German engineering – regardless of the consequences?

Sherri Secondary School for Girls
Sherri Scondary School for Girls, © Ali Askouri
10 June 2013 - On 3 May 2010 ECCHR filed a complaint against two executive employees of the engineering company Lahmeyer International GmbH at the department of public prosecution in Frankfurt am Main. Lahmeyer International GmbH was instrumental in constructing the Merowe dam in Northern Sudan. The criminal accused the two employees of flooding of over 30 villages,  displacing of over 4,700 families, and destroying their livelihood. The Public Prosecutor has since accepted the case.

The Merowe dam construction in the north of Sudan is the biggest hydropower project in Africa to date. According to conservative estimates 40,000 people have been affected by the construction of the dam and the associated resettlements. The German company Lahmeyer International GmbH was responsible for the construction planning, construction supervision and control of the commissioning of the dam and the hydropower plant. Lahmeyer began construction even though the resettlement plans had not been fully negotiated with the affected population - as demanded by international World Bank standards. 

At the time of the commissioning of the first turbines of the hydropower plant at the dam the Sudanese government could not reach an agreement with the affected population group. During the progress of the building project under the aegis of Lahmeyer they were literally displaced from their villages by flooding. Around 4,700 families have been affected by the flooding. They have been robbed of their traditional habitat and livelihood: houses and crops alike have been destroyed, as have livestock and other posessions.

From the point of view of the ECCHR this case is symptomatic of the human rights dangers that result from big infrastructure projects (for example, the right to adequate housing and the right to food and drinking water). Such projects are supposed to serve the respective country, including the local population. However, authoritarian regimes like the Sudanese government under President Al Bashir rarely care about the social and ecological impact for the population affected. In the present case the German company Lahmeyer intensified the inhuman approach of the Sudanese government through its reckless continuation of the building project. The joint responsibility of a German company for such a blatant violation of the human right for adequate housing and food must not go unpunished. As German citizens were involved in the displacement, it is the duty of the German judiciary to act to clarify what occurred.