Report: mining & human rights in Karamoja, Uganda

Tuesday, 4 February, 2014

An interesting report from Human Rights Watch HRW came across our desks recently. ‘How Can We Survive Here?’ The Impact of Mining on Human Rights in Karamoja, Uganda examines the conduct of three companies in different stages of the mining process: East African Mining, Jan Mangal, and DAO Uganda. Though some of its findings have already been disputed by East African Mining (EAM), the report makes a simple and almost certainly correct basic point: “Uganda’s nascent mining industry could do more harm than good for indigenous people unless the government makes reforms and mining companies start respecting rights.”

Not much to argue with there - but the central bone of contention as far as East African Mining (the Ugandan subsidiary of Jersey-registered East African Gold) is concerned is this - in the words of their rebuttal: 

“The company [EAM] would like to state that any suggestion that it mistreats its employees is categorically untrue and that its commitment to good working practices and the welfare of staff is absolute.”

The EAM statement is available in full on the Human Rights Watch website, here. Transparency of the kind we like at CSR21.

So what does the report actually say? Well: Uganda’s government has promoted private investment in mining in the remote northeastern Karamoja region to bring economic development, but HRW states that the government needs to implement reforms in order to respect the rights of indigenous people to determine how their lands are used. 

In the words of the HRW press release: 

“Human Rights Watch found that companies have explored for minerals and actively mined on lands owned and occupied by Karamoja’s indigenous people. But the Ugandan government, in partnership with the private sector, has excluded customary land owners from making decisions about the development of their own lands and has proceeded without their consent. Human Rights Watch also found that donors, including the World Bank, have failed the people of Karamoja by working to enhance the burgeoning mining sector without addressing indigenous people’s rights, including the right to development.”

If these allegations are true this is a big missed chance, as HRW’s Africa Director, Daniel Bekele, is quick to point out. “Mining development could be a real boon to the people of Karamoja, bringing jobs and better security, services, and basic infrastructure,” he says. “However it is still unclear how the people of Karamoja will benefit, if at all, from mining, or how the government intends to protect their rights during this process.”

A number of extractives companies have investigated Karamoja in the past two years, particularly in search of gold and marble. The Ugandan government has accelerated licensing of companies to carry out exploration and mining operations, an increase of over 700% between 2003 and 2011. The press release again:

“The report is based on research in Uganda from May to November 2013, including 137 interviews, 61 of them with people living in areas where companies are exploring for minerals or actively mining. Human Rights Watch also interviewed representatives of the companies, the central and local governments, the army, national and international nongovernmental organizations, and donor governments and agencies.”