For two years now the No to Veolia Action Group (No2VAG) has been campaigning to keep Veolia at bay in a tender for huge waste contracts in seven north London districts. The North London Waste Authority (NLWA) is planning to award waste contracts with a value of £4.7 billion ($7.5 billion).
No2VAG argues for Veolia’s exclusion because of the company’s role in Israel’s violations of international law. Activists have voiced their opinion during protests in all seven London districts. Legal experts support No2VAG’s view that NLWA has the obligation not to support - direct or indirect - violations of international humanitarian law. Meanwhile, NLWA member councilor Brian Coleman caused a scandal by sending abusive emails to campaigners.
Veolia complicit in Israel’s violations of international law
In January 2011, the Veolia campaign in north London started uniting citizens and groups concerned about human rights such as Amnesty International, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and community groups. Ten months later, the councilors of NLWA received a 19-page legal representations written by British attorney Daniel Machover of Hickman and Rose solicitors.
In June 2012, No2VAG and Jews for Justice for Palestinians (JFJFP) submitted to NLWA a legal briefing note with evidence that Veolia is complicit in Israel’s violations of international law, which forbids the establishment of settlements in occupied territory.
The evidence included Veolia’s provision of services to the Israeli occupation by linking illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank to Israel via the Jerusalem Light Rail and several bus routes, by dumping Israeli and settlement waste in the West Bank. Hickman and Rose solicitors argue in their briefing note that there is every reason for excluding Veolia from public contracts in the UK. All documents are available online.
Meanwhile, No2VAG can count on the support of UN independent expert Richard Falk who recently called at a press conference for a boycott of Veolia until it brings its operations into line with international human rights and humanitarian law and standards.
NLWA member councilor called to order for insulting activists
During the Veolia campaign in north London, the NLWA reached a low point when its member councilor Brian Coleman disrespected an activist “when he alleged that she would have been a member of the fascist blackshirts 70 years ago,” reports Edgeware and Mill Press. Furthermore, Coleman had labeled Israeli-born Ron Cohen as being disloyal for criticizing Israel’s human rights record in an email. A committee that handled the complaints of the activists decided that Coleman had breached the code of conduct for cabinet members and had to apologize in writing. Coleman choose to appeal the decision.
Judge Sally Lister, who ruled on the appeal to the decision, rejected Coleman’s claim that his comments were political and therefore a higher standard of protection applied. Coleman had told Cohen: “I am afraid I will not entertain this anti-Israeli nonsense” and “It doesn’t take much to flush you out.”
“Rather than engage in the actual political issue, the appellant chose to be rude, curt and dismissive in his reply to the complainant,” said judge Lister. She added that Coleman had crossed the line into “personal, offensive and insulting abuse, which lacked any reflective content,” according to a report in Edgeware and Mill Press.
Meanwhile, Coleman proudly advertised Veolia’s role in the Jerusalem Light Rail in a blog post of 17 September, encouraging the British government to breach international law by recognizing that “so called East Jerusalem is not occupied territory but is part of one city and that city is the legitimate capital city of the State of Israel.”
Barnet council removed councilor Coleman from the NLWA in its meeting of 6 November, while No2VAG staged a protest outside against handing the £4.7bn contracts to Veolia.
NLWA is obliged not to support illegal settlements
For two years, north London human rights activists have presented legal arguments to NLWA councilors in favor of Veolia’s exclusion from the north London waste contracts. In October, NLWA wrote in an email to a No2VAG activist that it has no position on either Israel or the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip and therefore it can not take this into account during its procurement.
Furthermore, a spokesperson for NLWA told London website Islington Now that such exclusion is constrained by EU law. “The legal position is very clear and these are not issues that the NLWA can or will in any way take into account,” reports the journal.
But legal experts refute NLWA’s legal position.
Dr. Jeff Handmaker, senior lecturer in law, human rights and development at International Institute of Social Studies of Erasmus University Rotterdam, wrote me this week saying that the NLWA is an organ of state of the United Kingdom. As a state body, NLWA is bound to the UK’s international legal obligations:
This includes the obligation not to support, direct or indirect, violations of international humanitarian law. It is well-documented that the Veolia Corporation colludes with the government and military of Israel. By providing transport and waste disposal services to Israel’s illegal settlements, Veolia directly reinforces Israel’s illegal network of settlements and settlement infrastructure. If the NLWA were to award a contract to Veolia, it would be contravening the UK’s international legal obligations and, furthermore, be turning a blind eye to serious violations of international humanitarian law against Palestinians.
In addition, Daniel Machover wrote me that:
The legal position is indeed clear, but is completely the opposite of the claim made by NLWA. Under EU competition law and the 2006 Public Contract Regulations, a public body will act unlawfully if it directs itself wrongly on its discretionary power to exclude an economic operator from bidding for a contract where that operator has committed an act of grave misconduct in the course of its business or profession; the NLWA can and should take into account the clear evidence of Veolia’s grave misconduct and make a principled and legal decision on whether a company with that track record should be given NLWA business, particularly in view of the UK’s obligation not to facilitate Israeli violations of international law.
I thank No2VAG organizer Yael Kahn for her input to this article.