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09.10.2008 Feature Article

Mining becoming Synonymous to `abuse of human rights`

DESPITE THE strenuous efforts of civil society groups coupled with the extensive media coverage on environmental and human rights concerns, diverse forms of human rights abuses are still persistent in mining communities in Ghana.

A recent research conducted by Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ), reveals evidence of awful human rights abuses in mining communities, ranging from widespread pollution of water sources, deprivation and loss of livelihoods, excesses by security agencies and security contractors of the mining companies.

Mindful of Article 36 (1) of the 1992 Constitution of Ghana which stipulates: “All necessary action to ensure that the national economy is managed in such a manner as to maximize the rate of economic development and to secure the maximum welfare, freedom and happiness of every person in Ghana and to provide adequate means of livelihood and suitable employment and public assistance to the needy”, the Commission in undertaking the research acknowledged mining industry in Ghana as a major contributor and player in national development.

However, the Commission believes notwithstanding the industry's positive contribution to national development, its attendant problems, challenges and constraints including human rights abuses in mining areas, if not addressed holistically can undermine the country's juvenile democracy and threaten the benefits of mining for national development.

CHRAJ is Ghana 's National Human Rights Institution, established in October, 1993 following the return to civilian rule to support the new democratic process and foster a culture of respect for fundamental human rights and freedoms in Ghana . Specifically, the Commission is mandated, among others, to: investigate complaints of violations of fundamental human rights and freedoms, injustice, corruption, abuse of power and unfair treatment of any person by a public officer in the exercise of his official duties. Thus, the Commission has the primary responsibility in the country to protect and promote fundamental human rights of all persons in Ghana.

The research revealed that state institutions with regulatory and monitoring responsibility for the mining sector have not performed optimally due to capacity constraints.

The investigations spanned a year's period, covering communities in the Obuasi, Wassa, Bibiani, Ahafo, New Abirem and Bolgatanga areas of the country. In all, 42 communities were covered in the investigations in 4 (four) regions namely; Ashanti , Western, Brong Ahafo and Upper East where major mining activities take place. The research was necessitated by the consistent reports from mining communities of serious violations of fundamental human rights and freedoms in their communities.

The nature and degree of these rights abuses, the research revealed, vary in scale based on a variety of considerations such as the specific company operating in the area; the stage of mining activities, proximity of community to mining and processing facilities, the mining culture of local population; whether one is dealing with large scale or small-scale mining. The research sought to critically examine the broad trends of the human rights situation in mining communities and the underlying reasons for increasing reports of human rights violations in mining areas in the country.

Launched in December, 2006 at a Stakeholders Forum on the “State of Human Rights in Mining Communities”, the year-long study which commenced on March 19 2007 specifically aimed at assessing the human rights situation in the mining communities, examine the extent of pollution of water bodies and causes of environmental degradation as well as promoting cordial relations between mining companies and mining communities.

However a foremost aim of the research, in the long term, is to find solutions to the problem of allegations of abuses of the rights of people living in mining communities across the country.

Dubbed “The State of Human Rights in Mining Communities in Ghana”, the report empirically show evidence of widespread violations of human rights of individual members of communities and communities' collective rights in some mining areas in the country. Some of these identified violations have been profiled for possible thorough follow- up investigations.

The Commission found evidence to conclude that there has been widespread pollution of communities' water sources, deprivation and loss of livelihoods.

Several examples of excesses by the security agencies and the security contractors of the mining companies were provided and documented. Some of these excesses had resulted in serious injuries and were sometimes fatal.

Major findings of the study include inadequate compensation for destroyed properties; unacceptable alternative livelihood projects, absence of effective channels of communications/consultations between companies and communities; excesses against galamseys; health problems attributed to mining, reckless spillage of cyanide, and unfulfilled promises of employment.

The most serious complaints of abuses, the report indicated, came from communities within the operational areas of long history of mining and least in those at mine development phase. While issues of excess force against individuals and of deprivation of livelihoods are more endemic in large-scale mining areas, child labour is absent in these mines but very endemic in small-scale mining areas.

Complaints of human rights violations were more prevalent in communities affected by AngloGold Ashanti (AGA) operations in Obuasi and Golden Star Resource (GSR) operations in Prestea and Dumase. In many of these cases the violations were against alleged galamseys encroaching upon concessions of these companies.

Most mining communities attributed a variety of health problems prevalent in their environment to mining activities. At Obuasi medical officers at the Bryant Mission and Obuasi Government medical facilities acknowledged that some of the diseases prevalent in communities in the periphery of the mine are in part attributable to mining.

Common diseases suffered by community dwellers are skin diseases, chest diseases including TB, diarrhoea and malaria, as well as typhoid. Communities located very close to centres of mining activities like Anyinam claim air pollution makes them experience dizziness and headache.

Mining companies maintain private security personnel to protect their concessions and property from encroachers or trespassers. Apart from the private security of the companies, all the mining companies, with the assistance of the Government (various Regional Security Councils) deploy state security personnel (especially police and military) to protect their property/concessions.

In the case of large-scale concessionaires there is evidence that galamseys are harassed, and inhumanely treated often with the help of state security. The study found evidence to show that AGA Obuasi had engaged state security and used guard dogs in its fight against the encroachment of galamseys. The worse affected communities are (Sansu, Dokyiwa, Binsere, Akatakyieso), where the investigation team received individual complaints. Almost all the companies operating in the communities visited, including AngloGold Ashanti, Abosso Goldfieds Limited, Chirano Gold Mines Ltd, Central African Gold, Ghana Ltd and Bogoso Gold Limited have established permanent posts in their concessions for the military, the police or both. The Military/Police operate from these posts thus established by the companies on rotation bases.

Incidents of police and military excesses occur in mining communities. There were periodic exercises carried out by the Police/military code named “Operation Flush Out”, during which excesses occurred.

ARTISANAL AND SMALL SCALE MINING

The study assessed the state of human rights in the artisanal small- scale mining areas of Yale and Kadema, in the Upper East Region as case studies. The artisanal and small scale mining sector has a complex structure. The existence of simmering conflicts was observed among some of the actors. The involvement of children in artisanal and small scale mining is worrying. Despite efforts by government to regularize the sector, particularly at the Yale area, illegal mining is still pervasive, and poses a big challenge to both registered miners and the Minerals Commission.

RECOMMENDATIONS

The report urges Government and the Ministry of Health to urgently assess the overall health needs of rural communities, especially mining communities with a view to providing health care to these communities in the most efficient manner. The Commission recommends further testing of fruit, fish and bush meat samples from Obuasi, in order to ascertain whether chemical use in mining are present in them.

The Commission called upon the Government to review the use of the military in the mining communities unless in exceptional circumstances which are beyond the control of the police service.

The Commission urges the Office of the Administrator of Stool Lands (OASL) and the Chamber of Mines to take steps to publish an annual report on all mining benefits paid by companies with actual amounts received by the Government of Ghana and traditional authorities. Enhancing transparency in the payment of disbursements and utilization of royalties is indeed critical to building mutual trust between the traditional authorities and their subject and ensuring peace and social harmony in the mining communities.

The periodic announcement by mining Companies of their mineral royalties payments is highly commendable. Apart from this measure, the Commission advises strongly that the Government and the Chamber of Mines should publish in their entirety figures of mining production and all payments made to the state, local government and the traditional authorities.

Giving formal education to children of the mining areas and training and equipping young people with skills other than those fit for digging minerals, the Commission believes, provides a way of opening other job opportunities. This may stem the tide of children and youth engaging in illegal mining.

The Commission however noted that there had been commendable efforts by some mining companies to address some of the problems identified. Some mining companies have provided alternative sources of water for polluted or destroyed ones, established community relations departments to handle grievances of communities, particularly those concerning compensations for destroyed property and the planning of community development projects. Some companies have undertaken specific projects, such as malaria control programme, to address specific health concerns of communities.

WACAM AND CHAMBER OF MINES' POSITIONS ON CHRAJ'S REPORT

Meanwhile WACAM views the report as a “strong document” which establishes social and environmental rights violations in mining communities in Ghana . It however expected that the report should have also captured elements of socio-economic and cultural rights, the loss of forest and farmlands, deprivation of farmers right to sustained economic lives and cultural believes and rights.

WACAM argues, among other things, that community farmers were investors who have invested in their farmlands and farms. “Government disregards these investors and give out lands to foreign investors as if these indigenous investors did not exist. Government granting license to investors without disclosure of information on how community livelihoods would be affected with those investments expose communities to expectations that were never met.

Concerning galamsey, the organization reiterated that historically, artisanal mining is an economic activity, which cannot be wished away. Solving the galamsey problem is not a matter of the use of force but requires a social understanding of what promotes the activity. Meting out brutalities against galamsey suspects cannot be justified by law.

On its part, the Chamber of Mines lauded the objectives of the study but it found the report replete with CHRAJ's personal opinions, which it said was in most cases adverse to the mining companies. According to the Chamber of Mines, statements such as “several examples of recklessness by the Security Agencies and security contractors of the mining companies with accompanying brutalities were given and documented,” did not portray impartial investigations of allegations.

The Chronicle
The Chronicle, © 2008

This author has authored 68 publications on Modern Ghana. Author column: TheChronicle

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