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The United Nations Special Procedures have raised serious concerns over the human rights impacts of the controversial Don Sahong Dam under construction on the Mekong River in Laos. A report detailing these concerns has been submitted to the Human Rights Council for consideration at its 32nd session, which commenced Monday.

The Special Procedures highlight the likely transboundary impacts of the project on the millions of people residing in the Mekong River Basin in Lao PDR, Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam, who are dependent on fish stocks and riverine resources for their food security and survival. 

The report cites allegations that the project poses a considerable threat to local livelihoods, “particularly in relation to [local people’s] right to an adequate standard of living, including the rights to adequate food and housing, the right to the highest standard of physical and mental health, cultural rights, the rights to information and participation; as well as the rights of indigenous peoples.” Despite this, the project is proceeding without adequate environmental and human rights impact assessments and in the absence of meaningful consultations with the concerned population.

“The Mekong River is not just a source of energy and profit, it sustains the basic needs of millions of people. The Don Sahong Dam is a regional human rights concern, with potential transboundary impacts that may affect local communities across the Lower Mekong Basin,” says Maureen Harris, Southeast Asia Program Director at International Rivers. “Given the severity of the risk, the project developers have a responsibility to conduct adequate due diligence and to clearly demonstrate how the project’s impacts will be mitigated, including the damage to fish migration, before construction continues.”

The United Nations Special Procedures jointly wrote to the Government of Laos, the Mekong River Commission, Malaysian project developer Mega First Corporation Berhad, and the Malaysian government raising their concerns in February and again in March 2016. They have not yet received any replies.

Rapid construction is underway on the project and the Hou Sahong channel, a major pathway for year round fish migration, is now blocked, making these concerns both crucial and urgent. Fish are a primary source of food security and income for communities up and downstream. As the main fish migration season begins with the start of the rainy season in mid-June local communities have already noted changes to the river and their fishing practices.

“As the dam has blocked the water channel, the water has become shallow, making it very easy for illegal fisherman to deplete all fish and aquatic animals from the fish pools. Ordinary fisherfolk and families are extremely concerned that they might no longer be able to catch fish to support their lives,” says Sin Kosal, a villager who works for the local fisheries administration in Stung Treng, Cambodia.

“We hope that the report will lead to further international action on the issue within the Human Rights Council,” says Tanja Venisnik, Mekong Legal Coordinator at EarthRights International. “This report reflects the lack of an adequate mechanism in the region to address the human rights impacts of cross-border investment.” 

Read the Special Rapporteur's Report to the Human Right's Council

More information:

International Rivers works to stop destructive dams, improve decision-making processes in the water and energy sectors, and promote water and energy solutions for a just and sustainable world. Since 1994 International Rivers has been working to protect the Mekong River Basin.
The Community Resources Centre (CRC) is a non-governmental organization that is committed to protecting and promoting human rights, community rights and environmental rights. CRC acts as a watchdog on the implementation of international human rights and environmental laws in Thailand and the Mekong Region.
EarthRights International (ERI) is a non-governmental, non-profit organization that combines the power of law and the power of people in defense of human rights and the environment. ERI specializes in fact-finding, legal actions against perpetrators of earth rights abuses, training grassroots and community leaders, and advocacy campaigns.