), then let’s end this interview.  I tell you, it is a lie.

We have visited villages where current and former employees of banana plantations live. They say that the planes spray their homes.

It’s not true.  It’s not true… It’s a lie.  There is more pollution in other products than in bananas.  Bananas do not contain contaminants, because it’s not people doing the spraying.  The pesticides come from planes using GPS to control where they [the chemicals] land, and how they land.  If they were spraying over populated areas or in an irresponsible way, then people might be hit with it. But this is probably false information from competing countries that want to hurt Ecuador.

Let’s turn to the issue of illness.  The Manuela Espejo report demonstrates that the incidence of illnesses like cancer is significantly higher in banana-producing regions than in others.

That has not been proven.  I do not trust the report from the institution in question.

The Manuela Espejo report also looks at the incidence of cancer and birth defects near banana plantations.

That is not true.  If you continue to ask me about cancer and birth defects, I will continue to deny it, because it is not the reality.  There may be one report or many reports, but it’s not the case. Why have you not gone to Colombia, Costa Rica or Guatemala? The Philippines? India?

What kind of documentation would you require to admit that this is a real problem?

I am certain that there is no such [documentation], and if there is, it has been falsified.  I cannot imagine why I should want to shut down the businesses you have examined.  No.  I believe that my banana farmers uphold all the rules.

The investigation is devided in to articles. You decide where to begin.

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“The chemicals were like a slow death for me” https://danwatch.dk/en/undersoegelse/the-chemicals-were-like-a-slow-death-for-me/ Fri, 15 Dec 2017 04:20:31 +0000 https://danwatch.dk/?post_type=undersgelse&p=22553
A Danwatch INVESTIGATION
Working with bananas ruined his life because the pesticides made him sick, or so the doctors told him. They would not give Efren Velez Cedeño a written medical assessment saying that the pesticides caused his illness, however. According to several workers who spoke to Danwatch, this is a widespread problem.
Rebeca Calabria

Journalist

Editing: Amalie Linde / Photo: Esteban Barrera (Danwatch) & Jesper Nymark (Danwatch) / Translation: Aileen Bramhall Itani

Editor:

Rebeca Calabria

Journalist

Editing: Amalie Linde / Photo: Esteban Barrera (Danwatch) & Jesper Nymark (Danwatch) / Translation: Aileen Bramhall Itani

Editor:

In cooperation with Dagbladet (Norge)
Working with bananas ruined his life because the pesticides made him sick, or so the doctors told him. They would not give Efren Velez Cedeño a written medical assessment saying that the pesticides caused his illness, however. According to several workers who spoke to Danwatch, this is a widespread problem.

At three-thirty in the afternoon, he began to vomit blood.  Then he collapsed.

“I threw up blood five times. The last time I can’t remember,” says 56-year-old Efren Velez Cedeño, describing his last day of work four years ago.

For thirty years, he performed quality control on bananas being exported to places like Denmark and other countries in the EU.  That February day in 2013 was his last on the job.

Cedeño received a diagnosis of cirrhosis of the liver.  Since he seldom drinks alcohol, some other cause had to be at work.  One possible cause is pesticides, and his doctors advised him not to resume work, because his condition could be worsened by ongoing contact with the chemicals.

“The doctors said that it was probably the pesticides that had ruined the inside of my body and ruined my life.  They also said they would examine my case more closely, but they never did,” says Cedeño.

A slow death

Even though the doctors advised him not to return to work because of the presence of pesticides, they would not provide Cedeño with a written assessment to this effect.

“The chemicals were like a slow death for me, they said.  It would be better to take precautions and not be exposed to the pesticides again.  But they wouldn’t give me a written certificate to confirm that it was the chemicals that made me sick,” he says.

“One doctor told me they were just following orders from above,” said Cedeño, but they would not say anything more about what that might mean.

All the people we spoke with who have become ill because of pesticides used in banana production tell the same story: that their doctors tell them unofficially that their illness is caused by pesticides, but when the time comes to get it in writing, the doctors demur.  Bananas mean big money in Ecuador, and few dare to cross such a powerful industry, especially if they live and work in one of the country’s banana-growing provinces.

Cedeño has a wife, two daughters and five grandchildren.  The family lives in a poor neighbourhood in Quevedo, one of the main cities in Ecuador’s banana region.  They live together in one room, which also functions as a kitchen.

On a number of occasions while working on the banana plantations, he was caught in a mist of pesticides, he says.

“It burns the skin.  Stings and itches.  We were never told ahead of time that the planes would be spraying.  Never. We had to try to hide under some plastic or overhang.”

He tries to remain calm as he tells his story.  He must be careful for the sake of his health not to become overexcited.

Danwatch contacted several banana plantations in an attempt to interview their owners.  None was interested in speaking with journalists.

Dreams that never came true

These days, Efren Velez Cedeño worries about his colleagues on the banana plantations.

“There are 200,000 of us that work directly in the banana export business in Ecuador.  How many thousands of us got sick?”

But like all the other workers we spoke with, he feels that he had no other choice.

Cedeño is not a man who wears his heart on his sleeve.  But when we ask him if he regrets having worked on the banana plantation, he swallows an extra time before answering.

“On the one hand, it was worth it, because I provided for my family and it was enough to live on.  But on the other hand, it has been my undoing, because of this sickness.  I hope that if we fight today, while we still live, the coming generations can be spared what happened to me.  I hope they won’t all be contaminated like I was, and that pesticides won’t kill them.  My dreams could not come true. Now I just hope that theirs will.”

The investigation is divided into articles. You decide where to begin. 

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They live and die by bananas https://danwatch.dk/en/undersoegelse/they-live-and-die-by-bananas-2/ Fri, 15 Dec 2017 04:15:31 +0000 https://danwatch.dk/?post_type=undersgelse&p=22644
A Danwatch investigation
A Danwatch investigation
The village of San Pedro de la “Y” is surrounded by banana plantations. Most of its residents work in the banana industry. The bananas are both their livelihood and their curse, because everyone that makes their living on the plantations risks becoming ill as a result. Some even die.
Rebeca Calabria

Journalist

Editing: Amalie Linde / Photo: Esteban Barrera (Danwatch) & Jesper Nymark (Danwatch)

Editor:

Rebeca Calabria

Journalist

Editing: Amalie Linde / Photo: Esteban Barrera (Danwatch) & Jesper Nymark (Danwatch)

Editor:

In cooperation with Dagbladet (Norway)
The village of San Pedro de la “Y” is surrounded by banana plantations. Most of its residents work in the banana industry. The bananas are both their livelihood and their curse, because everyone that makes their living on the plantations risks becoming ill as a result. Some even die.

San Pedro de la “Y”, like any other typical Ecuadorian village along the coast, is surrounded by banana plantations. The sound of the crop dusters spraying the fields with pesticides is routine here.

So are serious illnesses. San Pedro de la “Y” is in one of Ecuador’s three banana-growing provinces, Los Rios, where most of the country’s bananas come from.  There is a markedly higher share of cancers and mortality among pilots here, and more infants born with birth defects than in any other province.

Experts agree that there is a connection between these serious conditions and the planes that spray toxic pesticides over the banana fields.

Toxic pesticides

Several studies document a health risk by living close to and working with pesticides in Ecuador’s banana production

Increased risk of cancer

%

So big is the cancer risk in the banana producing provinces against a 2.4 percent risk in general in Ecuador.

Source: Defensoría del Pueblo, 2007 and environmental organization Acción Ecológica, 2007

Children born with defects

%

of children born in the banana-producing provinces are born with malformations. At a national level the figure is 0.22%

Children born with mental handicaps

%

of the children in the El Oro province are born with a mental disability due to genetic damage. The national level is 0.19%.

It is very difficult to be 100% certain that a specific illness or injury can be blamed on pesticides, but these types of genetic problems are typical consequences of these chemicals. And the significantly higher rates of illness are very striking in these regions.

Adolfo Maldonado, tropical disease specialist from the environmental organisation Acción Ecológica Tweet

In one of the houses lives a woman named Sara.

Like the rest of the people in the village, the family lives humbly. A framed photograph of a man hangs on the wall just inside the door.

“I am his sister,” says Sara. He died as a result of getting pesticides on his face.

A family affected by pesticides

Sara begins to talk about her brother, who is buried in the church cemetery. Shortly before he died, he went to work on the banana plantation.

“It was almost as if the fluid had eaten half of his face. He died shortly after getting pesticide in his face on the banana plantation. The doctors didn’t say anything about what he died from, or whether it had anything to do with the pesticides,” she says.

Sara is 40 years old and has lived here in the village for 13 years. She has trouble holding back her tears when she speaks of her brother. And then she talks about her son, born with multiple handicaps, like many other children in this village among the banana palms.

“My son has heart problems, his testicles did not descend properly, and he has a tumour in his head. It’s all very complicated. He has been operated on once, and needs three more surgeries. Where am I going to get the money for all these treatments?”

Sara’s handicapped son Brandon is ten years old. From a distance, he looks like a five-year-old.

“That’s him. He doesn’t grow very much.” Brandon was born prematurely and spent his first weeks in an incubator.

Some of the health consequences of pesticides, according to toxicologists and epidemiologists, are miscarriages, premature births, birth defects and other handicaps.

But the villagers say that the doctors will not confirm the experts’ assessments, especially not in writing, so it is difficult for local residents to react.

The hardest question

Brandon is in the sixth grade and has just learned to write his name.

“I take him to school so he can make friends,” says Sara.

Her tears begin again as we talk about her son’s future.

“That is the hardest question.  What will become of him when I’m not here any more?  I don’t have an answer to that.”

As we are talking with Sara, we hear planes overhead.  They are spraying the banana plantations around the little village.  According to experts and the villagers themselves, this is where the problems start.

“When we hear the crop dusters, we stay inside.  But they should warn us before they spray.  And yes, they shouldn’t spray over our village, but over the banana plants,” says Sara with a resigned expression.

“We are surrounded by banana plantations, that’s the problem.  I think my son’s problems are connected to the chemicals they’re spraying.  They used to spray right down our well.”

Sara’s husband works on a banana plantation.  “It’s the only work there is around here.”

Sara has never attended school, and can neither read nor write.  She wants to show us the documents from the doctor and the hospital, but cannot understand what they say.  The medical papers do not describe a direct connection between the pesticides and her son’s conditions, something we hear from a number of the other workers and families we interview in the area.

Can there really be no connection between the pesticides and the illnesses and injuries experienced by banana workers?

The experts consulted by Danwatch believe there is a strong connection.

Significantly more illness in banana regions

Adolfo Maldonado nods at the description of Sara’s lack of information about the reasons for her son’s and brother’s injuries.  He has heard it before.

He is a tropical disease specialist and the author of several studies regarding the health consequences of pesticide use experienced by banana workers and local communities in Ecuador.

“It is very difficult to be 100% certain that a specific illness or injury can be blamed on pesticides, but these types of genetic problems are typical consequences of these chemicals.  And the significantly higher rates of illness are very striking in these regions,” says Maldonado.

In 2007, Maldonado was a co-author of a report examining the effects of environmental contamination resulting from these pesticides in the region of Las Ramas-Salitre-Guayas. The report showed that newborns in Ecuador at that time had a 0.22% risk of being born with a birth defect. In the banana provinces, however, the risk was 2.58% – more than eleven times higher.

Sara’s dreams are for her children – that they will go to school and have the choice to work somewhere other than on the banana plantations.

“I just want my children to get an education, so they don’t end up like me.  I hope they won’t end up working on a banana plantation where they spray pesticides, and where the same thing might happen to them as happened to my brother.  He didn’t go to school either – couldn’t write his name – and that’s why he ended up on the banana plantation.”

Outside, the heat is dry and penetrating.  A woman sits nursing her baby just a few meters from edge of a banana plantation.

My child’s illness was caused by the pesticides

In one of the neighbouring houses lives Gregoria Ramírez.  She is 45 years old and worked for 11 years on a banana plantation.  She has four children.

On March 9, 2011, her life and the life of her family changed forever.  Gregoria’s fourth child, Taison, was born with multiple birth defects – a hole in the spine, a missing testicle, and a twisted foot.

“I asked at the hospital what had caused it, and they said it was the chemicals.  They asked me if I had worked with bananas.  I said that yes, I worked on a banana plantation, and so did my husband.  The doctors told me that was the cause.  That if you work with those chemicals and become pregnant, the baby will be born with deformities.”

Like Sara, Gregoria was unable to get the doctors to put their assessment that her son’s conditions were related to pesticides in writing.  But when we show her son Taison’s medical records to specialist Maldonado, he has no doubt.

“These are absolutely typical symptoms of effects from these pesticides,” Maldonado says.

Gregoria has not been back to work on the plantation since Taison was born. She dedicates all her time to caring for her son, who is now six years old.  He still uses a diaper, and probably will for the rest of his life, Gregoria says.

“Who knows how long he will live,” she says.

Her husband and two of their children still work on the plantation.  He declined to be interviewed by Danwatch, because he is afraid of losing his job or getting into trouble for speaking with a journalist about such things.

“It is wrong of them to spray”

Here in the village, the community is accustomed to the weekly flights of the crop dusters.

“It is wrong of them to spray.  When the crop dusters come, we hurry into the house because it stinks.  The smell gets into the house as well.  The fluid sticks to the plants and floats on the water in the river like oil.  I think it’s wrong, but there’s no other work here.  They have to work there.”

So says another of Gregoria’s neighbours, Cerilo Calderón.  He was fired from the banana plantation a few years ago after losing his sight.  He believes it was because of the pesticides, but he has no written diagnosis to back him up.

All the houses in the village have similar stories to tell, and all the stories revolve around the words sickness, bananas, and pesticides.

“I just hope my son doesn’t end up like me”

We also meet a 28-year-old banana worker, whom we will call David, who wished to remain anonymous out of fear of losing his job and getting in other trouble.  He has worked clearing out damaged banana plants for three years.

David lives 200 meters from a banana plantation and sits facing the road with his sleeping three-month-old son.

“I want the best for my son.  I don’t want him to end up like me, working on a banana plantation,” David says.

He is very aware of the many chemicals involved in the work he does.

“When they spray from the air and we are working down below, our entire body starts to itch.  They spray some really strong chemicals.”

Gramoxone, Basta, Glyphosate. David knows the names, and knows it’s poisonous stuff, he says.  But what good does that do him?

“There is no other work for us poor people with no education.  It is the only way I can earn enough money to provide for my family.”

The investigation is divided into articles. You decide where to begin.
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