Monthly Archives: September 2014

Coal mine has heavy impact in Indonesian Borneo

Loren Bell, Mongabay-Indonesia correspondent
September 26, 2014
CV Arjuna coal mine in Makroman. Photo: S. Yutinus Hardjanto.
CV Arjuna coal mine in Makroman. Photo: S. Yutinus Hardjanto.
Baharuddin should be happy. The rambutan and durian trees flanking his home are heavy with fruit. Two hectares of chilies stretch before his house. The price of chili — a staple commodity in Indonesia — has been stable for six months. From his 2,000 plants he hopes to earn 40 million rupiah ($3,400), much of which he wants to invest in expanding his crop. That is, if his farm can survive the threats that have destroyed so many of his neighbor’s.”I would like to grow 10,000 chili plants,” he said with a smile, preferring to remain hopeful about the future, “and from them I can earn 100 million rupiah. I don’t want to work for someone else’s business.”

Baharuddin’s constant quest for better farming techniques has increased yields and improved profits for himself as well as his neighbors. He has established various organizations including the Young Farmers Group, which by 2007 had 28 members jointly managing 30 hectares of rice fields in Makroman, a village in the capitol city of Samarinda, East Kalimantan, Indonesia.

In addition to his chilies and rice, Baharuddin also developed a six hectare fish farm—the first in the province. During its peak production between 2004-2007 he was selling to buyers locally and regionally, bringing in 150 million rupiah ($12,500) each year. His success earned him a spot on the national TV show, “Si Bolang” — a moment he still has a hard time believing.

Dead fish in a body of water contaminated by coal mine waste. Photo: S. Yutinus Hardjanto

In fact, during the early 2000s, Baharuddin claims the area around Makroman was functioning at near optimum. Rice fields, gardens, fish farming, livestock and other agricultural businesses were all successful endeavors producing abundantly, and providing sustainable livelihoods for farmers and ranchers.

“From 1999-2006, Makroman was known as the center of rice supply for Samarinda.” Baharuddin remembers proudly. But, as the reality of the present weighs on him, his smile slowly fades.

Baharuddin watches for a moment as a mist of black dust drifts over his crop. Particles of coal from the mine next door will blanket his plants in a matter of days. He worries about where he will find clean water as the rivers become more polluted. The constant din of trucks and heavy equipment provides a stark contrast the pastoral scene of the early 2000s he has just been describing.

Rice fields near CV Arjuna’s mine. Photo: Rahmat Rahmadi

Mining Comes to Makroman

The mining company CV Arjuna arrived in Makroman in 2007 armed with permits issued form the city government of Samarinda. Their target: coal. The extent of their claim: 1,597 hectares in and around the villages of Sambutan, Makroman and Pulau Atas.

Initially, Baharuddin says, they mined on a small scale, hauling coal out in sacks. However, within a matter of months, excavators and heavy equipment appeared on the scene. They have been operating 24 hours a day since. During first year, the company’s subsidiary, PJP, produced 88,576 tons of coal. In their wake, they left a large gaping hole they refused to reclaim.

The villagers got their first glimpse of the environmental disasters to come when, in 2008, toxic waste leaking from an open tailings pond contaminated the rice fields and waterways of Makroman. Farmers and fisherman within several kilometers suffered grave losses. Production at Baharuddin’s fish farm plummeted as he struggled to keep his fingerlings alive. Combined income from his fish, farm, livestock and orchards dropped to less than 10 million rupiah ($850) per month.

As more mining companies arrived and began clearing the forests in the surrounding hills on a larger scale, flooding soon followed. In December 2010, rice fields were inundated with mud from the fist major flood, destroying that year’s crop. The farmers, recognizing the situation would only be getting worse, began demanding the local government revoke the mining permits. Their concerns were all but ignored.

Coal barge on the Mahakam River near Samarinda. Photo: S. Yutinus Hardjanto

Residents throughout the area now live day and night with the loud noise of heavy equipment while breathing the exhaust and coal dust pumped into the atmosphere. Mining pits butt against villages, carving into community land. As the nearby forests are razed, mice, monkeys, and other wild animals decimate crops in search of food. Flooding events have become more common and widespread, with the city of Samarinda flooded 150 times between 2009 and 2014. Mudslides routinely decimate fields and wash out neighborhoods.

Faced with plummeting yields and a shortage of clean water, many farmers have been persuaded to sell their land to the mining companies rather than struggle against them. However, what they make on the sale is usually gone within a year—leaving them with no money, and no land to earn a living from.

“There are two or three neighbors asking me for a job every day,” Baharuddin says, “So I hire them to help tend the garden, though I don’t know where the money will come from…”

The mining company has repeatedly offered to buy Baharuddin’s 10 hectares—one of the last holdouts of what was once a thriving agrarian district. He claims the company even offered to put him on their payroll if he turned over his land. “Just to join them, with no other responsibilities,” he said.

Baharuddin refused. As a public figure, he feels it is his responsibility to fight the injustice. For him, it is not about the money.

Photo: Rahmat Rahmadi

The High Cost of Coal

According to figures from the National Statistics Agency (BPS) from 2005-2010, the amount of land in Samarinda municipality used for agriculture decreased by an average of 340 hectares per year. By 2010 the area under cultivation was less than 35,000 hectares. Residential areas accounted for 6,000 hectares. Meanwhile, active mining permits totaled 50,736 hectares—an interesting figure, considering the total area of Samarinda is only 78,300 hectare.

From 2006-2010, mining accounted for only 6.3% of the GDP of Samarinda. And, although mining permits had tripled by 2009, the industry’s contribution to the GDP only increased 1% in 2010. At the same time, mining only employs some 6.8% of the population, providing very little economic benefit to the communities suffering the costs of extraction. The direct and indirect expenses caused by mining operations is staggering.

Carolus Tuah, director Samarinda-based activist organization Pokja 30, says that cost of controlling floods between 2008 and 2010 reached 107.9 billion rupiah ($9.1 million) with a large percentage of that coming from the province. Tuah claims the province shouldered the entire 2011-2013 flood relief budget—more than 602 billion rupiah ($50.9 million). At the same time, the constant traffic of heavily laden coal trucks beats apart the city’s roads. According to government data, the cost to repair the Samarinda’s roads topped 37.6 billion rupiah ($3.1 million) in 2011.

Photo: S. Yutinus Hardjanto

In addition to the environmental impact, the health effects of mining on the community of Samarinda are impossible to ignore. The constant presence of coal dust in the air has resulted in an epidemic of respiratory illness. According to government health figures, between 2011 and 2013 over 500,000 people suffered from acute respiratory infections, making it the most prevalent illness in the area. The 2010 census puts the population of Samarinda at only 726,000. Meanwhile, the health department warns that individuals living near the river are at high risk for diarrhea and skin disease due to the high water pollution levels.

A study conducted by the Women Empowerment and Family Planning Agency in East Kalimantan found that mining pollution not only caused increased childhood diseases, but also affected women’s reproductive health. The traditional daily activities of women keep them at home in the fog of coal dust and put them in frequent contact with contaminated water.

Since 2008, eight children in Samarinda have died from falling into unreclaimed mine pits. With their sights set on the next profit, mining companies have historically done very little, if anything, to close, restore, or otherwise mitigate the hazards of old pits before moving on. The gaping holes they leave collect rainwater and toxic runoff, and are often ringed by loose crumbling soil. Some pits are located a stones-throw away from residential areas making them a tempting draw for curious children.

A protest against CV Arjuna’s mine. Photo: S. Yutinus Hardjanto

A Quest for Justice

Fed up with the situation, and the government’s lack of action, the citizens group Samarinda Lawsuit Movement (GSM) took the issue to the court. They filed suit demanding that the mayor of Samarinda, governor of East Kalimantan, and other officials immediately act to save the city from ecological disaster. The 19 plaintiffs included farmers, flood victims, local NGO’s, and religious leaders.

After two years of litigation, the court ruled on July 16, that the defendants were negligent in their obligation to create a healthy living environment. The ruling is based on Indonesian Law 32 from 2009 on environmental protection and management.

Although the results are encouraging — showing the citizens of Samarinda they have another method to get the attention of government officials — the struggle remains.

The defendants have stated they will take the matter under consideration, and form an advisory committee to determine how best to proceed.

Meanwhile, the mining continues. The forests are leveled. The pollution seeps into the river. And Baharuddin shakes coal dust off his chili plants, hoping they will survive until harvest time — hoping he will survive to see the day when Indonesia values its people and its environment above greed and corporate profits.

REFERENCE: Yustinus S. Hardjanto and Rahmadi Rahmad. Fokus Liputan: Bencana Tambang di Samarinda. Mongabay-Indonesia. August 31, 2014


Miners ordered to hand back land to natives in Colombia

Cecilia Jamasmie | September 26, 2014

Colombian soldiers patrol an area controlled by the FARC. (Image from archives)

A Colombian legal tribunal ordered 11 gold mining companies this week to stop operations in the northwest of the country and return the land to Embera Katio tribe, which used to live in the area.

The ruling, RCN reports (in Spanish), is the first of its kind in the South American nation. It restores a 50,000-hectare in the West coast Choco department to the about 7,300 Embera people, which were forced out over the past five years by illegal and violent armed groups.

The decision orders the National Mining Agency, in coordination with the military, to “remove people from outside the community who are carrying out mining activities within the reserve,” a unit of Colombia’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development said in a statement Thursday (in Spanish).

Miners ordered to hand back land to natives in Colombia

Embera girl (Image by

The ruling rescinds any titles and concessions to the area held by companies, including South Africa’s AngloGold Ashanti (NYSE:AU), (JSE:ANG) and local firms Exploraciones Choco Colombia, Gongora and El Molino.

According to the United Nations, the coal and gold-rich country has 87 native tribes, with a bit over 1.3 million members. They are said to be at risk of disappearing because of Colombia’s half-century armed conflict between the government and the FARC, also known as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, which has killed over 200,000 people and displaced millions.

President Juan Manuel Santos Calderon said Thursday his government believes the country would soon be at peace. He has already made peace deals with the FARC and the National Liberation Army, another rebel group, his top political priority.

“If we achieve this — a goal that Colombians have unsuccessfully sought for so long — then there is hope for peace in any part of the world, despite how difficult things can seem right now,” he said in a speech addressing the UN General Assembly.

Santos took the oath of office last month for a second four-year term vowing to finally end the conflict, after an election campaign widely viewed as a referendum on the peace process.


Areva suing over Kakadu

Amanda Saunders
A worker sealing drums of yellowcake at Ranger uranium mine, which is surrounded by Kakadu National Park.A worker sealing drums of yellowcake at Ranger uranium mine, which is surrounded by Kakadu National Park. Photo: Glenn Campbell

French government-controlled Areva – the world’s biggest nuclear company – is understood to be planning legal action against the Australian government over a decision last year to veto mining at its multibillion-dollar Koongarra uranium deposit by including it in the Kakadu National Park.

The claim has the potential to open up the Commonwealth to a payment of hundreds of millions of dollars.

Last March, the Senate passed a bill reversing the exclusion of Areva’s Koongarra uranium deposit from the Kakadu National Park, removing the possibility of future uranium mining there.

The Ranger uranium mine, surrounded by Kakadu National Park.The Ranger uranium mine, surrounded by Kakadu National Park. Photo: Glenn Campbell


The decision was pushed through under the former Labor federal government but was politically uncontroversial and passed the Senate with bi-partisan support. Both major parties committed to the move during the 2010 federal election campaign sparking an angry response from Areva.

At the time Areva said it would seek legal advice over a possible infringement of its property right.

Areva, based in Paris, would not respond directly to questions on whether it was planning legal action, but said it was examining its options following the government’s decision.

“Areva has not yet had any engagement with the federal government nor has the situation changed significantly since the Koongarra Project Area was leased to the Commonwealth in February 2013,” Areva told The Australian Financial Review.

“As this project was part of Areva’s business investments in Australia, we are currently examining the options available to us following this action, in line with normal business practices.”

It was understood the action would be lodged against the Commonwealth in the Federal Court and Areva could attempt to tap a special Commonwealth fund set up for aggrieved parties.

It was understood Areva would seek, at a minimum, to cover its costs on the Koongarra project, which it bought in 1995, and might also sue for compensation for lost earnings, exposing the government to a payment of several hundred million dollars.

The Koongarra uranium project covered 12.5 square kilometres and contained about 14,500 tonnes of uranium at an average grade of 0.8 per cent uranium oxide. It was discovered in 1970 by Canadian-owned Noranda Australia.

Depressed uranium prices recovered to $US36.50 a pound this week, their highest levels since July last year. Prices reached heights of $US138 a pound in June 2007 but crashed after the Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011 in Japan and had been under pressure since. Analysts suggested the market would be in surplus until about 2021.

Areva, which drew about 20 per cent of its revenues from uranium production and had mines in Canada and Niger, was among the big players to have expressed confidence in a price rebound.

Last year’s Senate bill repealed the Koongarra Project Area Act 1981, which excised Koongarra from the Kakadu National Park in the Northern Territory.

At the time, Mr Burke said “mining will be prohibited forever” at Koongarra.

It followed a successful request in 2011 by the Labor government to the World Heritage Committee to expand the World Heritage-listed Kakadu National Park to include land that held the Koongarra deposit. At the time, Areva was understood to have lobbied the Australian government to drop its request.

Areva had also run into grief with the traditional owners of the land, who, rather than take a big payout from the French group, offered the land to the government for inclusion in Kakadu.

The deposit sat near the tourist attraction Nourlangie Rock, a sacred site for traditional owners.

Areva also told Business Day that “we have been a pioneer in uranium exploration and discovery in Australia since the 1960s and are committed to supporting its future development in the country”.

Former Areva boss Anne Lauvergeonwas appointed to the Rio board this year.

A spokesman for Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane said any legal action was a matter for the company.


Canadian court rules aboriginal lawsuit against Rio Tinto can go ahead

Cecilia Jamasmie | September 23, 2014

Canadian court rules aboriginal lawsuit against Rio Tinto can go ahead

Labrador city.

A Quebec judge has ruled that a $815 million (Cdn$900 million) lawsuit by two Canadian aboriginal communities against Rio Tinto’s Iron Ore Company of Canada (IOC), can move forward.

The Innu communities of Uashat Mak Mani-Utenam and Matimekush-Lac John asked the court last March for an injunction against IOC’s unit in Quebec and Labrador to stop all mining. The groups claim the miner has violated their rights for nearly 60 years by operating without their permission.

Quebec Superior Court Justice Marc-Andre Blanchard rejected Rio’s subsidiary’s claim that the Innu had to sue the government instead of the mining company, which is Canada’s biggest producer of the steel-making ingredient.

Canadian court rules aboriginal lawsuit against Rio Tinto can go ahead

Flag of Innu Nation of Quebec and Labrador by TaraTaylorDesign, via Wikimedia Commons. 

The Innu claim that IOC’s mines and other facilities have ruined the environment, displaced members from their territory and prevented them from practising their traditional way of life. They also said the 578-kilometre railway between Schefferville and Sept-Iles has opened up their territory to “numerous other destructive development projects.”

The allegations have not been proven in court.

The Innu said in a news release Monday that they will also contest in court a new mine called “Wabush 3,” which IOC wants to build in the Labrador City area.

The Innu communities have already reached agreements with ArcelorMittal (NYSE:MT), Cliffs Natural Resources (NYSE:CLF), Tata Steel (NSE:TATASTEEL), New Millennium Iron (TSX:NML) and Labrador Iron Mines (TSX:LIM), which provide financial compensation for the mining activities.


Guatemala stokes conflict around mining by failing to consult communities

Amnesty International, News Release

September 19, 2014

Photo: Local leader Yolanda Oquelí, who suffered an assassination attempt on June 2012 due to her involvement, warns the Guatemalan government will be held responsible for any blood spilled.

Released 08:30 (CST) 19 September 2014
The Guatemalan government is fuelling the fires of conflict by failing to consult local communities before awarding mining licences to companies, effectively raising the risk of bloodshed and bulldozing over the rights of its people, said Amnesty International today.

Download ‘Mining in Guatemala: Rights at risk’ here

Guatemala’s mining laws are stoking conflict: now is the moment to act

Send a message urging the President of Guatemala to reform Guatemala’s mining law to bring it in line with international human rights standards.

The report, Mining in Guatemala: Rights at risk, published today, exposes significant gaps in protection for communities affected by mining projects. New legislation put forward by the Guatemalan government not only fails to address widespread concerns among Indigenous and rural communities about a lack of consultation, but includes measures that may exacerbate existing tensions.

“The proposed legislation effectively side-steps the concerns of communities. It does not address the issue of consultation in any meaningful way. If enacted it would essentially mean that communities’ views and concerns continue to be ignored. This is a significant missed opportunity,” said Erika Guevara Rosas, Americas Director of Amnesty International.

Reforms to the Mining Law are currently before Congress having been drafted in 2012. However, the proposed reforms will simply replicate the current loopholes allowing just 10 days for challenges to licence applications, exacerbating the problem of lack of consultation.
Tensions over a lack of fair process and proper consultation have previously led to violent confrontations, with protesters clashing with security guards and police over the proposed mine site.

International human rights standards require that those potentially affected by mining projects must be consulted and adequately informed, and that projects on Indigenous peoples’ land should only proceed with their free, prior and informed consent.

“Analyzing the implications of any mining project takes time, and 10 days to respond to a licence application is not realistic for communities who might be affected and therefore need to examine the proposal carefully,” said Erika Guevara Rosas.

“We’re concerned that the violence seen in the past will continue if a fair and balanced consultation process is not introduced. We are also aware that the rights of Indigenous peoples are not being respected,” said Erika Guevara Rosas.

In many cases, the authorities have failed to thoroughly investigate the death and injury of those protesting against mining projects.

On 13 June 2012, activist Yolanda Oquelí was shot and seriously injured by two unknown assailants. She was returning from a protest over mining when two men on a motorbike cut across her path and fired at her with a pistol. She was hit by one bullet which lodged close to her liver. She survived the attack and went into hiding with her family.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights ordered the Guatemalan government to provide protection to Yolanda Oquelí and her family. Although the Public Ministry opened an investigation into the attack, to date no one has been brought to justice.

“The violence and repression that has taken root around mining in Guatemala cannot continue. The Guatemalan government must ensure that they implement and respect legislation to facilitate dialogue and decision-making between mining companies, state authorities and affected people. Communities must be provided with full and objective information about the benefits and risks of mining in a clear and culturally appropriate manner,” said Erika Guevara Rosas.

“We are also calling on the home governments of foreign-owned mining companies in Guatemala to monitor and hold their companies to account for the human rights impact of their activities, wherever they operate.”

Additional information

Many of the high-profile companies currently operating in Guatemala are subsidiaries of Canadian companies.

Guatemala is still struggling to deal with the legacy of past human rights abuses from the internal armed conflict (1960-1996) when over 200,000 people were killed, including an estimated 40,000 who were forcibly “disappeared”.

Today, Indigenous peoples remain economically and socially marginalised. Land tenure is a particular problem, with Indigenous communities bearing the brunt of acute inequality in the distribution of land.

In Guatemala approximately 30 per cent of the population lives in extreme poverty.
Amnesty International is presenting the report Mining in Guatemala: Rights at risk in Guatemala City today with a delegation comprised of

Alex Neve, Secretary General of Amnesty International Canada, Sebastian Elgueta, Central America Researcher, and Tara Scurr, Amnesty International Canada’s Business and Human Rights Campaigner.

For more information please call: Elizabeth Berton-Hunter, Media Relations 416-363-9933 ext 332


Ixil communities of Nebaj express opposition to US-led extraction in their territory

Thursday, September 18, 2014

“Historically, we have never received the support of the state or the government for our development, which is why it seems fair that we be able to take advantage of our own natural resources in order to improve the living conditions of our people according to our own vision of development.” 

Letter from communities of Nebaj to US-owned Double Crown Resources Inc.

In May 2014, US-owned natural resource exploration and development company, Double Crown Resources, Inc., bought the exclusive rights to all barite production from the Bilojom II mine site located near Salquil Grande, Vicalamá and Tzalbal, three Maya Ixil communities in the municipality of Santa Maria Nebaj. Despite having already presented their formal opposition to the imposition of large-scale projects on their territory to the Guatemalan Congress in 2010, plans to ramp up the extraction of barite, a non-metalic mineral used primarily for petroleum and natural gas drilling and extraction processes, continue.

In response, representatives from the affected communities submitted letters to Guatemalan and international authorities in which they reject the extraction of barite on their communally owned lands and demand respect for the right to consultation and self-determination.

Community representatives meet with the Guatemala Human Rights Ombudsman. Photo NISGUA

NISGUA joined the communities in submitting our own letter to Double Crown Resources (en español aquí) expressing our concern regarding the imposition of mining projects without the free, prior and informed consent of the indigenous population. Likewise, we are concerned by the participation of a US-owned company in the ongoing usurpation and exploitation of Ixil lands and peoples given the history of genocide and forced displacement in the region during the internal armed conflict.

While clandestine extraction of barite from the region known as Corralcub has been occurring illegally since the early 1990s, the involvement of Double Crown Resources, through their relationship with the Mexico-based Geominas de Guatemala S.A., indicates a concerning turning point for the imposition of large-scale extractive projects in the department of Quiché. Double Crown Resources plans to export an estimated 10 thousand metric tons of what they consider to be extremely high-quality barite to their soon-to-be completed processing plant in New Orleans, LA.

Widespread community opposition is focused on concerns regarding the impact on local water sources. During a previous phase of barite extraction beginning in 2003, Geominas utilized dynamite to remove the mineral, causing massive destruction of the natural environment that local communities depend on. Communities explain the impacts stating, “As a result of the constant explosions, the springs from Vijolom II that served the community of Salquil Grande dried up, and thousands of people in the surrounding  communities were left without drinking water.”

In their letter, communities also call into question the legality of the mining licenses given that the land in question is communal property of the ejido of the municipality of Santa Maria Nebaj. “This land is the property, not only of the municipality of Nebaj, but also of each and every citizen of the municipality. This is to say that the land is communally owned and managed by the indigenous farming communities and is protected under the communal system by the communities and peoples, as well as by their municipal authorities.”

NISGUA has provided on-the-ground human rights accompaniment to communities, witnesses and survivors in the municipality of Nebaj since 2001 when the legal case for genocide and crimes against humanity against former general Efraín Ríos Montt was filed. In May 2014, the witnesses and survivors of the Association for Justice and Reconciliation along with their legal team, achieved what many believed was impossible – Ríos Montt was convicted of genocide and crimes against humanity and sentenced to 80 years in prison.

Over the years, we have heard stories from our partners in Nebaj about how the violence of the 1980s sought to eliminate their families and communities through massacres, extra-judicial executions and forced displacement. We have also heard about the ways in which that violent past has continued into the present – how the current attempts to remove the indigenous Ixil population from their ancestral, communal lands ring as alarming echoes of the past.

Certainly the tactics have changed – communities are not attacked with tanks and bombs, but rather by an army of multi-national development firms that threaten their communities with the very same displacement and loss of culture. The opposition to Bilojom II mine is just one of many examples throughout Guatemala in which indigenous communities, in the midst of healing and seeking justice for the deep wounds of the armed conflict, have stood up in defense of their land, livelihoods and culture.


Mining licence was illegal, says Najib Balala

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Mining Cabinet Secretary Najib Balala during a cabinet retreat in Nanyuki on March 5, 2014.


Mining Cabinet Secretary Najib Balala during a cabinet retreat in Nanyuki on March 5, 2014. FILE PHOTO | JOSEPH KANYI |  NATION MEDIA GROUP

In Summary

  • State Counsel Emmanuel Bitta said Mr Balala’s decision was backed by law.
  • Cortec Ltd sued the ministry and Mr Balala for cancelling its special licence to mine niobium at Mrima Hill in Kwale.


Mining Cabinet Secretary Najib Balala has defended his decision to cancel the licence of a mining company which he said had acquired the permit irregularly.

Mr Balala said through his lawyer, Mr Fred Ngatia, that the special mining licence given to Cortec Mining-Kenya Ltd was illegal and that he had a duty to protect public property by revoking it alongside 43 others.

“The legality of the licence and authority to mine issued to the company are in doubt since the land falls under the jurisdiction of the Kenya Forests and the National Museums. No environmental assessment licence has been legally issued to the area in dispute,” said Mr Ngatia.

The lawyer accused Cortec of lying to court that it had spent more than Sh450 million on mining prospects in Mrima Hills in Kwale County.


“Their case is that they have spent vast resources which are at risk of loss but even if that was the case, it will go against the National Environmental Management Authority Act, which demands that before you invest in mining you must obtain a clearance licence,” he said and asked the court to consider the negative conduct of the firm in the dispute.

“The applicant is behaving like they are above reproach. Despite the fact that the CS was acting on the basis of sound advice and in public interest, they have made disparaging remarks which are cruel and unworthy of any person,” he said.

State Counsel Emmanuel Bitta said Mr Balala’s decision was backed by law after he was satisfied that the licence was obtained irregularly.

Mr Taid Ali, representing Basu Mining Company, added a twist to the dispute when he said that the firm was the owner of the disputed mining fields after it got permission from Kwale County Council.

Cortec Ltd sued the ministry and Mr Balala for cancelling its special licence to mine niobium at Mrima Hill in Kwale in August last year.
Hearing continues on Thursday.


World Bank Tribunal Weighs Arguments in El Salvador Mining Dispute

By Carey L. Biron

WASHINGTON, Sep 16 2014 (IPS) – A multilateral arbitration panel here began final hearings Monday in a contentious and long-running dispute between an international mining company and the government of El Salvador.

An Australian mining company, OceanaGold, is suing the Salvadoran government for refusing to grant it a gold-mining permit that has been pending for much of the past decade. El Salvador, meanwhile, cites national laws and policies aimed at safeguarding human and environmental health, and says the project would threaten the country’s water supply.

The country also claims that OceanaGold has failed to comply with basic requirements for any gold-mining permitting. Further, in 2012, El Salvador announced that it would continue a moratorium on all mining projects in the country.

Yet using a controversial provision in a free trade agreement, OceanaGold has been able to sue El Salvador for profits – more than 300 million dollars – that the company says it would have made at the goldmine. The case is being heard before the International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID), an obscure tribunal housed in the Washington offices of the World Bank Group.

“The case threatens the sovereignty and self-determination” of El Salvador’s people, Hector Berrios, coordinator of MUFRAS-32, a member of the Salvadoran National Roundtable against Metallic Mining, said Monday in a statement. “The majority of the population has spoken out against this project and [has given its] priority to water.”

The OceanaGold project would involve a leaching process to recover small amounts of gold, using cyanide and, critics say, tremendous amounts of water. Those plans have made local communities anxious: the United Nations has already found that some 90 percent of El Salvador’s surface water is contaminated.

On Monday, a hundred demonstrators rallied in front of the World Bank building, both to show solidarity with El Salvador against OceanaGold and to express their scepticism of the ICSID process more generally. The events coincided with El Salvador’s Independence Day.

“We’re celebrating independence but what we’re really celebrating is dignity and the ability of every person to enjoy a good life, not only a few,” Father Eric Lopez, a Franciscan friar at a Washington-area church that caters to a sizable Salvadoran community, told IPS at the demonstration.

“This mining process would use some really poisonous substances – cyanide, arsenic – that would destroy the environment. Ultimately, the people suffer the consequences: they remain poor, they are sick, women’s pregnancies suffer.”

Provoking unrest?

The case’s jurisdictions are complicated and, for some, underscore the tenuousness of the ICSID’s arbitration process around the Salvador project.

It was another mining company, the Canada-based Pacific Rim, that originally discovered a potentially lucrative minerals deposit along the Lempa River in 2002. The business-friendly Salvadoran government at the time (since voted out of power) reportedly encouraged the company to apply for a permit, though public concern bogged down that process.

Frustrated by this turn of events, Pacific Rim filed a lawsuit against El Salvador under a provision of the Dominican Republic-Central American Free Trade Agreement (DR-CAFTA) that allowed companies to sue governments for impinging on their profits. While Canada, Pacific Rim’s home country, is not a member of DR-CAFTA, in 2009 the company created a subsidiary in the United States, which is.

In 2012, ICSID ruled that the lawsuit could continue, pointing to a provision in El Salvador’s investment law. The country’s laws have since been altered to prevent companies from circumventing the national judicial system in favour of extra-national arbiters like ICSID.

Last year, OceanaGold purchased Pacific Rim, despite the latter’s primary asset being the El Salvador gold-mining project, which has never been allowed to go forward. Although OceanaGold did not respond to a request for comment for this story, last year the company noted that it would continue with the arbitration case while also seeking “a negotiated resolution to the … permitting impasse”.

For its part, the Salvadoran government says it has halted the permitting process not only over environmental and health concerns but also over procedural matters. While these include Pacific Rim’s failure to abide by certain reporting requirements, the company also appears not to have gained important local approvals.

Under Salvadoran law, an extractive company needs to gain titles, or local permission, for any lands it wants to develop. Yet Pacific Rim had such access to just 13 percent of the lands covered by its proposal, according to Oxfam America, a humanitarian and advocacy group.

Given this lack of community support in a country with recent history of civil unrest, some warn that an ICSID decision in OceanaGold’s favour could result in violence.

“This mining project was re-opening a lot of the wounds that existed during the civil war, and telling a country that they have to provoke a civil conflict in order to satisfy investors is very troublesome,” Luke Danielson, a researcher and academic who studies social conflict around natural resource development, told IPS.

“The tribunal system exists to allow two interests to express themselves – the national government and the investor. But neither of these speak for communities, and that’s a fundamental problem.”

Wary of litigation

Bilateral and regional investment treaties such as DR-CAFTA have seen massive expansion in recent years. And increasingly, many of these include so-called “investor-state” resolution clauses of the type being used in the El Salvador case.

Currently some 2,700 agreements internationally have such clauses, ICSID reports. Meanwhile, although the tribunal has existed since the 1960s, its relevance has increased dramatically in recent years, mirroring the rise in investor-state clauses.

ISCID itself doesn’t decide on how to resolve such disputes. Rather, it offers a framework under which cases are heard by three external arbiters – one appointed by the investor, one by the state and one by both parties.

Yet outside of the World Bank headquarters on Monday, protesters expressed deep scepticism about the highly opaque ISCID process. Several said that past experience has suggested the tribunal is deeply skewed in favour of investors.

“This is a completely closed-door process, and this has meant that the tribunal can basically do whatever it wants,” Carla Garcia Zendejas director of the People, Land & Resources program at the Center for International Environmental Law, a watchdog group here, told IPS.

“Thus far, we have no examples of cases in which this body responded in favour of communities or reacted to basic human rights violations or basic environmental and social impact.”

Zendejas says the rise in investor-state lawsuits in recent years has resulted in many governments, particularly in developing countries, choosing to acquiesce in the face of corporate demand. Litigation is not only cumbersome but extremely expensive.

“Governments are increasingly wary of being sued, and therefore are more willing to accept and change polices or to ignore their own policies, even if there’s community opposition,” she says.

“Certain projects have seen resistance, but political pressure often depends on who’s in power. Unfortunately, the incorrect view that the only way for development to take place is through foreign investment is still very engrained in many of the powers that be.”

While there is no public timeframe for ISCID resolution on the El Salvador case, a decision is expected by the end of the year.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be reached at


Protesters in D.C. ask for halt to gold mining in El Salvador, say it will endanger ecology


Protesters gather in front of the World Bank to protest a lawsuit by OceanaGold against El Salvador in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 15, 2014. (Nikki Kahn/The Washington Post)

By Pamela Constable September 15

Calling gold mining a scourge on the environment of El Salvador, a group of protesters rallied Monday outside the World Bank in the District, where a tribunal is discussing the case of a foreign company that seeks to extract gold from the impoverished Central American country.

About 100 protesters, including Salvadoran immigrants, Roman Catholic priests and environmental activists, were accompanied by Spanish-language protest songs as they chanted anti-mining slogans under an enormous balloon statue of a fat cat representing wealthy business interests.

“What’s happening in my home country is terrible. We have to save the few pure rivers and forests that still exist,” said Wilfredo Morataya, a library worker from Hyattsville who attended the rally. “These companies want to take our gold and leave us with contaminated earth.”

The rally coincided with El Salvador’s Independence Day, marking the date it was freed from Spanish control in 1821. Several speakers at the protest said demands by the mining company were an affront to El Salvador’s sovereignty and democratic rights.

Starting Monday, an international tribunal is meeting inside the World Bank to discuss a complex legal case that pits an Australian-Canadian mining firm against the government of El Salvador. The company has filed a $300 million lawsuit, claiming the Salvadoran government reneged on a past agreement to allow it to mine gold.

Although little known in the United States, the case has attracted intense interest among environmental groups as well as leaders of the large Salvadoran community in the Washington area.

El Salvador has large gold deposits that could bring significant profits if extracted, but environmental critics say it cannot be removed without creating toxic chemical conditions that may permanently contaminate the earth and water.

“The last time I went home, I saw the San Sebastian River turned orange. It is from mining that poisoned our water and left our villages poor, not rich,” said Lita Trejo, a school worker in the District, who addressed the rally. “The people of El Salvador want water to live, not to die.”

The controversy is also linked to broader discord over international free trade agreements that have been signed by poor countries in Central America and elsewhere. The protesting groups charged that these pacts have benefitted business interests at the expense of environmental safety and other public concerns.

“This is a paradigmatic case that illustrates a huge problem all over the world,” said Bill Waren, a trade policy analyst for Friends of the Earth. He said there have been many similar cases in which mining companies have extracted minerals under free trade agreements but then left large problems of contamination.

In this case, the Salvadoran government allowed a foreign company to explore for gold but never issued it a permit to extract the mineral, after experts determined that it could damage the environment. The company, OceanaGold/Pacific Rim Mining Corporation, filed a lawsuit against the government, saying it had reneged on its agreements.

The case is being heard by the International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes, an affiliate of the World Bank. Lawyers for both sides are expected to spend much of the week arguing the matter.

Some of the demonstrators called the tribunal a “kangaroo court,” charging that it was biased in favor of corporate interests. They also complained that the proceeding was being held behind closed doors with no chance for public comment. In an earlier hearing, the panel ruled in favor of the mining firm.

According to a study by researchers at American University, the case rests on disagreements over details of official permits that were granted to the company by a former Salvadoran administration that is no longer in power. Despite the technical nature of the case, mining opponents say, its economic and environmental implications are huge.

“This is our country, and our land matters to us,” said Juan de la Cruz, a Franciscan monk from El Salvador who works with a Spanish-speaking parish in Maryland. “If they dig for gold it may bring jobs for a few years, but it will cause suffering for generations.”

Pamela Constable covers issues related to immigration policy, immigrant communities and international figures and issues that crop up in our local and regional midst.


Kenya conundrum: Kick out Maasai herders to develop geothermal energy?

In East Africa, a clash of two virtues: ancient homelands and clean energy. Kenya has incredible geothermal potential, but much of it sits below indigenous people’s land near volcanic Mt. Suswa.

    Maasai sheep graze in front of geothermal wells at Olkaria, Africa’s largest geothermal complex, near Naivasha, Kenya.  (Jason Patinkin – View Caption)

MT. SUSWA, KAJIADO COUNTY, KENYA — Sitting by his dung hut at sunrise, Daudi Maisiodo, a Masai herdsman, praises Mt. Suswa, a smoldering volcano on Kenya’s Great Rift Valley where he lives.

“It’s the best land,” Mr. Maisiodo says of the mountain slopes. “There’s firewood. There’s plains with enough space for pasture. You can grow maize…There’s red and white ochre…for rituals.”

The mountain is rich in another way as well. Hot springs and fumaroles, the cracks in the earth’s crust that belch steam, indicate that magma-heated rocks are only a mile below, close enough to be tapped for lucrative geothermal energy.

Recommended: Think you know Africa? Take our geography quiz.


Suswa holds part of Kenya’s vast undeveloped reserves of geothermal energy, which the government wants to exploit in order to help propel the East African nation to industrialized, middle income status.

Already, Kenya is Africa’s largest producer of geothermal and the ninth-largest worldwide. But the 424 megawatts currently generated represent less than 1/20th of the energy locked beneath a string of volcanic fields in the Rift Valley. Suswa alone has an estimated 600 untapped megawatts.


                    Mt. Suswa



Realizing Kenya’s geothermal potential would cut energy costs and power economic expansion. But it could come at a high price: displacing thousands of indigenous Maasai people who, after a century of losing land rights, are upset at being moved again.

“We don’t like it,” says Maisiodo of the budding geothermal exploration at Suswa. “We fear many people will come and take our land.”

As seen from Nairobi, Kenya simply needs more electricity. Only a third of Kenya’s 40 million citizens are connected to the national grid. Some 70 percent of businesses cite lack of power as a key obstacle to growth.

Geothermal offers one of the most viable solutions.

“The resource potential is quite huge [in Kenya],” says Meseret Teklemariam Zemedkun, program manager of the UN-funded African Rift Geothermal Development Facility in Nairobi. “It is estimated to be close to 10,000 megawatts of potential and probably there’s more yet to be discovered because we are in the Great Rift.”

For comparative purposes, nearly 12,000 megawatts of geothermal energy worldwide were converted to electricity in 2013, according to the Earth Policy Institute in Washington.

Geothermal, which pipes super-heated steam from the earth’s crust to power turbines at the surface, has many advantages. It is renewable, not reliant on fossil fuels, and emits comparatively little greenhouse gas. It is also a consistent energy source, compared to hydroelectric dams that now provide most of Kenya’s energy, but that run to a standstill during droughts.

Geothermal is also cheap. If Kenya achieves its goal of adding 1646 geothermal megawatts in the next two to three years, alongside other energy targets, the country would slash home-consumption energy tariffs by 47 percent.

Much of that drop comes from replacing old diesel plants with geothermal.

“As we get more geothermal we can get cheaper more affordable power,” says Peter Ouma, a geothermal manager at KenGen, Kenya’s state-owned electricity generation company.

Much of the expansion, however, is on land used by Maasai who have long been pushed aside for national parks, energy production, and agriculture.

At the Olkaria geothermal complex – about 35 miles north of Suswa and a place where 1,000 megawatts of potential lie beneath the fissured landscape – some 150 Maasai families, about 1,000 people, were evicted and resettled last month.

Olkaria produces more than 400 megawatts and is expected to more than double its output by 2017, a new power source for proposed industrial parks that would handle textile, paper, and steel plants.

Though some local Maasai have jobs as security guards, drillers, and drivers, the majority fear being kicked out to make way for factory worker housing.

The latest relocated families complain of rampant corruption in the compensation process. KenGen, they say, bypassed the elders to strike deals with Maasai representatives of their own choosing.

Partisans have come to blows over the issue. In July 2013, unidentified goons under protection of armed police stormed Maasai villages atop a potential hotspot in the Olkaria area, burning dozens of houses.

Maasai activists have petitioned the World Bank, a major financer of Kenyan geothermal, to pressure energy developers to clean up their actions.

The Olkaria incidents worry Maisiodo, the herdsman. “We’ve heard of the other projects…that people are being displaced,” he says, noting that energy firms have brought representatives from other Maasai regions to speak for Suswa’s residents.

His neighbor Jeremiah Saitabao hopes developers learn from Olkaria to do better at Suswa. “I’m partly against [the energy companies], not fully against,” Mr Saitabao says, drawing the line at displacement of families. “If there are strong rules guiding…I have no problem with the production of the geothermal.”