Platform News – Protecting watchdogs across the EU: proposal for an EU anti-SLAPP law

A coalition of non-governmental organisations from across Europe has been working over the past years to raise awareness and urge policy makers to protect public interest watchdogs such as journalists, rights defenders, activists and whistleblowers from Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPPs).

 

SLAPP suits are a form of legal harassment. Pursued by law firms on behalf of powerful individuals, companies and organisations who seek to avoid public scrutiny, their aim is to drain the target’s financial and psychological resources and deter critical voices to the detriment of public participation. Numerous individuals and organisations have in recent years increasingly been targeted via SLAPPs, including the NGO Shipbreaking Platform itself, two of its member organisations as well as individual staff and Board Members, for having revealed illegal waste exports. 

 

Currently, no EU country has enacted targeted rules that specifically shield against SLAPP suits. EU-wide rules providing for strong and consistent protection against SLAPP suits would mark a crucial step forward towards ending this abusive practice in EU Member States and serve as a benchmark for countries in the rest of Europe and beyond. Together with other legislative and non-legislative measures, it would contribute to secure a safer environment for public watchdogs and public participation in the EU.

 

This is why the NGO Shipbreaking Platform, together with other civil society organisations, has engaged a wide range of experts including academics, lawyers, practitioners, SLAPP targets and policy and advocacy specialists, to look into the value added, the feasibility and the key components of possible EU anti-SLAPP legislation.

 

The result of this collaborative work is a model EU anti-SLAPP law proposing a set of rules which, if in place, would make sure that in each EU country SLAPPs are dismissed at an early stage of proceedings, SLAPP litigants pay for abusing the law and the courts, and SLAPP targets are given means and assistance to defend themselves.

 

As democracy and the rule of law come increasingly under pressure in a number of EU countries, this paper supports the call on EU policy makers by the undersigned organisations to urgently put forward an EU anti-SLAPP Directive to protect public watchdogs that help hold the powerful to account and keep the democratic debate alive.

 

Read our anti-SLAPP directive model here.

 

 

 

Press Release – Norwegian ship owner sentenced to prison

Georg Eide convicted for having aided cash buyer in attempt to illegally export toxic ship

 

Last Friday, the Sunnhordland District Court in Norway sentenced ship owner Georg Eide to six months unconditional imprisonment for having assisted scrap dealer Wirana in an attempt to illegally export the TIDE CARRIER (aka EIDE CARRIER and HARRIER) to Pakistan for scrapping. The Court also ordered the confiscation of criminal dividends of NOK 2 million from Eide Marine Eidendom AS.

 

After a decade in lay-up in Norway, the TIDE CARRIER was sold to one of the most well-known cash buyers, Wirana. The intent was to scrap the ship on the beach of Gadani in Pakistan. The NGO Shipbreaking Platform, together with its member organisation Bellona, tipped the police about the imminent illegal export in February 2017. The vessel was arrested upon finding onboard a “last voyage for breaking in Pakistan insurance” issued by Skuld Maritime Agency and two certificates issued on the same day by Marine Warranty Surveyor Aqualis Offshore - one for a voyage with the purpose of refurbishment work in Dubai and one for a last voyage to the scrap yards in Pakistan [1].

"Eide has been charged with complicity in violation of international waste law. The judgement acts as a stark warning that dodgy deals with cash buyers aimed at scrapping vessels on South Asian beaches, where there is no capacity and infrastructure to recycle and dispose of hazardous wastes in a safe and environmentally sound manner, are a serious crime. It also cautions that due diligence is a must for not only ship owners, but also insurers and Marine Warranty Surveyors, to avoid any business relationship with companies that have terrible track records."
Ingvild Jenssen - Executive Director and Founder - NGO Shipbreaking Platform

Waste exports are strictly regulated in Norwegian, European and international law. The purpose is to protect developing countries from the dumping of hazardous wastes and the harm caused to workers, surrounding communities and the environment when toxics are not treated in an environmentally sound manner. Ships contain numerous toxic materials such as asbestos, heavy metals in paints and residue oils. Last year, the Basel Convention Ban Amendment entered into global force, banning the export of hazardous wastes, including end-of-life ships, from OECD to non OECD countries. The EU transposed the Ban Amendment into EU Law in 1997.

 

Waste trafficking linked to shipbreaking is being investigated by enforcement authorities in several EU Member States. It is also being looked at from a transnational point of view via Europol and Interpol. The Norwegian District Court emphasised an increasing need to counter environmental crime. Public Prosecutor Maria Bache Dahl and the judges stressed that there was no doubt that Eide had knowledge that the ship would be scrapped in Asia, and had also provided assistance in preparing for its last voyage [2].

"The scrapping of obsolete ships is a major international environmental problem. As a large maritime nation, it is important that the Norwegian authorities contribute to the fight against this problem. "
Maria Bache Dahl - Public Prosecutor - Økokrim

Eide may appeal the verdict.

 

 

NOTES

 

[1] For more details on the case, see “The controversial case of the Harrier”.

 

[2] In 2019, separate action was taken against cash buyer Wirana who was fined NOK 7 million for having falsified papers to deceive Norwegian authorities about the ship's true destination and its seaworthiness to allow the vessel to leave Norway. Earlier this year, the public prosecutors’ office dismissed the charge and withdrew the penalty charge notice issued to MWS Aqualis Offshore AS for undisclosed reasons.