Monthly Archives: January 2017

Malawi: Information Bill Aids Mining Communities

25th JANUARY 2017

Human Rights Watch (Washington, DC)

Lilongwe — Malawi’s recently passed information bill could help communities affected by the extractive industries get information about related environmental, health, and safety risks, Human Rights Watch, Malawi’s Natural Resources Justice Network, and the Centre for Law and Democracy said today.

Malawi’s parliament adopted the bill with amendments on December 14, 2016. It was sent to President Peter Mutharika the week of January 16, 2017. It will enter into force once signed by the president and published in the official Gazette. The Malawian Natural Resources Justice Network has been advocating for more than a decade for access to information that helps communities make informed decisions and hold duty-bearers accountable in the extractive industries.

“The new law means that people in Malawi’s mining communities should be able to get vital information they need to protect their lives and livelihoods,” said Katharina Rall, researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The president should sign the law, and the government should act quickly to put it into effect.”

In a 2016 report, Human Rights Watch documented that families living near coal and uranium mining operations face serious problems with water, food, and housing, and that the families in the area have been left in the dark about health and other risks from nearby mining operations. Human Rights Watch found that Malawi lacks adequate safeguards to ensure that development efforts are always consistent with protecting the rights of local communities, and that weak government oversight and a lack of information leave local communities unprotected.

Residents in mining communities and non-governmental organizations in Malawi said that they could not get sufficient information about planned mining operations and any associated risks, fueling concerns about serious respiratory diseases, and other health and environmental impacts. The government told Human Rights Watch that it monitors the impact of mining but that it does not release the results to affected communities.

“Mining communities we work with applaud parliamentarians for passing the Access to Information Bill, which could also help push the government to release information about the oil and gas exploration around Lake Malawi,” said Kossam Munthali, Chair of the Natural Resources Justice Network. “Without information on the government’s position, civil society groups are unable to assess the potential risk that oil exploration poses to the lake and land or to engage on this issue.”

Since 2011, the government has awarded six petroleum exploration licenses, three of which cover the lake. Attorney General Kalekeni Kaphale expressed concerns over irregularities in the licensing and contracting process. Malawian non-governmental organizations have repeatedly asked the government for information about the status of the exploration and contracts but have not received a response.

In November, the Natural Resources Justice Network and Publish What You Pay Malawi, which represent the overwhelming majority of civil society organizations working on the extractives in Malawi, wrote to the UNESCO World Heritage Committee asking it to press the Malawi government to provide information to the public about the planned oil exploration in Lake Malawi National Park. The World Heritage Committee notified the Malawi government that it should comply with its obligation to submit its overdue progress report to UNESCO, that should include this information, by February 1, 2017.

The provisions of the new information bill, if adequately implemented, could ensure that Malawians would be able to request and obtain the information they need from all government authorities as guaranteed by the Constitution. An analysis by the Centre for Law and Democracy from February 2016 using the RTI Rating, a comparative tool for assessing the strength of right to information legislation, found that if passed, the law would be the 15th strongest in the world.

The bill states that the information law will prevail in cases of conflict with other legislation, preventing the government from citing other laws that prohibit disclosure of information, such as any current or future mining-related legislation. The bill also addresses concerns raised by Malawian non-governmental groups about previous drafts. The bill says that the Malawi Human Rights Commission, the national human rights institution, will handle the oversight and appeals function of the law. The bill tasks the commission with disseminating information about how citizens can claim their right to know and with carrying out monitoring and evaluation procedures.

“Among the most important components in a successful right to information system is effective and independent oversight,” said Michael Karanicolas, senior legal officer at the Centre for Law and Democracy. “Having allocated these crucial responsibilities to the Human Rights Commission, Malawi’s government should also make sure that the commission has additional resources and capacity, as required, to perform this role.”


UK: Shell ruling could give green light to corporations for abuses abroad


23 January 2017

On Thursday 26 January the UK High Court will rule on whether two Niger Delta communities whose environment and livelihoods were destroyed by oil spills can have their claims against Shell heard in the UK. The case could set a precedent for holding other UK-based multinationals to account for abuses committed overseas.

“This ruling will have wide-ranging implications for corporations based in the UK that abuse human rights abroad. If the court rules that the communities cannot have their case heard in the UK it would effectively be a green light for UK multinationals to profit from human rights abuses and environmental destruction around the world,” said Audrey Gaughran, Director of Global Issues at Amnesty International.

Two separate legal actions have been brought against Shell on behalf of more than 42,000 people from the Ogale and Bille communities in Nigeria’s Rivers State, who live with appalling pollution caused by oil spills.

Shell’s Nigerian subsidiary SPDC argues that the case is outside UK jurisdiction and should be heard in Nigeria. Amnesty International and other organizations have exposed how rural communities affected by oil pollution frequently face insurmountable challenges when trying to take Shell to court in Nigeria.

In a 3 November 2015 report, Clean it up: Shell’s false claims about oil spills in the Niger Delta, Amnesty International documented ongoing contamination at four oil spill sites, and exposed as false Shell’s claims that they had been cleaned up years ago.


For more information please call Amnesty International’s press office in London, UK, on:

Tel: +44 (0)20 7413 5566 or +44 (0) 777 847 2126
twitter: @amnestypress
International Secretariat, Amnesty International, 1 Easton St., London WC1X 0DW, UK

SOURCE: Amnesty International

Kenya: Women Step Up Fight for Land Destined for Coal Mine

17th JANUARY 2017

By Shadrack Kavilu and Justus Wanzala

When the Kenyan government announced five years ago that coal deposits had been found in the Mui Basin, a land of rolling hills and pristine forests east of Nairobi, local farmers hoped the discovery would help transform their livelihoods.

But as villagers prepare to leave their loamy, fertile soils to make way for the multi-million dollar mine and power station development, many households fear they will miss out on compensation because women do not have titles to their land.

Traditionally, Kenyan society is patriarchal and ownership and decisions on land management or disposal are made by men.

The villagers’ situation reflects the predicament of thousands of women throughout Kenya who head their households but are not named on land ownership documents.

Around 30,000 households will be affected by the proposed coal mines in the Mui basin, said Alex Nganga, leader in the local county assembly.

There are no definitive figures for how many local families are headed by women, but it is known that there are many.

“We were anticipating that women would be listed in title deeds as co-owners or joint owners of land,” said Kasyoka Malonza, a Mutito community representative in the Mui Basin.

“It’s unfortunate that we have not been recognised despite all our efforts,” she said.


According to the Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA), Kenya now has a raft of progressive laws aimed at ensuring gender equality but customary laws continue to limit women’s rights to land and property.

The Land Registration Act, introduced in 2012, includes provisions for joint tenancy and gives wives a legal right to land that is held in the other spouse’s name where the woman has contributed either in financial terms or through her labour.

FIDA estimates that only five percent of all land title deeds are held jointly by women with men and only one percent of land titles in Kenya are held by women alone.

This is despite figures that show that around 32 per cent of households are headed by women and that they are responsible for nearly 90 per cent of the farming work.

A report on gender issues and the effect of coal mining in the Mui Basin prepared last year with Canadian government support also highlighted the need to ensure fair compensation for land women who live in polygamous households.


The coal-rich Mui Basin covers around 500 square km and is located around 270 km (170 miles) east of Nairobi. It has been divided into four sections for mining development.

A Chinese firm, Fenxi Mining Group, was given rights to develop half the area in 2011. Another Chinese company, HCIG Energy Investment Company with Liketh Investments Kenya Ltd won rights to develop the rest of the area and coal fired plant in 2015.

The east African nation hopes that coal from the $2 billion power plant will not only help supply Kenya’s cement and steel industries which import large volumes of coal but also save on foreign exchange by cutting import costs. Surplus electricity will be sold into Kenya’s national grid.

George Kariithi, director of the Great Lakes Corporation, a Kenyan partner of the Fenxi Mining Group said the company could not comment on the issue of land compensation and ownership rights.

“We have left that for the government to handle,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

A spokesman for the National Land Commission told the Thomson Reuters Foundation that questions on land titles and the mining development must be referred to the Kitui County government.

But an official for the county said he could not comment as it was a matter for the Land Commission.


Christine Kalikanda of the advocacy group Centre for Human Rights and Civic Education (CHRCE) said the group was working in the Mui Basin as well as many other areas of Kenya to teach women how to ask for their property rights.

“We mobilise communities to voice issues collectively,” she said, adding that CHRCE has also developed guidelines to help villagers negotiate fair, market value compensation.

According to local residents however, there has been very little interaction between the mining companies and local communities.

Activists say that the government itself has not been forthcoming either and communities still have no idea where churches, markets and water points are to be re-located.

Simon Mutui of the campaign group Kenya NGO Council said widows and single parents are particularly worried as they have no legal claim to their land at all.

“Children born out of wedlock stay with their maternal extended families but have no claim to land as their mothers lack inheritance rights, they have no claim to compensation,” he said.

For Mutito community representative, Malonza, the answer lies with the Kenyan government: “It should guarantee women’s rights both for ownership and the equitable division of assets,” she said.

“We want to see that even women in polygamous families get an equal share.”