Mark Thomas reveals the dangers on an oil pipline

If a British company proposed to upgrade and relocate Hell to Ethiopia, new Labour ministers would t

There is a construction project being planned involving UK multinationals which is condemned by Amnesty International and 78 environmental and human rights groups around the world. If it goes ahead, the project will hasten global warming, destroy democracy, increase corporate power, stifle dissent, cause human rights abuses and create refugees. It also appears to be illegal.

All of which means one thing. The deal is supported by the new Labour government. When it comes to dodgy business plans, new Labour's support of them is as predictable as the Church of England's homophobia. If a British company came up with a project to upgrade and relocate Hell itself to Ethiopia, new Labour ministers would be popping up in every trade journal talking of creating jobs and how important it is to have a constructive dialogue with Satan.

The name of the construction project is the Baku-Ceyhan oil pipeline, and the consortium behind it is led by Blair's favourite oil company, BP. And, as the less naive among you will have already surmised, new Labour is considering using taxpayers' money to back this deal. Once again, the secretive and dubious Export Credits Guarantee Department may subsidise a project mired in controversy and environmental catastrophe, this time to the tune of more than £60m.

The pipeline would start near Baku in Azerbaijan and stretch through Georgia to Ceyhan on the Turkish Mediterranean coast. It would pass through or nearby several conflict regions, some of which have a fragile peace - for example, Nagorno-Karabakh, South Ossetia and Chechnya. In the Kurdish part of Turkey through which the pipeline would be built, thousands have been killed and millions displaced by a conflict that ended when the now-disbanded Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) called a ceasefire. It would not take a huge amount to reignite such a conflict, especially given that the area around the pipeline will be a heavily militarised zone. Countries such as Burma, Colombia and Nigeria know only too well the price that comes with the combination of the military and oil. BP should know, too: in Colombia, critics have accused it of complying with the paramilitaries.

The governments of Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey have signed host government agreements over the pipeline which give the consortium's security/military the right to enter any homes in the area if it feels there is a "threat of civil disturbance". Given that the Turkish gendarmes are routinely condemned by the European Court of Human Rights, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to work out that "civil disturbance" could mean anything from a demonstration to a petition, or even a frown, and that "entry into a home" could mean anything from kicking the door down to murdering a family.

These agreements between BP's consortium and the host governments are remarkable because they hand over control of the area to the company. If the countries introduce new environmental, tax or health and safety laws that threaten the "economic equilibrium" (that is, profitability) of the project, they will have to pay compensation to the company or abandon their laws. So, in the area of the pipeline - 1,760km long and 4km wide - an oil company will have more legal power than the national governments.

Campaigners against the pipeline have written to the European Commission in the first step of a potential legal battle, stating that the deal does or will break EU, international and human rights law. The host government agreements would not be legal in the EU and because Turkey's attempt to join the EU involves harmonising with EU law, it follows that its agreement with BP breaks its accession agreements.

However, recent events suggest that even if the project does break international law, Tony Blair is more likely to back it than not.

BP is indeed Beyond Petroleum: it is beyond the rule of law and beyond democracy, too. Not content with crushing people's democratic aspirations and endeavours, BP has the audacity to demand our money to help it along. Now, I accept that some of you might wish to support BP and its endeavours to introduce free-trade legislation via these agreements. But why should the British taxpayer underwrite such an appalling deal? If you want to underwrite BP's project, do it with your own money: in fact, send your donations to Lord Browne, CEO of BP, via the New Statesman, and I shall endeavour to make sure he gets them.

If those in the anti-war movement really do believe that globalisation and its bitter fruit are the roots of conflict, then they must oppose this project. It is not enough to wait for the bullets to start flying before getting the placards ready.

Mark Thomas is a director of the Ilisu Dam Campaign, which is against the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline

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