hat is the state of rights and fundamental freedoms of people living in mining communities?
The response to the question is what The State of Human Rights in Mining Communities in Ghana seeks to provide.
The report by CHRAJ is a result of investigations into reported cases of environmental degradation and human rights concerns in mining areas and is in keeping with its primary responsibility to protect and promote the rights of all persons in Ghana.
With the constitutional imperative in article 36 (1) of the 1992 Constitution that enjoins the government that “All necessary action to ensure that the national economy is managed in such a way and manner as to maximise the rate of economic development and to serve the maximum welfare, freedom and happiness of every person in Ghana and provide adequate means of livelihood and suitable employment and public assistance to the needy,” CHRAJ set out on the fact finding mission to ascertain the veracity of allegations of abuses in mining communities and environmental degradation.
The right to development apart from being a constitutional imperative on the government is also an international convention, recognised by the United Nations General Assembly as far back as 1986 and these emboldened CHRAJ to enter an unchartered course in investigating allegations of specific abuses in a specific sector of the economy.
Prior to investigations captured in the report, CHRAJ had in 2001 begun investigations of human rights abuses reported to it by some individuals in mining communities.
The report underlies that fact that a key emerging issue from these investigations that involved public hearings conducted in the Wassa West District, an area with the greatest concentration of mining companies, was the lack of mutual understanding between the mining companies and communities.
In launching a full scale investigation into these claims in 2006 that covered 42 mining communities in four regions, namely Ashanti, Western, Brong Ahafo and Upper East Regions, the report states that the commission was of the view that the claims merited attention.
Using an investigative process that is qualitative in nature, that is, in depth and expressive, the commission examined claims of rights abuse and the degradation of the environment, that directly affected the economic and developments rights of people living in these areas.
The reports lists human rights monitoring techniques, that included focus groups discussions, interviews, site inspections, documentation and observation as some of the methods employed to achieve quality investigation.
Stakeholder forums and consultations with key governmental and non-governmental agencies, as well as mining companies, security agencies, traditional rulers, and civil society groups were also undertaken to make the investigation an all-inclusive and comprehensive one.
In all 847 people, 520 males and 327 females were involved in the focus group discussions, while 21 organisations and institution, including civil society groups were involved in semi structured interviews.
Issues dealt with in The State of Human Rights in Mining Communities in Ghana include water and water sources, blasting and pollution from mining activities that impact on the environment, health and related issues, safety and security, royalties, compensation and resettlement, livelihood and employment, as well as artisanal and small scale mining.
Investigations by CHRAJ, the reports states, found evidence of widespread violations of human rights of individual members of communities and the abuse of the collective rights of communities.
Evidence documented on some violations of human rights and environmental degradation include widespread pollution of communities water sources, deprivation and loss of livelihoods, excesses by state security agencies and security contractors of mining companies, inadequate compensation for destroyed properties, unacceptable alternative livelihood projects and absence of effective channels of communication.
Community by community, the report documents specific rights abuses and activities of mining communities that deplete the environment of its natural cover and strength.
As expressed by Mr Richard Quayson, a Deputy Commissioner of CHRAJ, the investigation was not “a fault-finding one” but an opportunity to address concerns amicably for mining to contribute fully to the economic growth and development of all.
The report bears this out by clarifying each step of the way the allegations that are found not to be so.
For instance, in Anyinam where residents alleged that AngloGold Ashanti (AGA) operated a private detention cell at its offices, the report states, “On inspection it was established that the company had no detention facility. A small room which was previously used as a cell might have given cause to the communities’ concern that the company was still operating a private detention facility.”
CHRAJ found no evidence of “gun wielding security personnel” during the period of investigations at Binsere, also in Obuasi where AGA operates, to support claims by the townsfolk.
However, in Anyinam, “Following reports of excessive noise by the company disturbing studies at the primary school, three investigators sat in a lesson during which the teacher had to shout in order for the pupils to hear her,” the report states.
Also described is the state of the Anwiam community that lies in a valley and frequently gets flooded because of erosion on the sides of the hill due to mining activities that diverted flood waters into the communities.
This was compounded by noise and dust pollution from the shaft of AGA which lay very close to the community.
In Diewuoso also in the Obusi area where AGA prospects, claims by the community of two waste dumps where human faeces and cyanide were dumped was confirmed by investigators upon investigation as “an environmental nightmare.”
Particularly worrying for the communities was the dump used by the AGA and the Municipal Assembly as a faecal dump which was polluting the soil and atmosphere.
A chapter is devoted to mining sites in the Upper East Region visited by CHRAJ personnel in The State of Human Rights in Mining Communities in Ghana mining operations in Yale and Kadema are discussed at length.
A characteristic of mining in these areas is that mining is undertaken primarily on a small scale by artisanal miners.
While some large scale companies have exploration rights to some concessions, in the two areas visited, some other areas have been demarcated and designated exclusively as small scale mining zones.
Key governmental agencies in these areas are the district assemblies and the Minerals Commission and the report makes the observation that the intense nature of the conflict between large-scale mining companies and galamseys and the associated brutalities, observed in southern Ghana did not exist in these areas in the Upper East region, attributing that primarily to the absence of large scale mining operations in the region.
Pictures and tables illustrate some of the issues discussed in the report, while the arrangement of issues discussed by sub topics in bold formats make for easy reference.
The report recommends further testing of fruit, fish and bush meat samples from Obuasi to ascertain whether chemicals used in mining are present and urges the Ministry of Health to assess the overall health needs these communities.
Another recommendation is the review of the use of the military in the mining communities unless in exceptional circumstances which are beyond the control of the police service.
DAILY GRAPHIC, THURSDAY, OCTOBER 30, 2008, PG 34