A Human Rights Watch report launched in Lilongwe yesterday has faulted government for ignoring human rights abuses in areas surrounding mining ventures in the country.
The report titled ‘They have destroyed everything: mining and human rights in Malawi’ raises questions about mining companies which are allowed to operate in the country, but end up violating health and economic rights of communities surrounding the mining sites.
The report also faults government for failing to “effectively monitor, let alone systematically address, the impacts of mining operations”.
Human Rights Watch, which mainly focused on mining activities in Karonga at Keyelekera and Mwabulambo, further accused government of ignoring concerns of contamination of water and land by uranium and coal mines, denying communities and civil society information on the same.
“We have seen importantly absence of lack of information; communities told us they lacked information to assess risks. The issue of information is at the core of the many concerns we have registered,” Human Rights Watch researcher Katherina Rall told the conference.
She said they examined issues related to relocation of communities at Mwabulambo and Keyelekara and discovered communities were not informed prior to their relocation.
According to Rall, health concerns from alleged water contamination or coal dust from trucks which put the communities at risk of respiratory infections were also ignored.
She also said her organisation called for reforms to the law, including the passing of a new Mines Act, but without a proposed restriction on access to information and also the passing of the eagerly anticipated Access to Information Bill.
“The draft MM Bill the government is developing does not address the core problem described in this report: access to information. Quite to the contrary, one of its major weaknesses is a broad confidentiality provision that would essentially prevent communities from accessing information about the risks related to mining,” adds the report.
However, Ministry of Natural Resources, Energy and Mining chief mining engineer Burnett Msiska, who represented government, had to be restrained after angrily interrupting Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR) executive director Timothy Mtambo’s contribution.
Mtambo and other civil society representatives were unhappy that Msiska refused to respond to queries raised in the report and opted to say government would respond to the issues after studying the report.
Fellow panelists such as Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC) executive secretary Grace Malera could be seen asking Msiska to calm down and later in his final remarks, the government official played down the incident, describing Mtambo as a good friend.
Earlier, Citizen for Justice executive director Reinford Mwangonde and Malera welcomed the report, but said the majority of the concerns highlighted had been presented by local players for decades without government responding to the issues.
“Government is failing to learn from the past. Today, they are repeating the same mistakes, the same shortcuts in oil and gas extraction. It’s about continued negligence and getting caught in the same vicious cycle,” Mwangonde said.
The report is based on 150 interviews with communities, civil society organisations, mining companies and government officials.