Sierra Leone: Sickening conditions surrounding wealth creation – The involvement of the South African-based company Koidu Holdings in a system of exploitation
Ten years after the end of the civil war communities in Sierra Leone struggle under the hazardous impact of corporate aggression. In recent years, uncountable new contracts between the government and private industry have been made. These all share one common quality: There are no obligations for the companies to comply with any ecological or social standards or regulations whatsoever. This has serious implications on the health of local communities. Particularly in the extractives sector, which is exceptionally lucrative for the companies due to the deposits of diamonds, rutile, gold and bauxite, resource exploitation is often accompanied by displacement, dispossessions and destruction of the environment.
The Sierra Leonian human rights organisation Network Movement for Justice and Development along with local partners like the affected mining communities and the Campaign for Just Mining continued to make frantic interventions both locally and internationally with support from medico international and other partners on the plight of these communities.
Situated on the west coast of Africa, Sierra Leone is rich in diamonds and other natural resources. “Blood Diamonds” had fuelled the Civil War from 1991 to 2002. After the war ended, there was hope the precious stones would contribute towards the development and prosperity of all people. This was not to be. Today, the diamond-rich area of Kono is both the wealthiest and poorest region of the country.
In 2006 Koidu Holdings acquired mining rights from the government in Sierra Leone. With the indulgence of the local government, and without further notice beyond the borders of Sierra Leone, the company turned a blind eye on appalling working conditions, evictions, human rights violations, environmental degradation and social destruction.
Today’s mining operations require the excessive use of dynamite close to the local communities and have forced an estimated 10,000 people (more than 10 % of the population) into dispossession and resettlement. New replacement homes provide only extremely confined space and leave too little room for farming. People who have long practiced their right to subsistence farming now struggle to survive. Furthermore, the level of domestic violence and abuse, particularly towards women and children, already high in the post-war period, has risen massively due to the level of social disintegration and economic hardship. This trend has been further exacerbated by the forced displacement of many thousands of people.
NMJD: The Network Movement for Justice and Development (NMJD) is one of the few civil society organisations which actively rallies people to fight the injustices caused by the ongoing mining operations of Koidu Holdings. NMJD has a long history of working with grassroots communities in Sierra Leone. It interacts with the government on policy reform matters and provides free legal support as part of its paralegals programme.
medico international: The human rights and development organisation Medico International has provided support for human rights organisations in Sierra Leone since the end of the civil war. Next to a campaign against conflict diamonds that started in 1998, medico has also supported a number of projects in the field of reconciliation and empowerment.
Since 2007, medico supports the NMJD paralegals programme in the Kono district. To strengthen local accountability, NMJD has trained and deployed human rights paralegals in communities to help people access justice-providing institutions, to promote alternative dispute resolution, to educate people about their rights and responsibilities and to observe and report on human rights abuses and violations.
At the People’s Health Assembly (PHA) 2012 in Cape Town, medico international and the NMJD will facilitate a workshop on the impact on health and social wellbeing of diamond mining in Sierra Leone.
Given the fact that South Africa is unquestioned the centre of the African diamond industry where all technical and commercial expertise of the continent is concentrated, a roundtable meeting between the NMJD and the South African Union of Mineworkers will be organized in Johannesburg shortly after the PHA.