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NYC Gathering Discusses ISDS, Introduces International Campaign OceanaGold


Individuals from different organizations and solidarity groups in the Philippines, El Salvador and the United States gathered in New York City last July 16 for a discussion on the investor state dispute settlement mechanism and its impacts on peoples. Entitled “Corporate Capture Over Nations: The Investor State Dispute Settlement and People’s Resistance”, the forum also highlighted an introduction to an internationally coordinated campaign against OceanaGold Corporation (OGC), a mining company headquartered in Australia with an existing ISDS case filed against the people of El Salvador.

The event was opened by Nina Macapinlac, regional coordinator of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan – Northeast USA  (BAYAN – New Patriotic Alliance) and one of the co-organizers of the event, who introduced the relevance and importance of a discussion on the ISDS and its impacts, especially in resource rich but less developed countries .

Lauren Waugh, a lawyer from the Columbia Center on Sustainable Investment, shared general background information on the ISDS. According to her, the ISDS as a legal instrument of international law dates back to 1959. Since then it has been included in various bilateral and multilateral trade and investment agreements to induce foreign investment into signing countries.

While there are about 700 publicly known ISDS cases, this may be far less than the actual number of cases filed against host countries since these cases are highy shrouded in secrecy.  In addition, publicly known ISDS cases have seen a spike in recent years, reaching a record high of 70 cases filed in 2015 compared to a maximum of 14 cases known to be file din the 1990s.

Pete Sikora, an actvist who worked for the New York Public Interest Research Group, Consumers Union and the Communications Workers Alliance, followed with a discussion on how the ISDS plays into the neoliberal economic agenda that enriches transnational and multinational corporations at the expense of workers and citizens, especially in less developed countries where ISDS cases are often lodged. According to Pete, the ISDS at the onset is an unequal mechanism that makes it easy for investor-companies to recoup investments and sue governments whereas governments and people have little recourse to sue companies that violate the rights of people and destroy the environment and livelihoods.

To paint a more concrete picture of the ISDS at the local context, Phil Josselyn from the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador (CISPES) shared the experience of the El Salvador people who have resisted the mining aggression of  Pacific Rim Mining Corporation, a Canadian mining company that has exploited El Salvador’s mineral resources since 1994. Community leaders and environmental activists resisted Pacific Rim and fought staunchly to protect their precious water resources frorom further poisoning, and in 2008 a national mining moratorium was issued by the El Salvador government. In response Pacific Rim slapped the government with a $301 million suit in the International Court for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID). An estimated $12 million dollars have been spent by the El Salvador government in legal and other related fees for the suit, which remains unresolved to this day.

Phil also introduced and showed  a short documentary, “Gold or Water: The Struggle Against Metallic Mining in El Salvador”, which featured passionate narratives from El Salvadoreans firmly resisting mining in their land. It showed clips of family members describing how their kin were brutally tortured and killed to silence their dissent against Pacific Rim. It also featured an international solidarity mission of of different groups from Canada, Germany, Australia, and the USA, as well as their pledges of support and solidarity to the people of El Salvador.

The film was followed by an input by Ana Celestial from AGHAM Advocates of Science and Technology for the People and the Secretariat of the International People’s Conference on Mining (IPCM) in the Philippines. She shared the current initiative of the IPCM to coordinate an international campaign against OceanaGold, which is anchored on a five-country-campaign consisting of El Salvador (Pacific Rim was acquired by OGC in 2013), the Philppines, Australia, Canada and Japan. To illustrate the impacts of OGC in the Philippines, she shared the experience of the people of Didipio village Nueva Vizcaya procince against the large-scale mining operations of OGC, where people have seen their waters poisoned and health and livelihoods compromised due to the mining operation. She sought the inputs of participants on possible ways forward, which included continued coordination between diiferent groups and countries with active social movements against OGC, as well as a possible gathering in the upcoming World Social Forum in August 2016 in Montreal, Canada.

The event was ended with a short protest action, with attendees holding up banners calling to #Occupy Oceana.


Related Links:

Occupy Oceana! Solidarity Statement from Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment

Support the Struggle to Stop OceanaGold! Solidarity Statement from International League of Peoples’ Struggle – Philippines Chapter