The reservoir of the controversial Three Gorges Dam in China’s Yangtze Valley will start filling on April 10, aggravating already serious human rights problems in the resettlement areas.

A new report documents that the resettlement problems of this publicly funded dam have not been resolved, and that project construction is linked to systematic human rights violations. At the annual session of the UN Commission on Human Rights in Geneva, International Rivers Network and Friends of the Earth International have called on China to suspend submergence until the project’s human rights problems have been resolved. They have also called on Western governments that fund the dam to ensure that the project comply with international norms.

So far, 640,000 people have been resettled for the Three Gorges Project. An investigative report published by International Rivers Network (IRN) reveals that the record of compensating and rehabilitating the affected people has been abysmal in many areas, and does not meet international standards. “Land and jobs to rehabilitate affected people are no longer available”, says Doris Shen, coordinator of IRN’s East Asia program. “In many cases, resettlement funds have been diverted into other investments, or into the pockets of local officials.”

A submission that IRN and FoE International presented to the UN Commission on Human Rights in Geneva on March 31 documents that the construction of the Three Gorges Project is linked to the systematic violation of human rights. “No independent grievance mechanism exists in which people can claim their right to fair compensation, and the police have used excessive force to quell many protests against the project”, IRN’s policy director Peter Bosshard reported in Geneva. “Many people have been detained, and in some cases sentenced to long prison terms, for engaging in peaceful protests.”

IRN and FoE International presented their demands to the Chinese and Western governments at an NGO briefing at the UNCHR. The groups call for the submergence of the Three Gorges reservoir to be suspended as long as the resettlement and human rights problems remain unresolved. Affected people should not suffer repression for seeking redress for the damage they have suffered, and the people who have been imprisoned for organizing and protesting peacefully should be immediately released.

FoE International and IRN are also holding the governments that have provided funding for the Three Gorges Dam accountable for the human rights impacts of the project. Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, Sweden and Switzerland have extended export credits and guarantees to the tune of more than $1.4 billion for the project. In many cases the governments claimed that their involvement would reduce the risk of human rights abuses. On March 31, the environmental groups called on the involved governments to closely monitor the human rights situation in the project area, and to extend no further export credits as long as the problems have not been resolved.

In response to the IRN report, the Swiss foreign minister committed to “gathering additional information from a variety of sources” on the problems of the Three Gorges Project. Canada’s foreign minister in turn claimed that Canada’s involvement in the project was “minor” and “as a result, our ability to influence project implementation and impacts is very limited”. The other involved governments have so far not responded to the IRN report. “The failure by most Western governments to take any action in the face of serious human rights violations defeats the justification of why these governments got involved in the Three Gorges Project in the first place”, comments Janneke Bruil, coordinator of FoE’s international financial institutions program.


With a planned capacity of 18,200 megawatts, the Three Gorges Dam is the world’s largest power project. More than 1.2 million people and according to some estimates, up to 1.9 million people will have to be resettled for the project. Reservoir filling will start on April 10, and will continue to 2008. Project officials have announced that additional contracts for turbines and generators for the Three Gorges power plant will be tendered before the end of 2003.

Further background information on the Three Gorges Project, video footage of the resettlement process, and photos of the Three Gorges area are available at


Doris Shen, East Asia campaign coordinator, IRN, Berkeley, phone +1 510 848 1155, .

Peter Bosshard, policy director, IRN, Zurich, phone +41 1 491 70 21,