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Villagers dig in

RIGHTS

A group of villagers are standing their ground by refusing to sell their properties to the owners of one of Germany’s biggest surface coal mines. They're planning to mount a legal challenge against any attempt by energy company RWE to evict them from their homes. It's the first coordinated effort in more than a decade against the expansion of the Garzweiler mine in the western state of North Rhine-Westphalia; the mine threatens 12 villages that are home to 7,600 residents. Demolition of the first four villages is scheduled to begin in 2023.

Under the banner “Human Rights before Mining Rights”, protesters say they will refuse payment offered by RWE for them to be resettled elsewhere. This would mean the company having to apply for formal permission to dispossess the residents; the villagers have said they would then challenge this in court.


A statement, released by the protesters, reads: “After many conversations together, we decided to form a solidarity group, in order to support each other. As just one person, it's almost impossible to go [up against] the pressure exerted by RWE and most people do not have the financial means to engage in legal proceedings. But together, we are finding a way to bring expropriations for coal to an end once and for all — for people and for the climate.”


A parcel of land near the mine will serve as a crucial test case. “We are using this land as an example, to ask the courts about the legal questions of expropriation,” the protesters say. News of the protest has been picked up by the German media. Marita Dresen, a protester from the village of Kuckum, said at a recent press conference: “It breaks my heart when I think about the fact that my entire life could be destroyed by a coal digger.”​

ABOVE Activists in the 'Ende Gelaende' protest block rail tracks belonging to the North-South-Industrial-Spur of Garzweiler in the Rhenish coal mining area in Neurath, Germany, June 23, 2019

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