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UN warns Caterpillar that sale of bulldozers to Israel may implicate company in human rights violations.

 



On 28th May 2004 the Special Reporter on the right to food for the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights ­ Jean Ziegler ­ wrote to Jim
Owens, CEO of Caterpillar Inc., to express deep concern "about the actions of the Israeli occupying forces in Rafah and in other locations in Gaza and the West Bank, using armoured bulldozers
supplied by your company."

The letter goes on to outline Caterpillar's responsibilities under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and other international human rights instruments:

"While only States are parties to the Covenant and are thus ultimately accountable for compliance with it, all members of society ­ individuals, families, local communities, non-governmental organisations, civil society organisations, as well as the private business sector ­ have responsibilities in the realization of the right to adequate food. In this context, there is also a concern that allowing the delivery of your D-9 and D-10 Caterpillar bulldozers to the Israeli army through the Government of the United States in the certain knowledge that they are being used for such actions, might involve complicity or acceptance on the part of your company to actual and potential violation of human rights including the right to food."


Caterpillar's worldwide code of business conduct states:

"Caterpillar accepts the responsibilities of global citizenship.
Wherever we conduct business or invest our resources around the world, we know that our commitment to financial success must also take into account social, economic, political, and environmental priorities."


However, when confronted by campaigners, Caterpillar claim that they "have neither the legal right nor the means to police individual use of that equipment." As the Special Reporter points out, where sales to Israel are concerned it is simply not credible for Caterpillar to claim that the end use of their products is not foreseeable, and the company have a duty to prevent such foreseeable misuse. By ignoring this fundamental duty of all citizens, be they corporate or individual, the company is implicating itself in the human rights violations and war crimes being committed in the Occupied Territories.

This strongly worded letter from the UN follows a recent report by Amnesty International advising Caterpillar to "take measures ­ within the company sphere of influence ­ to guarantee that its bulldozers are not used to commit human rights violations, including the destruction of homes, land and other properties",
and echoes the tens of thousands of letters sent to the company by activists in the US, UK and elsewhere. The lack of any credible response from the company has led activists to tackle Caterpillar more directly, visiting company offices, factories, dealerships and trade exhibitions, engaging employees, customers and shareholders in dialogue.

In April, US activists from Jewish Voice for Peace attended the
Caterpillar Annual Meeting in Chicago, having obtained sufficient
shares in the company, backed by the Mercy Investment Program and the Sisters of Loretto, to present the first shareholder resolution in US history examining a corporation's relationship with the Israeli occupation. The resolution did not pass but achieved more than enough support to allow them to refile next year.  After the meeting, Caterpillar CEO Jim Owens wrote a letter to the activists, refusing to meet with Rachel Corrie's parents, saying "I feel we have seen this issue to its conclusion."

Rachel Corrie was crushed to death under the blade of a Caterpillar bulldozer in Rafah, Occupied Palestine, as she stood in front of the home of a local pharmacist, and friend, to prevent it being demolished. The Nasrallah family home survived for nearly a year after Rachelıs death, but was demolished by the Israeli army early in 2004.

Just four weeks after Rachel was killed, Tom Hurndall was shot through the head by an Israeli soldier in Rafah. As with Rachelıs death, the Israeli Army conducted an investigation and exonerated itself of all responsibility for Tomıs shooting. However, Tomıs family and supporters conducted their own investigation and, after a long campaign, the soldier that shot Tom was finally charged on 13th January 2004; Tom died the same day, having spent nine months in a coma. The soldier is currently standing trial in Israel. The Hurndall family strongly urge a similar investigation into the killing of Rachel Corrie and all other innocents killed in this "culture of impunity".

In March and April, actions took place across the world to mark the first anniversary of the killing of Rachel Corrie. In Palestine, activists from the International Solidarity Movement  and the Christian Peacemaker Team remembered Rachel with a 'die-in' at the Erez checkpoint, Gaza. Activists in the US visited Caterpillar dealerships across the US and, the following month, went to corporate headquarters with Craig and Cindy Corrie, Rachel's parents, in an attempt to meet with Caterpillar CEO, Jim Owens. Meanwhile, activists in the UK paid a visit to the Ministry of Defence-owned base of Caterpillar Defence Systems Ltd, in Shrewsbury, and succeeded in shutting down production for the day when management decided to evacuate the buildings rather than observe a three minute silence for Rachel.

More recently, activists from the UK have been attempting to present the Homewrecker of the Year Award to Caterpillar, so far without success. Activists have also targeted the company at their Headquarters, at the DSEi arms fair in London, at a trade fair and in shopping centres and high streets all over the UK.

Other companies supporting Israelıs activities in the Occupied Territories have also been targeted. In April, an 8 month campaign against Rafael, a now-privatised former "support unit" of the Israeli Occupation Forces, culminated in the company being evicted from their central London offices, and this week Caoimhe Butterly, an Irish activist, started a 2 week hunger strike outside of Cement Roadstone Holdings in Dublin to focus attention on direct Irish complicity in the construction of the Apartheid Wall. Joining, visiting or supporting the fast are a number of activists and politicians, including Dennis Halliday, former UN Humanitarian Co-ordinator to
Iraq, Tom Hyland, Senator David Norris and Nuria Mustafa.



Co-signatories:

Jewish Voice for Peace (US) www.jewishvoiceforpeace.org

ISM London & Caterpillar Out (UK) www.ism-london.org

The International Solidarity Movement (Palestine) www.palsolidarity.org

The Tom Hurndall Foundation www.tomhurndall.co.uk

 

June 2004

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