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 persistent in mining communities in Ghana.
A recent research conducted by the 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 the 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.