Tanzanian authorities attempt to silence activists on Bulyanhulu case

17 January 2002

Tanzanian authorities have arrested Rugemeleza Nshala, President of the Lawyers Environmental Action Team (LEAT), and raided the house of another LEAT lawyer, Tundu Lissu in connection with their investigations into abuses and irregularities at the World Bank-backed Bulyanhulu gold mine. Augustine Mrema, National Chairman of the Tanzanian Labour Party was also arrested on similar grounds. The arrests and raids took place on the night of 23 November 2001.

Both Nshala and Lissu have been actively investigating the alleged killings of 62 small-scale miners and eviction of thousands more at the mine site in August 1996. LEAT had called a press conference on Monday, 19 November, to reiterate its demand for an international commission of inquiry to investigate these allegations.

Nshala, currently released on bail, and Mrema, under house arrest in hospital, have been charged with sedition. Police have reportedly seized evidence obtained by LEAT as part of their investigations. Lissu was abroad when the arrest and raid took place on Saturday, 24 November. A warrant has been issued for his arrest.

Non-governmental organisations familiar with the case believe the arrest and raid are attempts to intimidate LEAT into silence. Ten NGOs, including the Bank Information Center, Friends of the Earth, Mining Watch and the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL), have denounced the arrest and raid as “serious violations of the fundamental human right to free speech, a free press, and to unfettered participation in the political process”.

In a letter to World Bank president James Wolfensohn, the organisations urged the Bank to intervene to stop the intimidation and ensure the personal protection of Nshala, Lissu and other LEAT members. “Given that the arrest and the raids relate directly to LEAT‘s investigation of a MIGA-backed project, we believe that the World Bank should intervene with the Tanzanian authorities to express its concern and call for a halt to this harassment,” the letter stated.

Bank involvement

The Bank is involved in the Bulyanhulu mine through its private sector investment arm, the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA). Last year, MIGA issued a US$115 million guarantee against political risks to a syndicate of banks for their loan to Kahama Mining Corporation Limited, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Canada-based Barrick Gold Corporation. A guarantee of US$56 million was also issued to Barrick who bought over Kahama and Sutton Resources, former parent company of Kahama, in March 1999.

While the alleged killings and evictions took place prior to MIGA‘s involvement in the project, LEAT and other NGOs have pointed out what appear to be major failures in MIGA‘s due diligence procedures with regards to Bulyanhulu. LEAT claims that Barrick had failed to disclose to MIGA information on the alleged killings and forced evictions. Barrick also did not mention the existence of pending legal proceedings on these allegations in the Tanzanian courts. LEAT also claims that the Bank officials who visited the site were told of the forced evictions and killings by a representative of the Bulyanhulu Miners Committee, but never questioned local community leaders about them.

LEAT has also challenged the legality of Barrick’s prospecting rights to Bulyanhulu, maintaining that no concessional licence was ever issued to Kahama at the time the evictions and alleged killings took place at the mine site.

Yet, Kahama had sought to evict the artisinal miners from Bulyanhulu in 1995 and permanently restrain them from interfering with what the companies claimed to be their concessional area. The Tanzanian High Court ruled in favour of the miners on 29 September 1995, upholding their claims that they had been in lawful occupation of the land since 1975 and that they held title by virtue of customary law. The court held that the rights of the miners were infringed by the forced evictions and absence of compensation or resettlement of the indigenous peoples.

Kahama appealed against the court’s decision but later withdrew their case. In July 1996, eviction orders were issued by the Minister of Minerals and Energy at the time, Dr William Shija, and on 2 August 1996, the miners sought and obtained a temporary injunction to stop the evictions from the High Court. In spite of this, the evictions and destruction of the mining settlements went ahead and it was during these evictions that the alleged deaths occurred.

LEAT and other NGOs want MIGA to suspend their political risk guarantee to Kahama and Barrick pending an independent inquiry. MIGA‘s environmental and social policies prohibit the issuance of guarantees for projects which involve the forced relocation of indigenous communities and violate the laws of the recipient countries.

LEAT maintains that the evictions were in defiance of a court order and therefore illegal. Barrick’s failure to mention the allegations and the court case in their project submission to MIGA also contravenes MIGA‘s information disclosure policy, says LEAT.

“These legal proceedings that both Barrick and Kahama must have been aware of are not acknowledged at all in the Social Development Plan that must have been under preparation during the same period of time,” said Nshala in a letter to the Canadian Export Development Corporation which also supplied Barrick with an investment guarantee. “(T)his omission appears to have been deliberately intended to preclude both MIGA and the EDC from making a more informed decision regarding Barrick’s applications for political risk guarantees.”

MIGA response

MIGA insists that the Bulyanhulu project complies with all its environmental and social policies, including their policy on involuntary resettlement. In their statement on 26 September this year, MIGA said it was not convinced of the allegations against Barrick with regards to the alleged deaths in spite of evidence presented to it by LEAT. It said that the evidence, including a list of 36 names of miners allegedly buried alive when the mine shafts were filled during the evictions, eyewitness accounts of the incident, and videotapes shot by the police and company employees involved in the evictions, “provides no evidence of wrongdoing on the part of either the Tanzanian government or Barrick Gold Corporation of Canada”.

MIGA maintains that the video of police investigations at the mine site in 1996 depicting remains of dead bodies being exhumed from the scene were not conclusive proof of liability on the company’s part. “MIGA is not convinced that the human remains depicted in the tape are demonstrably located at the site where the pits were filled and are demonstrably of exhumed miners,” its statement read.

MIGA also claims that the Barrick-Kahama involvement in the Bulyanhulu mine site has led to increased social and economic development for communities in the area. “Prior to Kahama and MIGA‘s involvement in the project, artisinal miners on the site commonly worked in violation of safe mining standards … that regularly led to the mines’ collapse and the death of miners,” it said. “Today, the turnaround is significant. All mining is now conducted in accordance with international environmental and social standards.” MIGA also argues that the Bulyanhulu project has created more jobs, improved medical facilities on the ground and made clean water available to residents.

LEAT and other NGOs counter MIGA‘s claims, saying that the project has cost the destruction of more livelihoods than it has helped. Many of the jobs the project claims to have created “are out of reach of the local communities whose livelihoods and jobs were destroyed in the first place,” said Nshala.

Corporate partnership

MIGA‘s role in Bulyanhulu is one in a long and contentious history of the agency’s involvement in controversial projects. NGOs have long criticised the agency for its support for private sector projects with poor environmental and human rights records. A report published by Friends of the Earth, Urgewald and Campagna per la Riforma della Banca Mondiale in July 2001 concludes that “many of MIGA‘s activities promote, even subsidise poor corporate behaviour at the expense of people and the environment”.

The report, ‘Risky Business: How the World Bank’s Insurance Arm Fails the Poor and Harms the Environment’, slams the agency for its promotion of private sector investment over development concerns and its continued involvement in energy, mining and large infrastructure sectors which cause the most impact on community livelihoods and the environment.

In theory, MIGA claims to support investments in poorer regions which commercial insurers steer clear of, but in practice, the agency’s portfolio mirror existing investment patterns. Increasing investment in the African mining sector is a strong focus of MIGA even though much of the foreign direct investment flowing into Africa already supports this sector, states the report. Risky Business further criticises MIGA for its poor environmental and disclosure policies as well as its poor monitoring of environmental and development impacts.

The Bulyanhulu case also highlights the dangerous consequences of the World Bank’s policy of liberalising mining sectors in Africa to encourage foreign direct investment. The Bank has been involved in redesigning the mining laws in Tanzania and other parts of the region through its technical assistance programmes to facilitate this liberalisation. In 1993, it helped the Tanzanian government rewrite existing mining sector legislation to reduce state involvement in the industry and liberalise licensing regulations and the tax regime to make it easier for private companies to operate in the country and repatriate their profits. While there were provisions for containing environmental degradation, much of the focus in this area was on the effects of small scale prospecting rather than the environmental costs of large commercial mining projects.


Lawyers Environmental Action Network (LEAT)

Environmental and Human Rights NGOs Call for Independent Review of Forced Displacement and Alleged Massacre , statement by Center of International Environmental Law

Buried Alive? The Bulyanhulu Accusations, selection of reports on Bulyanhulu by the Mines and Communities Company

Tanzanian Police Raids, Action Alert by Mining Watch, Canada

Bothends Report on Bulyanhulu

MIGA Statement on the Bulyanhulu Mine in Tanzania

Risky Business: How the World Bank’s Insurance Arm Fails the Poor and Harms the Environment

Previous Bretton Woods Project articles:

MIGA responds to critics

MIGA attacked by NGOs and Congress