German human rights organizations sue Ministry of Economics over ECA transparency

Three organizations want to enforce access to information regarding documents on export credit guarantees - Human rights assessments not disclosed
BERLIN, 9 December 2013 – Human rights organizations, Amnesty International Germany, urgewaldand and CounterCurrent have filed a suit against the federal government for the first time.The government had rejected a freedom of information request from the organizations to disclose information on human rights protection in the allocation of export credit guarantees. "The relevant Economics Ministry claims that it takes sufficiently into account the human rights situation on the ground when allocating guarantees. At the same time they refuse to publish the relevant information. "That doesn’t create confidence", says Verena Haan, responsible for business and human rights with Amnesty Germany.
Through the lawsuit at the Administrative Court of Berlin, the three organizations seek to understand how the Federal Government assesses the human rights impacts of the projects they support. In July 2012, they had requested access to the due diligence reports for a number of projects. They asked, for example, about mining and dam projects and power plants in countries such as Kazakhstan, Mauritania, Tajikistan, Azerbaijan and Turkey, as well as for projects in Belarus. "In these countries and sectors human rights violations are likely or even regular. Forced resettlement and environmental destruction take place, labour rights or freedom of expression are ignored. We therefore want to know exactly how the companies and the federal government fulfil their human rights duty of care. However, the federal government treats this information like a state secret" criticizes Regine Richter of urgewald.
The basis of the lawsuit are the Freedom of Information Act and the Environmental Information Act, which are supposed to grant free and unfettered access to information held by administrations. In its rejection of the application the Ministry of Economy cited as reasons the protection of intra-governmental consultations, confidentially collected information, international relations and business confidentiality. "We have made ​​clear that our request is limited to the environmental and social part of the due diligence reports and that we are not interested in further sensitive data. The fact that our request is completely rejected, is unacceptable and contradicts the law. Therefore we are now going to court" explained Heike Drillisch of CounterCurrent.
In 2012 the federal government supported exports and investments of German companies to developing and emerging countries through guarantees worth nearly 30 billion Euro. The Ministry of Economics decides upon guarantees together with the Ministry of Finance, the Ministry for Economic Development and Cooperation and the Foreign Office. The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights of 2011 stress export promotion as an area in which highest human rights duty of care should prevail.