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TWO PAPERS BY ALLAN GEOGE LASSEY
(THIRD WORLD NETWORK, AFRICA SECRETARIAT)
MINING AND COMMUNITY RIGHTS
THE TARKWA EXPERIENCE
A SEMINAR PAPER ON THE SOCIO-ECONOMIC AND ENVIRONMENTAL EFFECTS OF SURFACE MINING
ORGANISED BY ENVIRONMENTAL ACTION GROUP
UST KUMASI, 28 MAY 1999
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Before I say a word to the theme, may I be permitted to express my profound gratitude to the organizers of this all important seminar for granting me this opportunity. The theme for this seminar is more than appropriate in this era where man and environment are being sacrificed for "economic development". It is even more important at a time when attracting foreign investment has become paramount on the government’s agenda - a situation that has led to relegating the environmental component to the background to the detriment of the average Ghanaian.
The history of gold mining in this country dates far back as 1471 but never has there been such a public outcry against mining companies like what we are experiencing today. Ladies and Gentlemen, we are not against gold mining in this country; our primary concern is with the mode of extraction. The relaxation of investment laws and policies has led to the influx of mining and exploration companies on our shores and you will be surprised to know that currently there are 251 licensed companies mining on a total of 58, 167 km2 out of which only 3 are engaged in underground mining with a concession of 603 km2. Believe it or not, 57, 564 km2 is under surface mining with forest areas considered the "hot spots".
Mr Chairman, permit me to share few experiences with my colleagues regarding the cost of surface mining on society as well as the environment and you may agree with me that we should worry about what is happening. One reason why surface mining has recorded so much condemnation is the destruction of large tracts of land for various purposes associated with mining. In the Wassa West district for instance, about 60% of the tropical forest, eight ridges, waterheads and habitat of wildlife have been destroyed and 64 hectares of the Ngueng forest reserve have also been destroyed. This is just one of many cases in the country. Both surface and underground water have been seriously polluted through the disposal and seepage of cyanide and other harmful chemicals posing threat to man, fauna and vegetation. For instance, on Tuesday 18 June, 1996, between 2 pm and 3 pm Teberbie Goldfields Ltd spilled cyanide into the Angonabeng stream, a main tributary of the Bonsa river. This affected nine villages along the river bank and the manner in which the company handled the spillage leaves much to be desired. Mining companies blast rocks once or twice daily and this does not only generate noise pollution but the vibration has created deep cracks in residential buildings and schools. Four schools in the Kwabibirem district, Fiaseman Sec. Sch. in Tarkwa, three basic schools at Bogoso to mention a few, are on the verge of collapsing due to deep cracks in them. Must we allow this to continue?
It is ironic that even with the sharp increase in the number of the mining companies established all over the country, unemployment in the mining areas is growing at a geometric rate and labour rights and welfare are ever deteriorating. Social inequity is further exacerbated by the fact that the indigenous people’s hopes of attaining employment in these mines have all too often proved elusive. Two reasons account for this:
1. The processes involved in surface mining offer few job opportunities for unskilled labour.
2. Where they can be absorbed, they are discriminated against.
These mining companies propose an employment quota for the affected communities as bait to gain local acceptance but consistently fail to deliver. The introduction of surface mining has been characterised by forceful ejection, displacement, relinquishing of farmlands and an outright ban on agricultural activities including farming, hunting and fishing. Believe me the legacy has been acute unemployment associated with a drastic fall in living standards. In effect, people in mining areas are pushed deeper into poverty.
Forests and farmlands have been cleared to give way to surface mining and this has undoubtedly resulted in substantial loss in both food and cash crop production in most communities which were hitherto food producing areas. A ridiculous figure of 9000 was paid as compensation on each cocoa tree which could last for 40 years with economic value of 960,000. Ladies and gentlemen, no compensation was paid to resident of Bodwire Agya, Huniso, Damang, Abekoase, Kojokrom, to mention a few other farmlands.
Also, due to consistent pollution of air, soil, underground and surface water bodies, agricultural activities are adversely affected. In Tarkwa, Ayanfuri, Dunkwa, Esaase and Bogoso, in fact, the list is endless, surface mining has meant for the affected communities famine and impoverishment. From the stage of sufficiency and exporters, they have been made importers of agricultural products. The agricultural sub-sector which has been the backbone of the Ghanaian economy is gradually being killed by foreign investors who have little or no regard for our natural environment.
Mr Chairman, empirical evidence indicates that all the mining companies are singularly responsible for the prevailing diseases in their respective concession areas due to heavy pollution and forest degradation. The process of mining and processing involve activities which give rise to various environmentally-related diseases. During the process of mining, toxic chemicals such as cyanide, arsenic, sulphur dioxide and gases are produced with very serious health consequences on our brothers and sisters in the affected communities. Not only are water sources polluted this way, but poisonous gases are also released freely into the atmosphere giving rise to pulmonary diseases such as tuberculosis and silicosis. Mining-related diseases which have been on the increase since the inception of surface mining include acute conjunctivitis, schitomiasis, mental cases, boils and other skin diseases, and mining related malaria. About 78% of the indigenous people depend on wells, dams, streams and rivers as their main sources of water but now a number of these sources are polluted beyond tolerable limits and can no longer be considered safe. Ladies and gentlemen, for a people of this country to be denied their livelihood, clothed in poverty and plagues with diseases t a time when the government is singing cash-and-carry chorus is plainly and simply murderous!!!
Fellow participants, it may interest you to know that one group seriously hit by surface mining are school children. About 80% of the school-going population living in affected areas are denied social and economic access to education. As the people are ejected, forcefully dislocated and structures demolished, access to education becomes virtually impossible. In Wangarakrom, Ayensukrom and Bodwire Agya the kids cannot even go to school. Another factor is the poverty issue which makes education economically inaccessible. Ladies and gentlemen, if this is allowed to continue, the innocent children will not be educated even at the basic level.
Mr Chairman, ladies and gentlemen, it may interest you to know that probably no other group is more affected by environmental degradation than the rural women as everyday brings with it a long walk in search of water, fodder and fuelwood for the family. Women in different categories: young, old and indeed the pregnant, are caught between poverty and environmental degradation and could be reaching the limits of their physical endurance. Ladies and gentlemen, may I prick your conscience on this important issue. Increasing protests and communities’ resistance against the effects of surface mining have been met with the incidence of militarisation in many parts of the country and this has often led to the worst form of human rights abuse which include rape and various forms of sexual abuse against women committed by military men. This is not only pathetic but a gross violation of women’s rights.
In all humility, Mr Chairman, I would like to make the following recommendations:
- Penalties should be instituted against mining companies for any breach of responsibility using their EIAs as a basis. The penalties can include indefinite suspension of mining operation. I strongly believe this will compel all mining companies to strictly adhere to their mitigation proposals in their EIAs.
- Communities lying within concession areas should form environmental monitoring committee and collaborate with the District Environmental Management Committee to check the activities of the mining companies by reporting any sign of environmental disorder.
- The government must put a permanent embargo on the issuance of mining license to new companies and the expansion of existing ones.
- There should be cross sectoral linkages among mining related institutions, especially EPA, Mineral Commission, Forestry Department, Valuation Board, Min of Mines & Energy, District Assemblies, Traditional Authorities and Opinion Leaders.
- And, above, all, I call on the government to stop what I call the paper solution and move to the ground, find a lasting solution what will ensure a safe environment for today’s generation and the yet unborn.,
Mr Chairman, the issue at hand is synonymous to life and destiny and the more we delay in finding a lasting solution to it, the more we toy with our destiny.
Mr Chairman, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, the time to act is now! I am done.
MINING AND COMMUNITY RIGHTS
THE TARKWA EXPERIENCE
Presented by Allan Lassey
At a seminar on Human Rights Violations in the Extractive Sector organised by the Swedish NGO Foundation for Human Rights, in conjunction with the Institute for Human Rights and Humanitarian Law, Nigeria
October 29-Noveber 5, 2000
Port Harcourt, Nigeria.
The gold rush in the last decade of the last century recorded a series of public outcry against the mining companies operating in Ghana. Mining companies in Ghana are yet to openly acknowledge that the industry is inherently a major pollutant, generates social conflicts and is environmentally destructive.
The growing zeal among developing countries' governments to attract foreign direct investment to the mining sector has led to sweeping reforms in the mineral sector policies of various countries with mixed consequences. Over the last ten years, over forty African countries have changed their mineral sector investment codes to reflect this thinking (Akabzaa 2000). The relaxation of investment laws and policies has led to the influx of mining and exploration companies on the Ghanaian shores.
The mining sector in Ghana is trumpeted in most governmental circles to be the largest foreign exchange earner contributing about 60% of total annual foreign exchange earnings and also accounts for about five per cent of the country's labour force. But the other side of the glitter looks very gloomy. The continuous growth of the sector has instead brought to the people long suffering, human rights violations, humiliation and massive impoverishment.
The requirement that mining companies produce Environmental Impact Assessment (EIAs) is now widely accepted, while the integration of social reporting into this process is gaining support, along with the need to audit and monitor ongoing operations these are now a requirement of all World Bank projects. However, the reality is that communities whose lives are affected by the extractive sector such as Tarkwa have had worse experiences than in the "bad old days". There has been significant escalation of injury on indigenous peoples and class action cases, seeking compensation against mining companies after situations have gone unpredictably wrong.
It has become clear that the powerful transnational mining companies operating in Ghana with little opposition, claim to be remodeling themselves not just as model corporate citizens, but also a new breed of arbiter of human rights. These companies also promise to operate at the edge of environmentally responsible mining practice. Yet they are among the most criticized and most confronted mining companies, operating anywhere on the earth surface. They are undoubtedly, complicit in human rights violations and continue their subversion of the people's self-determination and are redefining human rights and environmental criteria, their own way.
This paper seeks to hammer the human rights dimensions of mining in Tarkwa, a mining town in the Western region of Ghana. Tarkwa has the highest number of (surface) mining companies in sub-Sahara Africa if not the whole world. Mining concessions takes over 70% of total land area of Tarkwa, to the detriment of livelihood. It hosts about eight mining companies including the only bauxite and manganese mines in the country. Most of the gold mining companies in Ghana are multinationals operating surface mining
This paper seeks to examine briefly the constitutional provisions of human rights.
Human Rights Violations - The Tarkwa Experience
* Dislocation of communities
* Pollution of water sources
* Demolishing of communities
* Arbitrary arrest
* Destruction of farmlands
* Court actions
* Formation of Community Based Organisations
Role of State Agencies
Civil Society's Involvement
The Ghanaian constitution provides fundamental human rights such as the right to life, which entails the right to enjoy a qualitative life devoid of any human activities that has the potential to mar or reduce one's quality of life or deny one's life altogether. Respect for Human Dignity; and the right to own a property.
The constitution also provides economic rights, right to education, health among others. It must be noted that rights not expressly provided for by the Ghanaian constitution but which are considered to be inherent in a democracy and intended to secure basic human rights, freedoms and dignity are not excluded. Thus, rights which are guaranteed in international charters and conventions to which Ghana is a signatory, such as the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights and the United Nations International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights will be considered to be part of the national corpus of human rights.
But to what extent are human rights enjoyed in communities whose lives are impacted by mining activities.
HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS - THE TARKWA EXPERIENCE
On December 13, 1999, a combine team of armed soldiers and police, went on rampage at a community near Tarkwa, shot and wounded nine people, arresting anybody they found and destroyed property. Nobody was spared; the old, women, or the sick - they were all subjected to severe beatings. This gross disrespect for human rights was in response to a demonstration against Gold Fields Ghana Limited, a South African company, for toying with the people's livelihood.
On June 5,1999 a school boy lost his life when he fell into an uncovered pit which was dug by Ashanti Goldfields Company (AGC) at Ayanfuri. A lot of such unprotected pits and death traps mostly filled with water exist in many mine concessions posing danger to human life.
In May 1998, Atuabo a farming community near Tarkwa, was demolished to pave way for surface mining. A combined team of armed soldiers and policemen surrounded the entire village at dawn and jolted them out of their sleep. Before they could register any protest, they were all bundled into waiting vehicles with their belongings and dumped at a new settlement of one room house irrespective of one s family size. The local people have also been stopped from carrying out any agricultural activity on their farmlands, which is their main source of livelihood, as a result starvation and impoverishment is staring them in the face.
Furthermore, on April 29, 1998 two community members of Atuabo, near Tarkwa serving on a resettlement committee were arbitrarily arrested by security personnel, and put before a community tribunal on the orders of the Regional Minister for expressing divergent views on resettlement issues involving the Atuabo community and Goldfields Ghana Limited, a South African mining company. - They were considered impediment to attracting foreign direct investment.
In August 1997, a farming village of 45 houses, Nkwatakrom, near Tarkwa was completely demolished by some policemen and a group of thugs allegedly hired by the Ghana Australia Goldfields Limited, now a subsidiary of AGC. Terrified by the demolishing exercise, women and children took to the bush. A two year old who was sleeping was buried alive but was later salvaged when the raiders retreated. Personal effects of these people were also looted. The immediate cause for this action was a complaint made by the community about an offensive odour from the river from which they drink. Apparently, the odour emanated from human excreta discharged from the mining company into the river.
Lastly, on June 16, 1996 after days of torrential rains, the embankment of one of the solution ponds at the Teberebie Goldfields Limited collapsed, sending poisonous torrents of cyanide and other harmful chemicals into a river from which over nine communities depend for drinking and domestic use. Consequently, over fifty (50) acres of farmlands were turned into wastelands of scorched plants. Attempts to recultivate the land proved futile due to toxins in the soil. Several persons who came into contact with the water sustained various degrees of injuries. Aquatic life also came to an end.
It has been established in many circles that there has been a de facto or de jure surrendering (or calculated erosion) of government (developing countries) responsibility to protect the peoples interest starting with the World Band / IMF structural adjustments through globalization, and the relaxation of mineral sector policies of the entire mineral based economies. Set against this background, the communities in Ghana, particularly those in Tarkwa have employed different forms of resistance to human rights abuses in the mining sector in spite of the people weaknesses.
Community responses to corporate violation of human rights or intransigence in Ghana have varied from street demonstrations involving chiefs, through violent clashes, to a pile of court cases lodged over the past six years.
On November 7, 1996 forty two (42) divisional chiefs of the Tarkwa traditional area embarked on a demonstration in protest against surface mining in the area. Their forests are being degraded at an alarming rate turning the once evergreen forests into grasslands with huge craters without any hope of reclamation. The chiefs called for a moratorium on opening of new mines and a closure of irresponsible ones in the Tarkwa traditional area.
Given the level of poverty prevalent in the communities affected by mining, seeking redress from the courts is not a common practice. However, a few cases have been lodged in the courts against mining companies. For instance, attempts by Goldfields Ghana Limited to thwart demands for compensation by two communities in Tarkwa bounced back when a supreme court threw out the motion. Inhabitants of the two communities sued the mining company for forceful ejection, destruction of their farmlands and property. The court submitted that the mining company exhausts all procedures for negotiations with the two communities.
Values of compensation for affected houses; farms and crops have always been issues for negotiations between communities and mining companies. Though, to some extent avenues for negotiations exist communities always suffer intimidation and harassment from mining companies. Currently, a mine development in Kenyasi by Normandy Gold Ghana Limited has been stalled waiting the outcome of negotiations between the affected communities and the mining company.
Communities have in most cases met repression with violence. In July 1999, the people of Manso Nkran besieged the Amansie Resolute mines and prevented the workers from going to work. They went on rampage, blocked the main access roads to the mine in protest against the mine's decision not to allow them to use part of the concession as a thoroughfare; destruction of their farmlands and polluting their source of drinking water. There have been a couple of violent clashes between communities and mining companies, and to some extent this has been an effective tool for the powerless and defenceless indigenous communities.
Formation of Community Based Organisation
The realisation that the communities form a united front with a common purpose to resist mining companies operating on their lands gave birth to what is now known as the Wassa Association of Communities Affected by Mining (WACAM) in October 1998. This association consists of over 34 communities with over 20,000 members. Currently, this group employs all legal means within their reach to resist human right abuses but to what extent can they match the wealth of the mining companies with the state apparatus backing them.
ROLE OF STATE AGENCIES
State agencies have shirked their responsibilities in protecting the people's rights and interests wherever mining and social conflict was concerned. It is therefore not surprising that communities have become very critical of state agencies concerned with these issues. As Akabzaa rightly noted, all the communities affected by mining operations could not hide their resentment for the state agencies. "They described the entire process of negotiations and subsequent relocation exercises as executed in an atmosphere of mistrust between the communities on one hand and the mining companies and government agencies including national security agencies on the other hand. The communities strongly believe that deliberate, heinous, and collaborative machinations were developed by the latter agencies designed to harass, frustrate and intimidate affected communities into accepting packages woefully unsatisfactory to them" Akabzaa 2000.
State agencies such as the Forestry Commission, Environmental Protection Agency, Ministry of Mines and Energy, Ministry of Land and Forestry, Ministry of Food and Agriculture and the Minerals Commission on the other hand, do not coordinate their activities with each other, hence giving so much room for exploitation by mining companies who have no regard for human rights, livelihood and the environment.
It is too soon and simplistic to characterize this struggle as primarily between the local people and the mining companies, but rather between the state and its own peoples.
CIVIL SOCIETY'S INVOLVEMENT
Civil societies have been actively involved in addressing issues pertaining to human right abuses in the Tarkwa area in particular and Ghana as a whole. The Third World Network-Africa, has been one such organisation in this struggle. Friends of the Earth - Ghana among others such as the Centre for Public Interest Law (CEPIL), a law firm that provides free legal service to the communities.
Human fights violation in the extractive sector can be summarised as the deprivation of land; the degradation of biosphere resources on which the people depend for livelihood, and the denial of community self-determination. It is very essential that the threat posed by these Three-Ds should be confronted. Unfortunately, neither the industry's leading pundits nor the international agencies are concerned with these trends. We are now invited to answer to a new agenda, such as "stakeholder participation" aimed at practicing something called sustainable mining. Although this is an oxymoron, the concept is alarming as far as human rights are concerned in the Ghanaian mining sector.
It is time you and I began to reflect on existing policies and fashion them in a manner that takes account of the people's concern.
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