Fighting Rights Abuses

Merowe Dam Refugees in the Sudan

The Merowe dam

The Merowe dam on the Nile is Africa’s largest new dam, creating a one hundred and twelve mile-long reservoir. Merowe has displaced roughly 70,000 of the largely self-sufficient Manasir and other tribal peoples who have traditionally lived along the Nile in farming villages, where they grow dates and other crops. These farmers would like to live along the banks of the lake (reservoir) created by the dam, but the government is making those lands available to others, while relocating the farmers to the Nubian desert.

A number of private companies have been involved with Merowe. Lahmeyer (Germany) and Alstom (France) provided project management and the power turbines, respectively. The Manasir believe that the companies profiting from their involvement in the project have always had a responsibility to not harm local people in the course of their work, and to remedy the violations of the human rights of the Manasir caused by their project.

The Manasir are not consulted

When the project commenced, issues relating to resettlement were decided not in consultation with the affected communities, but through presidential decrees. The demands of the communities have always been modest. The focus has not been on halting Merowe, but on the terms of compensation and resettlement. For years, the dam authority refused to negotiate with the communities’ elected representatives, but instead responded to popular protests with police violence that led to protestor deaths and arrests.


Flooding out the communities: from riverbank to desert

The dam was partly completed in 2006, and the resulting rise in the water level led to the flooding of villages, with families displaced, and crops, livestock, homes, and belongings going underwater. In late 2007, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing issued a statement calling for the companies to halt work on Merowe pending a full and independent investigation of Merowe’s impact on the human rights of the affected communities. The request was ignored. In 2008, the dam was fully completed, and the rise in the water level caused a second round of flooding and displacement. The communities contend that as a result of the 2006 and 2008 flooding incidents, a total of thirty villages were inundated and thousands of families displaced.

Legal help for the Manasir

EDLC was asked to help, ultimately enlisting a team of a dozen lawyers from the U.S., England, and Germany to work on the Manasir’s behalf. After prolonged efforts, Alstom indicated interest in funding reparations, but later abruptly changed course. The law firm of Morrison Foerster represented the Manasir in this effort. In 2014, Alstom pled guilty in the U.S. to federal criminal charges and agreed to a nearly $800 million fine for paying bribes to obtain contracts in numerous countries. The Manasir suspect that to obtain the Merowe contract, Alstom paid a bribe to the Sudanese government, consistently recognized as one of the most corrupt in the world. They have urged the Department of Justice to investigate.

Haberlah village final
In 2010, the Manasir filed a request in Germany for criminal prosecution of Lahmeyer for its role in the flooding. The prosecutor agreed that the legal necessity of an investigation had been established, and proceeded to interview witnesses. However, in April 2016, the prosecutor abruptly changed course and decided to dismiss the case. The Manasir, represented by Morrison Foerster and Krause & Kollegen, appealed that decision, but the appeal was denied in November 2017. Further legal actions are under consideration.

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