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Caucasus: Rights Groups Increasingly Critical Of Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan Pipeline

  • Antoine Blua

The Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline is one of the biggest projects proposed for the Caucasus. But now human rights and environment groups say the pipeline -- due to be completed in three years -- may cause more harm than good. They say the pipeline may make it harder for countries like Turkey to enforce human rights provisions, and the potential environmental problems have not been fully discussed.

Prague, 2 June 2003 (RFE/RL) -- International human rights and environmental groups have criticized the proposed oil pipeline that will run from the Azerbaijani port city of Baku to the Turkish port of Ceyhan.

The $3 billion, 1,800-kilometer "Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan" pipeline is due to be completed in 2005. It is one of the biggest foreign direct investments planned for the region.

The U.K.-based human rights group Amnesty International says, however, that legal agreements governing the construction and operation of the pipeline may hinder countries, especially Turkey, from protecting the rights of workers.

Amnesty's Sarah Green told RFE/RL that Turkey has agreed to pay compensation to the consortium building the pipeline if construction is delayed -- even if the delay comes because of efforts to safeguard workers' rights.

"This means that if Turkey at any time wants to intervene with the construction and the operation of this pipeline, for example to protect worker safety, to inspect the project, to call for young people not to be employed on the project -- those who are underage -- or Turkey might want to intervene in terms of ensuring good compensation for the [30,000] people who have to give up their land. If Turkey intervenes in any of those ways, it will have to pay compensation to [companies in the consortium]. Now this is a huge disincentive [for Turkey] to protect human rights," Green said.

Much of the cost of building the pipeline will have to come from outside, from public and private lenders. The criticism could it make it more difficult for the consortium's companies, such as Britain's BP (British Petroleum), to raise funds.

Green said that Amnesty is asking that an explicit clause protecting human rights be inserted into the pipeline's legal documents.

The governments of Turkey, Azerbaijan, and Georgia have already signed a declaration stating that the construction and operation of the pipeline will comply with international environmental and human rights standards.

This was reinforced by Roddy Kennedy from BP's press office in London. He told RFE/RL that BP is confident the construction and operation of the pipeline will be completed according to international human rights and environmental standards. He said the pipeline will be buried along its entire length and that the land above will be returned to its previous state.

Nevertheless, according to CEE Bankwatch Network, a coalition of environmental organizations from Central and Eastern Europe, the consortium's environmental assessment is inadequate. Manana Kochladze is Bankwatch's Caucasus coordinator and works for the Georgian nongovernmental organization Green Alternative in Tbilisi.

"There was no discussion about an alternative routing of the pipeline," Kochladze told RFE/RL. "The project's sponsors proposed one route. And they tried to justify that [route, by saying] even [though it is] going through very sensitive areas [it] will not damage the environment. But of course, nobody could give any guarantee that there will not be any accident during the 40 years of the project's operation. And there are serious threats to water resources."

In Turkey, Kochladze said, the route crosses several internationally important wetlands, two sites protected under Turkish legislation, and 49 ecologically sensitive areas. In Georgia, environmental activists and scientists are concerned that the pipeline's route goes through the Borjomi Valley, where mineral water is produced and exported. Kochladze said an oil leakage could have a dramatic impact.

The Georgian International Oil Corporation -- the national oil company -- has ensured that all possible safety measures will be applied to avoid contamination of the surface and ground waters.

Activists say they are also concerned that many of the decisions governing the pipeline have been made without proper consultation with local populations. Anders Lustgarten of the London-based Kurdish Human Rights Project told RFE/RL that in some areas -- such as the Kurdish parts of Turkey -- the BP-led consortium did not properly inform local populations.

"We've done four fact-finding missions, which have covered the entire length of the pipeline in different sections. And we found that, although BP has responded to our criticism and has improved consultation in certain areas, in the Kurdish region of northeastern Turkey there's no consultation. It's not possible for reasons of both Kurdish history and modern political oppression for people to say 'no' to the project. So we don't regard consultation as remotely valid in that region," Lustgarten said. "We also don't regard it as valid in Azerbaijan, where people have been publicly pressured and threatened on television by the son of the president, Ilham Aliev, [who is also the first vice president of Azerbaijan's state oil company,] to cooperate [with] the pipeline project."

Lustgarten said local populations along the route of the pipeline will not share fairly in the project's revenues, adding that the project will create few local jobs as workers are being imported from outside.