By Hillary Ojeda
The anti-mining family was assaulted to prevent farming and restoration work on their property.
By Hillary Ojeda
The anti-mining family was assaulted to prevent farming and restoration work on their property.
By NOBEL ZAW / THE IRRAWADDY| Thursday, January 15, 2015 |
RANGOON — Burma’s National Human Rights Commission has said that the recent killing of a farmer at the Letpadaung copper mine in Sagaing Division was the result of mistakes made by the police when they tried to suppress a protest against the project.
In a statement published in the Burmese state-owned media on Thursday, the commission said police had failed to follow security procedures for quelling a protest on Dec. 22, when officers were deployed to protect workers from China’s Wanbao Company as they seized and fenced off farmland for the expansion of the mine in Salingyi Township.
Dozens of angry farmers, who have vehemently opposed land seizures for the mining project in recent years, gathered to stop the confiscation of land on which their crops were growing. Tensions flared and clashes erupted between police and villagers. Officers opened fire on the protestors and a 56-year-old woman named Khin Win was hit in the head and killed. During the unrest, 10 police officers and 11 villagers were injured.
The commission organized an investigation into the death from Dec. 30 to Jan. 2. Its members visited villages in the area and met with Sagaing Division officials, police officers, medical staff and representatives of Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings (UMEHL), the military-owned joint venture partner of Wanbao.
The commission released a 33-point statement on Wednesday that quoted police as saying that they first fired warning shots because “villagers were holding sticks, swords, slingshots and sickles and shot at them with slingshots.”
The commission said police should subsequently not have fired directly into the crowd with live rounds, but should have first taken other steps to disperse the crowd, such as using water cannon. It said other anti-riot equipment that should have been used, such as tear gas, had not been provided for.
“To disperse the crowd by giving an order to shoot is the final step in dispersing the crowd. The commission found that shootings were carried out, skipping some steps,” the statement said. “Because of the poor management of the command, water cannon and tear gas bombs could not be used according to the security plan.”
The commission concluded that Khin Win’s killing “indicates that her right to life was harmed under Article 3 of Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which says that everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.” It recommended opening a legal case over the killing to test the “validity of the testimony of the witnesses of two sides … in line with the law.”
Thaung Htay, the younger brother of Khin Win, said in a reaction that the commission had been wrong to blame low-level police officers for the unrest, as the decision to crackdown on the protest was taken at a higher level of government.
“They… should not only blame the police. They will know who in the upper positions are involved in the case. If they only blame police the same cases will happen again,” he said, before adding that he thought that the companies involved with the project could also be partially responsible.
Repeated calls by The Irrawaddy to Salingyi Township and Monywa District police stations went unanswered on Thursday.
Family members of the victim filed a filed a first information report to the Salingyi Police Station on Jan. 3 in order to push authorities to open an investigation into killing. So far, it is unclear if police will do so.
The violence and death of the villager caused an outcry among Burmese rights activists and the wider public, which have longed opposed the huge copper mine as it is seen as benefiting only the Chinese investor and UMEHL.
Burma’s human rights commission was set up by President Thein Sein in 2011 and has been criticized for lacking parliamentary endorsement and independence from the President’s Office. It has limited powers to take legal actions in case of abuses and a report issued by local NGOs in September slammed the commission’s performance, saying it failed to successfully investigate a single case since its inception.
In a separate development, Salingyi Township authorities on Wednesday announced that they would offer farmers compensation for the loss of the crops that were growing on the land that was fenced off in December.
In a letter seen by The Irrawaddy, the township authorities offered a minimum of about US$310 per acre of destroyed corn, beans and other seasonal crops.
“The announced compensation amount is too low compared to the prices they should have got,” said Yee Yee Win, a farmer from the Hse Te village, which was affected by the recent land seizures. He said some farmers had been offered about $420 for an acre of pigeon peas, although they supposedly could have earned more than twice that amount if they had been allowed to harvest their crops.
Additional reporting from Chiang Mai, Thailand, by Nyein Nyein.
A bullet is lodged near Yolanda Oquelí’s liver. It’s been there since June 13, 2012, when two masked men on a motorcycle fired a barrage of bullets into her car as she drove home on a dusty mountain road after attending a protest with friends and neighbors. A ball of hot lead brushed her stomach and barely missed her spine. After the gunmen fled, she was rushed to the hospital for emergency surgery.
Oquelí is a leader of La Puya (the Thorn or Point), a prominent protest movement based in the sun-soaked town of San José del Golfo, beyond the outskirts of Guatemala City. For nearly three years, small farmers, merchants and Catholic parishioners have gathered at the movement’s makeshift camp of plywood shacks and populist banners to oppose the Tambor project, an underground and open-pit gold mine being built in the hills nearby. As with most hard-rock mining operations, the waste rock and exposed surfaces it leaves behind have the potential to produce highly-toxic acid mine drainage—the same liquid byproduct that has polluted water and spawned superfund sites across the United States. Local Guatemalan women, worried about the health of their land and families, are the driving force behind the campaign to prevent Tambor. They’ve organized marches, prayer vigils and blockades, and turned La Puya into a national example of peaceful protest.
Oquelí’s advocacy and commitment to nonviolence is part of what has propelled the movement’s success. That’s why she received death threats. That’s why the masked men tried to silence her. But Oquelí, who credits a merciful God for her survival, is still talking.
“[These mining projects] are not development,” she says, defiant though her would-be assassins, like so many violent assailants in Guatemala, are still unidentified and at large. “They are projects of destruction and death and social conflict.”
Tambor is a project of Kappes, Cassiday & Associates (KCA), an engineering firm based in Reno, Nevada. It bought out its partner, Canada’s Radius Gold, in the summer of 2012, shortly after the attempt on Oquelí’s life. The company is one of many North American mining corporations that have swept into this small Central American republic over the past two decades to exploit rich deposits of gold, silver, copper and more. They operate in communities both rural and urban, near the capital city and in the western highlands. They have the backing of Guatemala’s right-wing president, Otto Pérez Molina, whose long military intelligence career includes a stint at the School of the Americas and an active role in the country’s brutal thirty-six-year civil war. And the corporations have recourse to a neoliberal mining law passed in the late 1990s that opened the country’s vast mineral wealth to them and reduced the amount they must pay in state royalties to an historic low of 1 percent (though that rate may soon change).
According to Guatemala’s Ministry of Energy and Mines, there are 345 approved mining licenses in the country today, with another 592 pending. All this in an area no bigger than Virginia.
But the mining boom has met serious resistance in this land of cloud forests and terraced cornfields, and La Puya is only one example. Other cases, like the resistance to the Fenix nickel project near El Estor and the fight over the Escobal mine in the country’s Santa Rosa region, are equally contentious.
The Guatemalan Human Rights Ombudsman, a government agency, estimates that at least fifty-seven major natural resources conflicts are unfolding across the country today. Indigenous and community groups have initiated waves of demonstration and denunciation from coast to coast, citing as their primary concern the danger mines pose to land rights and water resources.
“We know that when the mining company moves into our area and begins moving rocks and ripping up land, it will contaminate our water supplies,” says Deodora Oliva, a farmer and mother who helps lead La Puya. “We worry that our forests will be destroyed. We worry that human beings will be persecuted and that wildlife will be harmed. That is what motivates us to resist.”
And this resistance has crucial support from one of the country’s most powerful institutions, the Catholic Church. Clergy, from priests to some prominent bishops, are advising anti-mining organizers, leading marches and calling for the reform of relevant laws. The church, at least its progressive faction, has used its material resources and moral force to amplify what is already one of the most significant eruptions of popular protest in postwar Guatemala.
Still, the faithful and their anti-mining allies face many dangers in this battle that pits small farmers against big industry, indigenous groups against local elites and foreign investors, and water quality against wealth. Mining-affected communities have been witness to government crackdowns and police repression. Environmental activists and indigenous leaders have been subject to kidnapping, intimidation, torture, arrest and imprisonment for their outspoken advocacy. And the attack against Oquelí was no anomaly. Guatemala is a country where resistance can get you killed.
* * *
Twenty-four miles southeast of La Puya, the town of San Rafael Las Flores sits in a high mountain valley near a tributary of the Los Esclavos River, a snaking waterway that feeds the region’s many small farms. The river is named after the local Xinca indigenous group, whose ancestors were enslaved by Spanish invaders during their bloody conquest of Guatemala and neighboring El Salvador. Then, as now, the foreigners were searching for gold and silver.
Perhaps there’s something of this bitter memory in the opposition that Tahoe Resources Inc., a Canadian silver company, has met among residents there. The company’s Escobal underground mine—a fence-lined compound of underground tunnels and gray processing plants—received a twenty-year exploitation permit from the Guatemalan government in April 2013. Through its subsidiary, Minera San Rafael, it is currently pulling about 3,500 metric tons of silver out of the ground each day, and it recently announced a mine expansion to increase that number to 4,500. The company also has rights to 2,000 square kilometers of land that it plans to explore. In the first nine months of 2014, Tahoe’s operations earned it more than $100 million.
“Before we got there, there was no mining in the area,” says Ira Gostin, a vice president at Tahoe. “By hiring locals and training them how to be underground miners and process plant workers, we have created a mining culture and a safety culture that did not exist before.” He says he’s seen a “positive and dramatic difference” in the community.
But many residents in San Rafael Las Flores and neighboring towns view the company as an intruder, and an impassioned coalition of community organizations and church groups is peacefully resisting its presence in their territory.
“They say they are welcome here, but no,” says Oscar Morales, an agricultural engineer who leads the Committee in Defense of Life and Peace, a group founded in the parish church in San Rafael Las Flores. “Many, many people have repudiated the construction of this mine.”
Five local municipalities held legally sanctioned referendums asking voters to approve or reject the Escobal project in the months before and after its construction, and in each instance more than 90 percent of participants rejected the mine, according to the Network in Solidarity with the People of Guatemala (NISGUA). A series of smaller votes in San Rafael Las Flores produced similar results. Tahoe Resources, according to Gostin, followed the letter of the law. But mine opponents say the Guatemalan government illegally ignored the outcomes of the referenda when it let the Escobal project move forward.
As a result, unrest has riled the region for nearly three years. Father Juan Manuel Arija, a Spanish priest who spent more than a decade in Guatemala, was there during the early years of the anti-Tahoe resistance. As the coordinator of CODIDENA, a Catholic environmental group based in Nueva Santa Rosa, he helped launch the “revolution of flowers,” a series of protests in 2012 that included rallies in front of the Canadian embassy, multiple delegations to the Ministry of Energy and Mines and a massive mid-September march to Escobal. As the protests gathered momentum, lawyers with the Center for Legal, Environmental and Social Action, a well-known human rights law firm in the country, filed a legal complaint against Tahoe following reports by residents that the creeks around Escobal had been contaminated with mine waste. The Guatemalan Public Prosecutor took up the case, and a criminal investigation is ongoing.
Arija says it was during this vibrant campaign that the government and the mining company, perhaps sensing the opposition’s savvy, intensified a campaign of intimidation against movement leaders.
A woman shows a hematoma caused by a tear gas canister fired by riot police as they evicted a protest against the Tambor mine on May 23, 2014. (Reuters/Jorge Dan Lopez)
“The threats not only came directly over the phone or at the front door, but also in the words and actions of those who control the country,” says Arija, adding that protesters were called “eco-terrorists” and slandered in the press. It was like watching “a steamroller that can’t be stopped.”
In late 2012, after receiving a series of unsettling threats, Arija left Guatemala for a new assignment in Colombia. Since his departure, anti-mining activists have been kidnapped, killed and thrown in jail at a disturbing rate.
On March 17, 2013, armed men in masks abducted four members of the Xinca Parliament, an indigenous organization that opposes Escobal, after they attended a community referendum in San Rafael Las Flores. One of the men, the group’s secretary, Exaltación Marcos Ucelo, was found dead. The other men survived. Pérez Molina’s administration granted Tahoe an exploitation license two weeks later. The region exploded in protest and the repression grew worse.
On April 27, 2013, armed Escobal security guards fired on a group of men and boys who had assembled on a public road outside the mine gate to demonstrate. According to a civil complaint filed in Canadian court by survivors, the guards were acting under orders from Alberto Rotondo, then head of mine security at Escobal and a former Peruvian naval officer trained in counterterrorism by the US military. A farmer named Adolfo Augustín García says he was shot in the back. Luis Fernando García Monroy, his 18-year-old son, took a bullet to the face. When the gunfire died down, seven people, including two teenagers, were wounded.
After the attack, Rotondo tried to flee the country, but police intercepted him at the Guatemalan airport. The company issued a public statement after the incident and claimed rubber bullets, rather than live ammunition, were used. Nevertheless, it relieved Rotondo of his duties and he is now awaiting trial, charged with obstruction of justice and other crimes.
The campaign of criminalization, as activists call it, reached its apex in May 2013, when Otto Pérez Molina’s government instituted a thirty-day “state of siege” in and around San Rafael Las Flores, outlawing public demonstrations and suspending constitutional protections there. The government justified the move after one policeman was killed and others injured during a series of protests, road blockages and riots, largely in response to the shooting outside Escobal. In an earlier incident in January 2013, an unknown group of armed men attacked the Escobal mine and killed two security guards there. Pérez Molina, in a statement to the press, said the region had descended into “anarchy.”
In the end, more than 8,000 military and policemen poured into the territory, erecting bases, setting up check points and issuing arrest warrants for resistance leaders.
“This house was surrounded for fifteen days by the army,” said Oscar Morales at his Spanish-style home in San Rafael Las Flores. “They were here day and night. They searched my home. They said they were looking for guns and explosives.”
Ellen Moore, a human rights observer who lives in Guatemala City and works for NISGUA, says authorities searched a dozen homes and jailed at least five movement leaders around the time of the siege.
“There has always been, on the part of the mining company, a desire to stifle the voice of the people here,” says Quelvin Jiménez, a young law student from the Xinca town of Jumaytepeque who helps lead the Catholic environmental group CODIDENA. He says the company and the government repudiated all of the community referendums in the region and found ways to “criminalize” the communities directly.
The shadowy attacks, the criminalization and repression, the countless stories of unsolved killings and kidnappings make people afraid. Almost all of the mine opponents interviewed for this story had received some sort of threat or feared that the government or the mining company was watching them. The psychological impact is chilling, and though the siege has long since been lifted, violence continues.
A 16-year old girl, Merilyn Topacio Reynoso Pacheco, was shot and killed in the streets of Mataquescuintla, a town where anti-Escobal sentiment is strong, on April 13 of last year. She was a leader of a local youth movement, and her father Edwin Alexander Reynoso was an outspoken opponent as well. A bullet damaged his lung and shattered his ribs.
Reynoso has a hard time talking about his daughter, but he can talk about Escobal. He believes the attack was a direct result of his family’s opposition to the mine. “Automatically, the day after the attack against us, friends of mine, the people most active in the resistance, received death threats telling them that they were next,” says Reynoso. “But the authorities do not want to investigate.”
Tahoe has a different take on the matter.
“We find it repugnant that anyone would try to align that tragic incident with anything to do with the mine,” says Tahoe’s Gostin. “It is totally unconnected and unrelated, and we send our sympathies to the family.” He says linking other violent incidents with Tahoe’s presence in the area is “reckless” and “completely ridiculous.”
Though badly shaken, the peaceful resistance persists. Human rights groups like NISGUA are calling on Tahoe investors, including California’s largest public pension fund, which owns more than $4 million in company stock as of its latest annual report, to relinquish their holdings. A similar movement is underway in Canada. Amnesty International, in a May 2013 public statement, denounced the “failures of the Guatemalan state obligation to protect the human rights of local communities, and Tahoe Resources’ failure to respect those rights.” In September 2014, it issued a more comprehensive report on Guatemala that called on the Canadian government to “enact legislation that would establish mandatory corporate accountability standards for Canadian extractive companies operating abroad.” And in July of last year, the United Nations’ Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed its “concern for the vulnerability [of] human rights defenders” in Guatemala, particularly those working on issues of “natural resource exploitation.”
Meanwhile, the Catholic Church, a trusted institution in the communities, an institution whose priests and laymen were assassinated in droves trying to defend Guatemala’s poor and oppressed during the war years, has tried to shore up the faith of those living through these dangerous times. In June 2014, the church held a large public mass and rally in San Rafael Las Flores, attended by well over 1,000 people. Clergy from the United States arrived to learn about the conflict, and Bernabé de Jesús Sagastume Lemus, the bishop of Santa Rosa de Lima and one of the region’s highest Catholic officials, came to show his support.
“Sometimes plain and humble people are not listened to, they are not paid attention to, they are marginalized,” Lemus says, echoing the language of Latin American liberation theology, with its powerful faith-based call for solidarity with the poor. “The role of the church is to be the voice of those who do not have a voice.… The goods God created for the service of all cannot be monopolized in the interest of a few.”
Meanwhile Tahoe, with its single mine, is committed to exploiting the silver under Guatemala’s green hills.
* * *
During a visit to La Puya last June, the intense presence of Guatemalan police was a startling reminder of how the government views dissent. Men wearing black uniforms and carrying heavy weapons lined the road, outnumbering the peaceful protesters by two to one.
It had been that way since May, when residents opposed to Tambor blocked access to the mine in an attempt to prevent KCA from moving construction equipment onto its property.
“It’s a concern,” says Carl Defilippi, a KCA engineer. “But it’s not just us, it is all over Guatemala. The NGOs are all over Guatemala.” He believes environmental nonprofits are paying local organizers to “cause unrest,” and calls La Puya’s roadblock illegal.
Police broke the blockade on May 23, 2014, using tear gas and batons to disperse the crowd. Photographs of the assault show women kneeling and standing in the street, reading from Bibles, as a line of men dressed in riot gear descend upon them.
Yolanda Oquelí was there, encouraging the crowd, before the police arrested and removed her. In an era when environmentalists worldwide are being murdered at an unprecedented rate, she is a survivor, and a brave one at that.
“We are in this peaceful resistance for one reason,” she says. “To defend life, to defend our lives and the lives of our children.”
KCA, for its part, hopes the Tambor project will be fully operational by early 2015, before the price of gold falls any further.
Additional reporting by Cassidy Regan.
Ecuador’s President Correa was well-rewarded for his trip last week to China, but this could have grave impacts for the Amazon and the people who live there. On Wednesday, Beijing agreed to lend Ecuador $7.53 billion to help the heavily oil-dependent economy cope with the recent drop in global crude prices. This latest sum – the largest China has ever lent Ecuador – brings Chinese financing to Ecuador to nearly $25 billion, over a quarter of the nation’s GDP. In 2013 Beijing provided 61% of Ecuador’s external financing and purchased 83% of Ecuador’s oil; this latest loan will undoubtedly bring both numbers much higher.
Since he took office in 2007, Correa has shifted attention and dependency away from the US and towards China. When Chinese state broadcaster CCTV asked Correa whether Ecuador was “merely changing from a dependency on the US to a dependency on China,” Correa rightfully criticized Western financial institutions. He described the “relationship between equals” that Ecuador enjoys with China, saying, “This will not be about submission, like Latin America has long had to suffer. Now, it is really about cooperation between friendly countries, between countries that are friends.”
One major problem with Correa’s claim is that it is in stark contrast with his past statements. In 2009, when China’s Exim Bank demanded that Ecuador put its Central Bank’s assets as collateral for a loan, Correa called Beijing’s demands “barbaric,” “humiliating,” and “attempts against the sovereignty of Ecuador.” He even said that negotiating with China was “worse than [negotiating with] the IMF.”
That’s because China’s loans, many of which require Ecuador to provide it with a constant supply of crude, have what some analysts have called a “sovereignty immunity waiver” that would allow China to seize many of Ecuador’s assets if the country fails to repay the loans. According to recently revealed official documents, Petrochina has the ability to seize assets from any oil companies operating in Ecuador if the nation does not pay back China in full. Why does this matter in the Amazon? Leaked documents have revealed that Chinese pressure may have even helped to undermine the revolutionary Yasuní-ITT Initiative. Correa continued to publicly promote the proposal to keep the oil in the ground – and request funds for it – until August 2013. That was over four years after Ecuador had already agreed to “do it all it can to help [Chinese oil companies] PetroChina and Andes Petroleum explore ITT and Block 31.” Both oil blocks are home to Ecuador’s last indigenous peoples living in voluntary isolation and Article 57 of the Ecuadorian constitution qualifies any operations there as “ethnocide.” Still, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Ecuador has already hired a law firm to enter into negotiations with the Chinese National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) to drill the ITT Block nor that CNPC is looking to operate in Block 31.
Just as troubling as China’s inroads into Yasuní are its attempts to drill in the heart of the south central Ecuadorian Amazon. Ecuador only received three bids in its latest oil round, and two of them came from Chinese state conglomerate Andes Petroleum. While Ecuador and Andes have not yet announced a formal agreement, Ecuador has accepted Andes’ offer to lease Blocks 79 and 83 in the middle of the Amazon. The area is home to the Sápara people, a UNESCO-recognized cultural patrimony, and pressure from the Ecuadorian government on behalf of Andes has served to divide communities and create tension among the Sápara. That situation is reaching a boiling point, and with increased pressure could result in lost lives if these troubling trends continue to grow.
While we do not seek to speculate nor make accusations here, the death of land defenders is a phenomenon that is becoming too common in Ecuador and one should not ignore the potential impact of Ecuador-China relations. Recently Amazon Watch and 13 other environmental and human rights organizations urged the Ecuadorian government to ensure a just, transparent, and expeditious investigation into the murder of indigenous Shuar leader and anti-mining activist José Tendetza. Tendetza was killed just four days before he was slated to travel to the UN climate conference (COP20) in Lima, Perú to denounce the operations of Chinese mining company Ecuacorriente in his territory. In 2012 the company reportedly burned down his house and crops, and this year the company’s lawyers and sixty masked men are said to have ransacked the local church and school in Tendetza’s community. Instead of asking Ecuacorriente to postpone operations while the government investigates what it has deemed a murder, on Friday it signed an additional mining deal with another Chinese mining company.
President Correa can continue to say that Ecuador’s relationship with China is not “about submission, like Latin America has long had to suffer,” but I doubt the communities on the front lines of Chinese mines and oil wells will believe him.
– With Haiti’s Parliament having dissolved on Tuesday, civil society groups are worried that the Haitian president may move to unilaterally put in place a contentious revision to the country’s decades-old mining law.
Starting in 2013, that draft was written with technical assistance from the World Bank. Last week, a half-dozen Haitian groups filed a formal appeal with the bank’s complaints office, expressing concern that the legislation had been crafted without the public consultation often required under the Washington-based development funder’s own policies.
The aim of the new draft mining law appears to be a massive expansion of Haiti’s mining sector, paving the way for the entry of foreign companies already interested in the country’s significant gold and other deposits.
“Community leaders … are encouraging communities to think critically about ‘development’, and to not simply accept projects defined by outsiders,” Ellie Happel, an attorney in Port-au-Prince who has been involved in the complaint, told IPS.
“These projects often fail. And, in the case with gold mining, residents learn that these projects may threaten their very way of life.”
Haiti’s extractives permitting process is currently extensive and bureaucratic. Yet the new revisions would bypass parliamentary oversight altogether, halting even a requirement that agreement terms be made public, according to a draft leaked in July.
Critics worry that this streamlining, coupled with the Haitian government’s weakness in ensuring oversight, could result in social and environmental problems, particularly damaging to a largely agrarian economy. Further, there is question as to whether exploitation of this lucrative minerals wealth would benefit the country’s vast impoverished population.
“The World Bank’s involvement in developing the Draft Mining Law lends the law credibility, which is likely to encourage investment in the Haitian mining sector,” the complaint, filed with the bank’s Inspection Panel on Wednesday, states.
“[T]his increased investment in the mining sector will result in … contamination of vital waterways, impacts on the agriculture sector, and involuntary displacement of communities. Complainants are also concerned about the exclusion of Haitian people from the law reform process, particularly when contrasted with the reported regular participation of the private sector in drafting the new law.”
An opaque process
The complaint comes five years after a devastating earthquake struck Haiti, and as political instability is threatening reconstruction and development progress made in that catastrophe’s aftermath. Elections have been repeatedly put off for more than two years, and by Tuesday so many members of Parliament are slated to have finished their terms that the body would lack a quorum.
On Sunday Haitian President Michel Martelly indicated that a deal might be near. But the leftist opposition was reportedly not part of this agreement, and has repeatedly warned that the president is planning to rule by decree.
The Inspection Panel complaint, filed by six civil society groups operating under the umbrella Kolektif Jistis Min (the Justice in Mining Collective), contextualises its concerns against this backdrop of instability. “[T]he Haitian government may be poised to adopt the Draft Mining Law by decree, outside the democratic process,” it states.
Even if the political crisis is dealt with soon, concerns with the legislation’s drafting process will remain.
The Justice in Mining Collective, which represents around 50,000 Haitians, drew up the complaint after the draft mining law was leaked in July. No formal copy of the legislation has been made public, nor has the French-language draft law been translated into Haitian Creole, the most commonly spoken language.
“The process has been very opaque, with a small group of experts from the World Bank and Haitian government officials drafting this law,” Sarah Singh, the director of strategic support with Accountability Counsel, a legal advocacy group that consulted on the complaint and is representing some Haitian communities, told IPS.
“They’ve had two meetings that, to my knowledge, were invite-only and held in French, at which the majority of attendees were private investors and some big NGOs. Yet the bank’s response to complaints of this lack of consultation has been to say this is the government’s responsibility.”
The Justice in Mining Collective is suggesting that this lack of consultation runs counter to social and environmental guidelines that undergird all World Bank investments. These policies would also call for a broad environmental assessment across the sector, something local civil society is now demanding – to be followed by a major public debate around the assessment’s findings and the potential role large-scale mining could play in Haiti’s development.
Yet the World Bank is not actually investing in the Haitian mining sector, and it is not clear that the institution’s technical assistance is required to conform to the safeguards policies. In a November letter, the bank noted that its engagement on the Haitian mining law has been confined to sharing international best practices.
Yet Singh says she and others believe the safeguards do still apply, particularly given the scope of the new legislation’s impact.
“This will change the entire legal regime,” she says. “The idea that bank could do that and not have the safeguards apply seems hugely problematic.”
A World Bank spokesperson did confirm to IPS that the Inspection Panel has received the Haitian complaint. If the panel registers the request, she said, the bank’s management would have around a month to submit a response, following which the bank’s board would decide whether the complaint should be investigated.
Certainly sensitivities around the Haitian extractives sector have increased in recent years.
Minerals prospecting in Haiti has expanded significantly over the past half-decade, though no company has yet moved beyond exploration. In 2012, when the government approved its first full mining permit in years, the Parliament balked, issuing a non-binding moratorium on all extraction until a sector-wide assessment could take place.
Meanwhile, Haitians have been looking across the border at some of the mining-related problems experienced in the Dominican Republic, including water pollution. Civil society groups have also been reaching out to other countries in the Global South, trying to understand the experiences of other communities around large-scale extractives operations.
Current views are also being informed by decades of historical experience in Haiti, as well. Since the country’s independence in the early 19th century, several foreign companies have engaged many years of gold mining.
That was a “negative, even catastrophic, experience,” according to a statement from the Justice in Mining Collective released following the leak of the draft mining law in July.
“Mining exploitation has never contributed to the development of Haiti. To the contrary, the history of gold exploitation is one marked by blood and suffering since the beginning,” the statement warned.
“When we consider the importance of and the potential consequences of mineral exploitation, we note this change in the law as a sort of scandal that may facilitate further looting, without even the people aware of the consequences.”
Edited by Kitty Stapp
The writer can be reached at email@example.com
12 January 2015
The communities living in Intag Valley in northern Ecuador have been opposing attempts to introduce an open-pit copper mine for 20 years.
Such a mine would endanger one of the world’s richest areas in terms of biodiversity, known as cloud forest, part of which is old-growth forest.
These unique ecosystems are home to rare and endangered animal and plant species.
As early as 1995, the region’s 17,000 inhabitants held firm against the Japanese mining company BishiMetals and, in 2008, managed to expel the Canadian corporation Ascendant Copper.
But since 2012 they have been faced with a new adversary. Following the agreement concluded by the state-owned mining company ENAMI-EP and CODELCO, the Chilean copper giant, it is now the Ecuadorian government, headed by Rafael Correa, that wants to lay its hands on the precious metal.
Correa’s leitmotiv is unambiguous: “We cannot be beggars sat on a bag of gold.”
Following this line, the Ecuadorian president, re-elected for a third time in 2013, has opened up copper, gold and silver exploration to foreign investors.
Junín, nested at the bottom of Intag Valley, is at the heart of the Llurimagua mining project concession area. The tension in this small village of 260 inhabitants is palpable.
The community is divided into two camps, those in favour of the mine and those against it. “We avoid each other, and when our paths cross we clash. Our friends have become our enemies, even though we used to be really close,” laments 60-something Carmencita, a local activist who has spent a third of her life fighting against mining companies.
The tension erupted between the villagers in May 2014, when ENAMI-EP employees arrived in the valley escorted by the police.
More than a hundred police officers have since set up headquarters in this tropical region of the Andes, officially to “keep the peace”.
Javier Ramírez, the head of the Junín community, is paying dearly for the government’s determination to muzzle any opposition.
He has been in detention since 10 April 2014 and is still awaiting trial.
The state-owned mining company has brought charges of “terrorism, rebellion and sabotage” against him, accusing him of provoking acts of vandalism against ENAMI-EP employees wishing to enter the mining project area.
“But Javier was at home. He had hurt his knee and couldn’t walk!” says his cousin, Marcia Ramírez, condemning the tactics being deployed to intimidate those opposing the mining project.
The impact of this arrest has been fast and effective. “People are afraid of protesting now. We don’t know what is going to happen, it’s all political,” added Marcia Ramírez.
In Junín, the pro-mine camp is not vocal and the Equal Times team is sent to talk to Óscar Ortiz.
Oscar “is able to talk”. It is not clear what his official status is, but he has been chosen by the state-owned company to persuade his fellow villagers to accept the mining project.
There is talk of US$600 a month for taking part in the “socialisation” process. That is two times higher than the minimum wage in Ecuador.
Oscar does not deny the rumour.
“What we want is the company to set up its camp in Junín. Not elsewhere. We want direct benefits for our community,” he explains.
Money is what has made most of the villagers decide in favour of the mine.
The police stationed in the village are lodging with those who have chosen to support the project. It is an easy and relatively good source of income for families who often have no other means of survival, other than their small plots of land.
On 28 November 2014, authorities approved the environmental impact assessment for the proposed mining project.
The exploration phase, which begins this year and will last between six and eight years, will allow the company to determine whether there are sufficient copper resources to make the project viable and to launch operations.
Diego Zambrano, the person in charge of presenting the assessment on behalf of the ENAMI-EP, recognises that: “All human activity has an impact on the environment. But this is a strategic choice that has now been made by the Ecuadorian state, which has already planned to invest US$5 million to improve the public infrastructure in the region.”
The environmental protection organisation Defensa y Conservación Ecológica de Intag (Ecological Defence and Conservation of Intag – DECOIN), has denounced numerous irregularities in the assessment, carried out in just ten days – but to little affect.
Aside from the importance of preserving this unique environment, the fight against the government’s projects has become a symbol in Ecuador. The symbol of disillusion.
In 2007, after Rafael Correa was first elected, mining concessions had been suspended or cancelled, raising great hopes among the communities in the remote regions of the country.
“When Correa won, we thought we had been saved,” recalls Marcia Ramírez.
“But Correa has changed and now all he wants is to exploit all our natural resources. It is a terrible let-down. We voted for him, we believed in him, and now we want him to go,” she concludes, bitterly.
This article has been translated from French.
MOKOPANE, SOUTH AFRICA — The Globe and Mail
The two men took the cash from an envelope, counted it carefully and spread it on the table in front of Raesetsa Makgabo in her village home. It was exactly 5,250 South African rand (about $450 U.S.).
She says she remembers vividly what the men said next: They told her to take the money and allow the Canadian mining company to begin drilling on her maize fields – or lose her monthly pension.
Illiterate and unable to read the document in front of her, but fearful of losing the $120 monthly pension that was her main income, the 82-year-old villager took the pen and marked the agreement with a humble X beside her name. The two men, including an official from Ivanhoe Mines Ltd., signed the document dated May 10, 2011. Then the drilling began.
Ivanhoe’s $1.7-billion project, forecast to become the world’s biggest new platinum mine, is crucial to the fate of the Vancouver-based company – and to thousands of impoverished villagers near the site.
Ivanhoe says its Platreef mine will provide 10,000 direct and indirect jobs, along with a minority ownership stake for 150,000 residents and employees under South Africa’s black-empowerment rules.
Yet as Platreef moves into construction after gaining government approval in November, the project has remained highly controversial, triggering violent protests and clashes with police. While opponents accuse Ivanhoe of pressure tactics, the company has its own worries. It revealed to The Globe and Mail that its staff and property in South Africa have been subjected to “disturbingly explicit threats of extreme violence” and incidents of “arson, assault, illegal blockades and disruptive violence” over the past year.
Many villagers, for their part, have been threatened with the loss of pensions, welfare payments, farm fields or even cemetery plots if they refuse to co-operate with the mine, community activists say. The company denies any knowledge of such threats, saying that this would be “improper duress” and wouldn’t be tolerated.
Police fired rubber bullets to disperse hundreds of angry protesters at the mine site in late November. One of those injured by the rubber bullets was Ms. Makgabo’s daughter, Margaret, who says the $450 payment was meagre compensation for the loss of their crops. “Those fields fed our children, and now we can’t even afford a tomato or a cabbage,” she says.
Ivanhoe’s billionaire founder and executive chairman, Robert Friedland, is looking to South Africa for the third mining fortune of his colourful career, after selling the Voisey’s Bay nickel mine in Labrador for $3.8-billion and later developing the $6-billion Oyu Tolgoi copper mine in Mongolia, which was acquired by Rio Tinto.
His latest project could be hugely profitable. Its development costs are forecast to be paid off in six years, and the mine could operate for several decades.
But Mr. Friedland has never developed a mine in South Africa before, and this will be one of the toughest challenges he has ever faced. Post-apartheid South Africa is notorious for its labour unrest, powerful unions, government corruption, assertive regulators, strict rules on black empowerment, and a long tradition of community protest and violence by police and strikers. Police killed 34 protesters at the Marikana platinum mine in 2012, and the platinum sector was hit again by a devastating five-month strike this year.
The company is undeterred. When it won approval for Platreef in November, it was the culmination of 20 years of energetic tactics by Mr. Friedland and his colleagues to build support for the mine.
An investigation by The Globe and Mail has uncovered many details of Ivanhoe’s efforts to cultivate key government officials. Its tactics sometimes seemed pugnacious: court injunctions, ultimatums to government, and digging up dirt on opponents. But its tactics have also revealed a shrewd understanding of how to build political influence quietly in all the right places.
One key discovery for Ivanhoe was that the villagers lacked legal deeds to their farmland, even if they had farmed there for generations. Their land, considered communal, is controlled largely by a traditional tribal government: a chief and his “royal family” of relatives who serve as village headmen and council members. By tradition, they have the power to allocate land for cattle grazing, crops, graves or other uses. Many residents are afraid of losing their homes and government services if they dare challenge the council.
Under an unresolved South African legal vacuum, both the tribal councils and the national government share jurisdiction over communal land in the apartheid system’s former black “homelands” such as the Platreef region. So the Canadian company has focused on winning support from the traditional council, while also forging links to the African National Congress, the national ruling party.
Gifts for the tribal council
Mr. Friedland became involved with the site in 1993, in the dying days of apartheid, when he met William Hayden, the geologist who had founded Platreef Resources a few years earlier. They agreed that an Ivanhoe holding company would acquire 51 per cent of Platreef Resources. By 2000, the company had gained a prospecting licence for the site on the northern limb of the platinum-rich Bushveld complex, near the town of Mokopane, about 280 kilometres northeast of Johannesburg.
Official minutes from the Mokopane traditional council, seen by The Globe and Mail, show that Platreef has devoted close attention to its connections to the council for at least 15 years, giving private briefings, gifts and donations to the council.
In December, 2001, for example, 14 council members were invited to a barbeque at Platreef’s office in Mokopane, and the company provided “transport” to them. They were so thankful, according to the minutes, that they cited Biblical verses to express their gratitude for “all that the mine has done for us.”
Other notations in the minutes record how Platreef donated 3,000 rand to the council in late 2001, and a further 1,500 rand for two funerals of the chief’s family members. The amounts, relatively small by Western standards, were significant sums in the impoverished Limpopo province.
The current chief, Vaaltyn Kekana, was inaugurated in 2003 after the previous chief died. Many community members supported an older rival, considering him a more legitimate heir to the title. But the ANC government gave its blessing to Mr. Kekana and urged the Canadian mining company to negotiate with the chief.
One of his council members, Joseph Kekana, described how the Canadian company provided a leopard skin – a traditional symbol of a chief’s power – as a gift for the chief’s inauguration. “Because the skin of a leopard is now scarce, we got it from Canada,” he said in a tape-recorded interview with a doctoral student at the University of the Witwatersrand. “They bought it; they were contributing because they have activities in our area.”
In an interview with The Globe and Mail, Chief Kekana denied receiving a leopard skin from the company, but he said Mr. Friedland personally attended his inauguration and gave him two gifts: a walking stick and a watch.
In a statement to The Globe and Mail, Ivanhoe said the gifts were “in line with traditional cultural customs” and were “appropriate expressions of congratulation and respect.”
Traditional councils, usually unelected, have been controversial in many parts of South Africa, where their powers often seem excessive. Before the arrival of democracy in 1994, the apartheid regime used some tribal chiefs as puppet rulers in the black “homelands.” But since 1994, the ANC has continued to recognize many of them.
In 2007, Ivanhoe’s subsidiary launched a deep exploration program at Platreef. Three years later, it discovered a high-grade platinum deposit that it describes as “the motherlode” and “a prize right out of a geologist’s dream.”
The project will be the lowest-cost and longest-life new platinum producer in the world, and a “model” for 21st-century mechanized mining, Mr. Friedland says. He sold 10 per cent of the Platreef project to a Japanese consortium for $290-million in 2011, and raised a further $300-million (Canadian) in a public offering on the Toronto Stock Exchange. In addition to platinum, the property also contains palladium, nickel, copper, gold and rhodium.
To safeguard its interests, Ivanhoe’s subsidiary signed an agreement with Chief Kekana in 2010, describing him as the person who “by birth and customary succession … holds land in trust on behalf of the communities.” Under this agreement, a copy of which was obtained by The Globe and Mail, the chief promised to give the company “all reasonable access” to the land for test drilling. The agreement provided him with a range of personal benefits, including a “monthly stipend” of 30,000 rand (about $4,000 U.S. at the time) – an income far above the local average.
The agreement also required the company to provide the chief with a laptop computer, the use of a farm for a nominal fee of one rand a month, an annual year-end “gratuity” and a lump-sum payment to a “trust” of the chief’s choice.
It gave monthly payments of 3,000 rand to the chief’s adviser and five of his village headmen. (One of the headmen is also a company employee, Ivanhoe says.) The company also gave 10,000 to 30,000 rand a month, plus cellphones and computers, to the “community mining committee” in each village.
Under the agreement, the compensation for villagers whose fields were affected by drilling was fixed at 5,250 rand. Ivanhoe says it has paid this amount to 300 families – sometimes as often as twice a year. It says the amount is more than the value estimated by independent valuators. But many residents say they were never consulted about whether this amount is fair, and never gave consent for the chief to sign the agreement.
Asked about his monthly “stipend” and other benefits from the mining company, Chief Kekana demanded to know the source of the information and suggested it might be “defamatory” – but did not deny its accuracy. “I’m not saying it’s true or not true,” he said.
Ivanhoe, however, openly acknowledges its payments to the chief and headmen. It calls them “reasonable remuneration for time rendered to the company” – including meetings to inform community members of the drilling activity and the compensation for drilling.
Opponents say the payments and other personal benefits have compromised the chief’s neutrality, putting him squarely on Ivanhoe’s side instead of serving as a trustee for his people.
Ivanhoe says it has held more than 150 community meetings and the “overwhelming majority” of residents support the mine. Some meetings were attended by “independent scrutineers,” Ivanhoe says, although it has not disclosed the voting results. The issues were generally resolved by “consensus building,” it says.
Many residents dispute this. Some held protests in 2011 and 2012 that blocked or damaged Platreef drilling rigs, while others disrupted the community meetings. Some retained an independent group, Lawyers for Human Rights, which filed an appeal against the Platreef mining licence last July – an appeal to which the government did not reply. The appeal raised concerns about environmental damage, lack of consultation, inadequate compensation, threats to historic graves, and damage to traditional ways of life.
Over the past two years, the South African government has repeatedly told Ivanhoe to improve its consultations with the communities. An assessment of the mining project, conducted for Ivanhoe by independent consultants, warned last March that the community’s internal disagreements are a “risk” to the project. Of the 20 villages around the site, several refused to elect trustees for the project.
At the national level, Ivanhoe has forged an alliance with one of the most powerful figures in South Africa’s ruling party: Cyril Ramaphosa. A former ANC secretary-general, Mr. Ramaphosa helped lead the negotiations that ended apartheid. Later he became a wealthy businessman and joined Ivanhoe’s board of directors, while still remaining on the ANC’s national executive. By 2013, after a decade on Ivanhoe’s board, Mr. Ramaphosa held about 1.2 million of its common shares (worth about $1-million Canadian).
He resigned from Ivanhoe’s board in May, 2013, five months after becoming the ANC’s deputy leader. But only when he became deputy president last May did he announce that he would transfer the Ivanhoe shares to a non-profit organization, the Shanduka Foundation, a spinoff of his business empire. A spokesman told a local newspaper in November that the transfer was still “being finalized.”
At mining conferences, Mr. Friedland wows investors by touting his Platreef project as a futuristic mechanized operation where mine workers will be like highly paid “surgeons” in air-conditioned comfort.
But while promoting its benefits, Ivanhoe has also used hardball tactics to put pressure on those who might delay it. In 2012, after violent protests damaged some of its drilling equipment in the community of Kgobudi, the company obtained a court injunction against the entire population of 15,000 people, prohibiting anyone from coming within 200 metres of its equipment.
A court later decided that the restrictions should not have been imposed on the whole community, since only about 150 people had protested. In answer to questions from The Globe, the company says it took the “calculated risk” of obtaining the injunction against the entire community to ensure it covered “any potential wrongdoers.”
A community activist is targeted
One of Ivanhoe’s most tireless opponents, community activist Aubrey Langa, has become a favourite target for the company’s press releases. Mr. Langa has helped lead protests against Ivanhoe at the mine site and at a mining conference in Johannesburg. He also obtained a meeting with South African Mineral Resources Minister Ngoaka Ramatlhodi to lobby against the project.
In press statements, Ivanhoe has repeatedly attacked Mr. Langa for his “criminal past” – a reference to criminal convictions in 1977 and 1985 during the apartheid era.
Mr. Langa says the company is using his past as a “smokescreen.” He says his attempted murder conviction in 1977 was a result of police torture, and his 1985 conviction for armed robbery – which led to an eight-year prison sentence – was a “mistake” for which he has paid his debt to society.
The company says Mr. Langa’s criminal record is relevant because of his “numerous threats” against the Platreef project and “his continuing association with violence and dishonest conduct.” It says he threatened and assaulted a government official, and disrupted elections for trusteeships on the Platreef advisory council.
Mr. Langa acknowledges that he tried to hit an official during a meeting. He says he later offered to resign from his community group, but the group insisted he stay. “I can’t deny that I get angry, but it doesn’t mean I’m violent,” he said.
He says it is hypocritical for Ivanhoe to dig up an old criminal record to use against him, since Mr. Friedland himself was arrested and jailed in 1970 after selling LSD to a U.S. police agent.
Ivanhoe says the 1970 drug case was “youthful misconduct” and is “utterly irrelevant” today, since the conviction was legally expunged in 1986.
The company obtained a mining licence for Platreef last May, but the government delayed its final approval. In October, the company used another hardball tactic: It warned it would lay off 325 workers if the government kept delaying the execution of the mining right.
The tactic seemed to work. In early November, the mining right was finally authorized – just six days after the Mineral Resources Department had said it “cannot ignore complaints” from the local communities, and just a month after the department reportedly said that the project’s community benefits were “sketchy” and “did not offer much.”
Today, when community members want to visit their traditional farmland or the graves of their ancestors near the Platreef mine, they are blocked by the company’s security barrier and guards. Negotiating a way through this barricade can be difficult.
“How are we going to visit our ancestors?” asks Molwatsi Madimetja, chairperson of one of the community groups, who was blocked for an hour at the security barrier when he tried to show the graves to The Globe and Mail.
He points to a historic grave, less than 25 metres from two drilling holes. “The drilling is disturbing our ancestors,” he said. “I’m worried about the people buried there. We usually visit them at least twice a year, or when someone gets sick, and we ask the ancestors for healing or forgiveness. Now we can’t go in there. The guards tell us to make an appointment.”
He’s also worried about the loss of his farmland and the medicinal plants that the people traditionally harvest. “We were planning to give that land to our children, but now nothing can grow there.”
Opponents accuse Ivanhoe of failing to get permission from South Africa’s national heritage agency to allow mining activities so close to historic graves. The company says it has the agency’s permission for construction activities up to 50 metres from the graves. It acknowledges that some drilling may have occurred closer than 50 metres before 2011. In future, some graves will be enclosed within the mine’s fence, and as many as 154 graves will have to be relocated, with next-of-kin consulted first, Ivanhoe says.
The company says the mine will provide a range of benefits for the communities; not just the jobs and the 26-per-cent ownership stake under black empowerment rules, but also $16-million for economic development and skills training, and an annual $1-million payment to a community trust while the mine is developed.
But many residents are convinced that the empowerment trust will be controlled by the chief and council. Despite repeated requests, they haven’t been able to see the trust agreement and don’t know how it would function or how its funds would be distributed, they say.
Many say the benefits don’t compensate for the damage to their way of life and traditional land. One 72-year-old farmer, Daniel Nong, says he spends an extra $100 on food every month because of the loss of his crops. “Platreef put their machines in our yards,” he says. “There were so many machines. They’ve killed our crops. We can’t grow anything now.”
The head of the royal family, Chief Kekana, remains steadfast in his support for the project. Most people, he says, are “excited” by its benefits. “People are happy that they’ll get jobs.”
When he’s asked about the opponents, he scoffs. “They don’t create jobs,” he said. “They don’t even hire a cleaning lady for their houses.”
By Kaleyesus Bekele
The Ministry of Mines announced that it has stopped issuing mineral exploration licenses in the South Western part of the country, a region known for different mineral deposits.
In a public notice issued last week, the Ministry of Mines, Mineral Licensing and Administration Directorate, announced that it has suspended issuing mineral exploration licenses in South West part of the country as this area is reserved for a joint geological study being undertaken by the Ethiopian and Chinese geological survey institutes. The directorate revealed that it will not accept applications from companies requesting exploration areas in this part of the country for unspecific period of time.
Local and foreign mining companies expressed their discontent over the large concession held by the Chinese and Ethiopian geological survey institutes for the joint geological study.
Based on a bilateral agreement signed by the governments of China and Ethiopia the Ethiopian and China geological survey institutes are undertaking a joint geological study in the South Western part of Ethiopia since 2012. The South Western part of Ethiopia is known for different mineral resources including gold. The concession includes tens of thousands of sqkm of land in South Western parts of Ethiopia. The geological surveys are trying to identify the mineral resources of the concession area. Chinese and Ethiopian geologists are jointly working to learn about the types of the existing minerals. The cost of the exploration project is covered by the Chinese government. However, Ethiopian and foreign mining companies are not happy about this project. They are wary of the Chinese move saying that this gives comparative advantage for Chinese mining firms.
The Ministry of Mines, Public Relations and Communication Directorate director, Bacha Fuji, told The Reporter that the Ethiopian and Chinese geological survey institutes are assessing the mineral potential of the area for the past two years. “They are collecting useful geological data. They are adding value to the concession. Hence, the Mineral Licensing and Administration Directorate will not process exploration license applications until the joint study is finalized,” Bacha said. However, he said the Ministry will avail the crucial geological data for all local and foreign mining firms once the joint study is finalized.
“Apart from the concession area held by the joint study other concessions are open for interested local and foreign investors,” Bacha said.
The Ministry of Mines recently introduced a stringent mineral exploration licensing procedures. It has also evaluated the performance of companies engaged in mineral exploration activities and revoked 56 companies licenses who failed to execute exploration work according to their commitments.
A Chinese mining company has been ordered out of Somalia for allegedly conducting illegal mining activity and causing “public turmoil,” the Somali government announced on Wednesday.
“[Chinese mining company] ARC has been involved in the illegal digging and mining for minerals in the Simodi mountain range in Somalia’s Awdal region,” the government said in a statement.
It added: “These activities violate Somalia’s territorial integrity and national sovereignty.”
The statement called on the company to “cease its activities responsibly and immediately.”
“ARC’s activities are not only a violation of Somali laws related to the extraction of natural resources, but also a violation of Somalia’s immigration laws, as Chinese nationals are in Somalia illegally where they are conducting activities without work permits,” the government asserted.
The government went on to say that the Chinese company had caused “civil turmoil and tension” in its area of operation after introducing “an armed militia to protect its illegally obtained mining acreage.”
It also accused the firm of displacing native inhabitants, destroying private property, and harming the local environment.
Somalia’s Awdal region is rich in minerals and petroleum and has therefore attracted several international mining firms. Some of these companies, however, are said to be operating on invalid agreements and contracts.
Somali Foreign Minister Abdirahman Duale has already met with Chinese Ambassador Wei Hongtiang to discuss the issue.
Northern Somalia contains numerous deposits of gemstones, natural gas, uranium, tin, iron and petroleum.
The Associated Press Posted: Jan 07, 2015 12:01 AM ET Last Updated: Jan 07, 2015 12:01 AM ET
Oil giant Shell has agreed to pay a Nigerian fishing community 55 million pounds (about $83.5 million US) for the worst oil spill ever suffered in Nigeria.
Wednesday’s agreement ends a three-year legal battle in Britain over two spills in 2008 that destroyed thousands of hectares of mangroves and the fish and shellfish that sustained villagers of the Bodo community in Nigeria’s southern Niger Delta.
It “is thought to be one of the largest payouts to an entire community following environmental damage,” the claimants’ London lawyers, Leigh Day, said.
Shell said it is paying 35 million pounds ($53.1 million) to 15,600 fishermen and farmers and 20 million pounds ($30.4 million) to their Bodo community.
“We’ve always wanted to compensate the community fairly,” said Mutiu Sunmonu, managing director of Shell Nigeria, which is 55 per cent owned by the Nigerian government.
Shell originally offered 4,000 pounds ($6,000) to the entire community, Leigh Day said.
Sunmonu said Shell also has agreed and is “fully committed” to a cleanup.
Chief Sylvester Kogbara, chairman of the Bodo Council of Chiefs and Elders, said he hoped “that Shell will take their host communities seriously now” and embark on a cleanup of all of Ogoniland.
A U.N. Environment Program report has estimated it could take up to 30 years to fully rehabilitate Ogoniland, an area where villagers have been in conflict with Shell for decades.
Kogbara said the community money will be used to provide needed basic services. “We have no health facilities, our schools are very basic, there’s no clean water supply,” he told The Associated Press.
Individually, he said villagers are discussing setting up as petty traders and other small businesses until their environment is restored. Each person gets 2,200 pounds ($3,340) in a country where the minimum monthly wage is less than $100.
Shell’s Sunmonu insisted that oil theft and illegal refining remain “the real tragedy of the Niger Delta” and “areas that are cleaned up will simply become re-impacted.”
Amnesty International said Shell continues to blame oil theft for spills — which means it does not have to pay compensation — when the company’s own documents state its aging oil pipelines present a “major risk and hazard.”
Shell had argued that only 4,000 barrels of oil were spilled in Bodo while Amnesty International used an independent assessor who put it at over 100,000 barrels — considered the largest ever oil spill in mangroves.
“Oil pollution in the Niger Delta is one of the biggest corporate scandals of our time,” said Audrey Gaughran of Amnesty International. She said thousands more people remain at risk because of Shell’s failure to fix aging and dilapidated pipelines.