By Solomon Lubambula.
Jan Mangal a gold Mining Company in Karamoja has fenced off 64.4 square kilometers of land where it has placed a heavy duty water pump drawing 10,000 liters of water per hour from the main river used as the major source of water for the communities during the dry season in Nakibat Moroto District.
Talking to the Unwanted Witness-Uganda, the chairperson local Miners Association Simon Peter Nangiro says the place is being guarded by army officers and now people down in Nakibat are thinking of other ways of accessing water since the water pipe just bypasses them.
Nangiro further expressed fears that this threatens people’s rights as their goats and cows can no longer access the fenced off land for grazing.
“the pump operates 7 hours a day, if we do not receive rains soon you will see it means”-Nangiro warned.
A new report has indicated that the mining companies in Karamoja sub region have infringed on the rights of indigenous people by excluding them from making decisions about the activities and the entire development of their land.
According to the report authored by Human Rights Watch titled ‘How can we survive here? The impact of mining on human rights in Karamoja’, mining companies including East African Mining, Jan Mangal and DAO Uganda have gone about their activities without getting the consent of the indigenous people in the region where land is communally owned.
In reference to the International standards as affirmed by the African Commission on Human and people’s rights and the United Nations declarations on rights of the Indigenous people, the Human Rights Watch senior researcher Maria Burnett said that governments have a duty, and companies have a responsibility, to consult and cooperate with indigenous people to obtain their informed consent before the approval of any project affecting their lands and other resources.
Presenting the research findings, Burnett stressed that this responsibility in the international Human Rights instruments is based on indigenous people’s right to own, use, develop, and control their traditionally occupied lands and resources,
Given that background, Burnett said that it is unfortunate that the Uganda government together with the private companies has instead excluded the land owners in making decisions about the development of their our land.
Government’s failure to uphold the rights of the local people is evident with the presence of the Ugandan People’s Defence Forces at exploration and mining operations which has prompted significant confusion and fear. Burnett says that this is likely to impede constructive consultations with affected communities.
The 140-page report says that the East African Mining company began exploring for gold in 2012 in Kaabong without consulting the indigenous land owners.
Instead, people knew of the company’s interest in their lands, when employees and soldiers entered their lands and began taking soil samples from their gardens and even within their homes, prompting fear.
Community members continued to express confusion as to what the company was doing, how it might impact on them, and how they were to benefit.
“Eight men in yellow uniforms just entered my garden and started excavating – they said nothing,” said one man from Lois parish, in Kathile, Kaabong. “They just started digging and taking my soil. I just looked at them. I was afraid. So, I couldn’t get near them. They stepped on some of our crops and damaged them. I asked them, ‘Why are you destroying our crops?’ They said, ‘It will be good for your survival…’ We were afraid and feared to stop them, reads part of the report
One Dodoth elder in Kaabong told Human Rights Watch that the approach by the companies was very bad for his people.
“No one consults us, and no one has told us what will happen next. Someone comes and occupies your land or takes your soil; it is something we haven’t really experienced before. People will die. People will die for this land and this gold. We cannot survive without them.”
The Africa director at Human Rights Watch, Daniel Bekele said that though the mining development brings hope to the people of Karamoja through employment opportunities, better security services, and basic infrastructure, there some unanswered questions.
“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.”-Bekele said
The report also found that developing partners including the World Bank have had a prominent role in supporting Uganda’s development of the mining sector but so far, the projects have excluded indigenous rights and therefore failed to set a positive precedent that would support the rights of the people of Karamoja.
Meanwhile the people of Karamoja are not necessarily against the developments in the region however they are opposed to the approach that does not consider their in-put to help them understand the benefits entitled to them as community members. The report says that people would not oppose the developments as long as there is an agreement on what they really want and what the companies want from the community.
“There is nothing bad about companies coming, but what we hate is the way they come in, don’t show us respect, and don’t show us the impact and the benefits of their work for my people.”– Dodoth elder from Sidok, Kaabong Town
Now based on the findings of this study, the Human Rights Watch report recommends that government and parliament amend the constitution to recognize indigenous people’s rights.
The Human Rights body suggests that government of Uganda should expand the existing legal requirement to conduct environmental impact assessment to bring it in line with international best practices that explicitly address human rights considerations.
The report also pointed out the need to amend the mining Act to include a requirement for a human rights impact assessment explaining the potential impacts exploration and active mining may have on affected communities and their rights.
Meanwhile Nangiro noted that the local miners’ association is working with the ministry of mineral development and area Members of parliament to sensitize the public on the mineral potential and the expected changes in the region.