To counter injustice with legal interventions – this is the aim and daily work of the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR).
ECCHR is an independent, non-profit legal and educational organization dedicated to enforcing civil and human rights worldwide. It was founded in 2007 by Wolfgang Kaleck together with other international human rights lawyers, in order to protect and enforce the rights guaranteed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as well as other declarations of human rights and national constitutions, through legal means.
Together with affected persons and partners worldwide, ECCHR uses legal means to end impunity of those responsible for torture, war crimes, sexualized violence, corporate exploitation and fortressed borders.
Deadly dam breach in Brazil
Berlin/Munich, 17 October 2019 – More than 270 people were killed, the drinking water of thousands of people was contaminated and the environment destroyed when the B1 dam near Brumadinho in Brazil broke on 25 January 2019. Only four months prior, German auditor TÜV SÜD confirmed the dam’s safety when its Brazilian subsidiary issued a stability declaration. For this reason, on 15 October 2019, five of those affected by the dam failure, the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) and MISEREOR filed complaints against the German certification company and one of its employees. The accusations: negligent homicide, private bribery, causing a flood by negligence, and violating supervisory duties. The claim is supported by Brazilian NGOs Associação Comunitária da Jangada and International Articulation of People Affected by Vale.
“The breach was no accident. It was a crime. TÜV SÜD knew that the dam posed a safety risk and still said that the dam was stable. For me, the case is personal: my father was killed in the dam breach. The corrupt safety business has to change – it destroys lives and our planet,” said Marcela Nayara Rodrigues, one of the complainants.
ECCHR found that engineers from TÜV SÜD’s Brazilian subsidiary Bureau de Projetos e Consultoria Ltda identified problems with the dam’s drainage as early as March 2018. Excessive water pressure finally caused the dam to burst in January 2019.
“The lawsuit in Germany in no way changes the Brazilian mine operator Vale S.A.’s liability for the dam failure. TÜV SÜD is jointly responsible for the deaths and environmental damage. This case shows that the certification system fails to ensure safety. More than anything else, it conceals responsibility,” added ECCHR’s Claudia Müller-Hoff who worked on the law infringement complaint against TÜV SÜD and a criminal complaint against a top employee of the company. Lawyers Bernhard Docke and Dr Carsten Mommsen represent those affected in the accessory private prosecution.
Vale S.A., the world’s largest iron ore exporter, rejects all responsibility for the dam failure at its mine, citing TÜV SÜD and the test results of its Brazilian subsidiary. Certifiers’ roles in the global economy are controversial. Companies, such as Vale in this case, pay certifiers directly for safety tests – which inevitably leads to a conflict of interest.
“Human rights due diligence and the care for nature must take precedence over corporate economic interests. The action of TÜV SÜD shows that we urgently need a binding law for corporations to ensure that this is not left to a company’s discretion. That is why we, as part of a broad civil society alliance, are calling for a human rights due diligence law in Germany to hold corporations accountable for human rights violations and environmental damage,” said Pirmin Spiegel, Managing Director of MISEREOR.
In January 2019, a dam burst at an iron ore mine near the small Brazilian town of Brumadinho, killing 272 people. Toxic sludge contaminated large sections of the Paraopeba River, poisoning the drinking water of thousands of people. Only four months earlier, the Brazilian subsidiary of German certifier TÜV SÜD confirmed the dam's safety, despite known safety risks.
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