Dam constructor faces human rights probe

Bangkok Post 19 April 2011

By Apinya Wipatayotin

The company behind the pending construction of the controversial Xayaburi dam could face an investigation into whether the work will breach human rights.

Sripapha Phetmeesri of the Asean Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) said yesterday she would ask the commission to examine the practices of Ch Karnchang Plc, which is set to build the dam in conjunction with the Lao government.

The US$3.5 billion (105 billion baht) project, if approved by the Mekong River Commission (MRC), will see the dam built in Xayaburi, Sainyabuli province, Laos, but will likely also affect eight northeastern Thai provinces along the Mekong River.

The Chiang Khong Conservation Network, a group of villagers from these eight provinces, submitted a petition to Ms Sripapha in Bangkok yesterday to oppose the dam construction.

Ms Sripapha said the AICHR has no authority to directly examine human rights violations of any company in Southeast Asian countries.

However, it can be done through a channel of the AICHR's corporate social responsibility (CSR) framework, which will be endorsed by the commission next month.

"We will not look into the details on how people living along Mekong River will suffer as a result of the dam construction," she said. "But we can examine whether the project's owner, contractor and loan providers have gone against the principle of CSR, which covers the issues of environmental impacts and basic human rights protection."

She said the report's findings will be distributed to the Asean Secretariat Office in Indonesia and related governments.

MRC members Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia are due to meet today to decide whether to approve the dam construction.

Laos signed a memorandum of understanding on the construction of the Xayaburi dam with Ch Karnchang in 2008.

If it goes ahead, the hydropower dam will sell 1,220 megawatts of electricity to the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (Egat) via Loei province once operational.

The Chiang Khong Conservation Network also handed a protest letter to the Lao embassy in Bangkok and to Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva yesterday.

Network member Niwat Roikaew said the Thai government should convince Laos to suspend the project in accordance with an MRC study which recommends halting all dam construction on the Mekong for at least 10 years.

The network also pointed out that construction of the dam would have a severe impact on the river's sensitive ecological system, especially affecting the endangered Mekong giant catfish and the millions of people who make their livelihood from the river.

Pianporn Deetes, a Mekong campaigner with the International Rivers non-government organisation, said the project should not go ahead as a result of the negative findings in environmental impact assessment studies.