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May 31, 2024

Punished for Protest: Indian Human Rights Defenders Persecuted in Struggle Against Dhinkia's Steel Mill Project

Executive Summary

For nearly two decades, human rights defenders and residents of the village of Dhinkia Chaaridesh in Odisha, India have faced human rights violations and government repression in connection with government-supported development projects. Starting in 2005, the Odisha government signed an agreement with a South Korean steel company, POSCO, to build an integrated steel project in Odisha, acquiring the land without gaining the effective consent of the indigenous residents. After years of resistance by the local community and alleged government repression against residents who opposed the project, POSCO withdrew from the project in March 2017. However, in June 2017, the Odisha government transferred the land to M/s JSW Utkal Steel Ltd. (“JUSL”) to build an integrated steel plant in the same area.

This report examines the persecution of human rights defenders (HRDs) in Dhinkia following the Odisha government’s transfer of the land to JUSL in 2017. While the primary focus of the report is reviewing the human rights violations against HRDs, understanding the community’s underlying claims is important to understand the context of the HRD rights violations. The report first provides a background on the impacted community’s claims against the project, including the lack of proper consent and compensation given to the community for the acquisition of the land. The report then analyzes the human rights violations that the human rights defenders and residents have faced while exercising their right to protest against the project. This section provides an overview of human rights under Indian and international law and then analyzes specific instances where these rights have been violated throughout the course of the project. The analysis of this report is based on primary and secondary source research and interviews with human rights defenders from the impacted communities.

The findings of this report highlight the ongoing alleged government repression against human rights defenders and residents opposing the JUSL project. Over the course of the project, hundreds of human rights defenders and residents have been arbitrarily arrested, detained, and have cases filed against them. Of those detained, several have alleged torture and ill-treatment in custody as well as a denial of their rights to a fair trial and investigation. Increased police presence within Dhinkia has restricted the movement of the residents and has impacted their ability to exercise their civic freedoms. Peaceful protests organized by human rights defenders and residents have been marred by excessive use of force by police and company supporters and gender-based violence against women human rights defenders.

The report concludes with a set of recommendations for the government of India to address and remedy the widespread and ongoing human rights violations that have occurred throughout the course of the development project.

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