The EU Delegation to Bosnia and Herzegovina has been asked to condemn the SLAPP lawsuits brought against local activists by a Belgian company due to the environmental impact of their hydroelectric plant on the Kasindolska River.
The Kasindolska River is located about 20 km south of Sarajevo, and BUK doo – a Bosnian company in which Green Invest (a Belgium-based company) is a shareholder – operates a small hydropower plant on the river and plans to build two more .
Since the construction of the hydroelectric plant in 2017, two Bosnian activists have publicly denounced the potential negative impacts on the river and the surrounding environment due to their violation of existing permits, such as uncontrolled deforestation in conservation areas and the soil erosion caused by construction of access roads.
In response, Green Invest/BUK doo filed three defamation suits in which they are seeking €7,500 in damages and threatening further legal action against the activists.
“We view these lawsuits as Strategic Public Participation Lawsuits (SLAPPs), which are increasingly being used by politicians and corporations to intimidate environmental activists and censor critics. Both young women have been targeted by Green Invest/BUK doo for standing up for their communities and their river, and the lawsuit is a clear attempt to silence them and discourage others from speaking out,” said Lejla Kusturica, of the activist environmental organization ACT, BiH.
An open letter signed by 140 organizations and groups from BiH, Europe and the United States was sent on Tuesday to diplomatic representatives of Belgium, the head of the EU delegation in BiH and other relevant international institutions. to express their serious concern about Green Invest and the activities of BUK doo.
According to the letter, the Green Invest/BUK doo factory has been operating without the necessary permits “for some time” while “making a significant profit at the expense of the river and the communities living next to it”, which goes to the contrary to EU environmental legislation. .
Green Invest co-founder and CEO Emmanuel Berryer told EURACTIV that Green Invest is “not only” investing in a project in Republica Srpska for economic reasons and that the project “meets all sustainability criteria and that small hydropower projects well managed in “good agreement with the population” are an essential element of “sustainable supply and energy security of the country”.
Regarding the defamation lawsuits, Berryer said they are “intended to stop the libel against us – corruption, mismanagement, failure to follow rules and permits, misinformation, enrichment, etc. – while we spend a lot energy to respect the laws, trying to make it a successful project, listening to local residents and responding to their interests.
But Ulrich Eichelmann, CEO of Riverwatch and coordinator of the Save the Blue Heart of Europe campaign, disagrees.
“SLAPP suits are part of a growing trend in the region of government officials and powerful corporations abusing the justice system to intimidate and silence human rights defenders and protect themselves from public scrutiny. They unduly restrict free speech and have a significant chilling effect on public participation,” he said of the case.
Hydropower, and especially small hydropower plants, is widely considered unsustainable, especially in the Balkans in the context of climate change. They are also known for the mass displacement of communities and. significant damage caused to the local environment during the construction, operation and final abandonment phase.
The letter urges the EU Delegation to Bosnia and Herzegovina to “encourage the company and its subsidiary BUK doo to immediately drop the charges” and instead choose to “engage constructively with activists and the affected community” .
(Sofia Leeson | EURACTIV.com)