MAC: Mines and Communities

London Calling deplores the Human Rights Watch 2010 Report

Published by MAC on 2011-02-07
Source: Nostromo Research (2011-02-02)

For years, some of us have relied upon Human Rights Watch (HRW) to publicise concerns about mining-related human rights abuses around the world.

In some instances (for example following critical events surrounding the Freeport-Rio Tinto operations in West Papua during the 1990s) the organisation has materially assisted in securing wider public attention to these abuses.

No longer, it would seem.

Although HRW's latest Report includes reference to West Papua, in the chapter on Indonesia, it doesn't mention the shootings and other acts of assault and intimidation that continue in the huge Grasberg concession area.

This stands in marked contrast to the group's detailed side report on allegations against "security" forces and the complicity of Barrick, across the border in Papua New Guinea.

Unfortunately, that's the only exception that confirms what now seems to be a highly disturbing new rule.

Put bluntly - the organisation has ignored the many spokespeople for mining-affected communities who've been extra-judicially murdered, kidnapped, tortured or, illegally detained across the world during the past twelve months.

Indeed, we couldn't find reference to a single victim within these categories - apart from a Vietnamese maths professor, arrested for operating a web blog that was critical of proposed bauxite mining in the country's highlands.

These omissions might be regarded less seriously, had HRW made no pretence at dealing with the consequences of extracting minerals in politically volatile countries.

But that's not the case.

Mentioning - but essentially ignoring - mining

The HRW report has a short section on violations of the Kimberley Process, alleged against the Zimbabwe government, and companies, operating in the Marange diamond fields.

Fourteen mining outfits, actively exploring in Eritrea, deserve a brief paragraph.  We're told that "lead has poisoned thousands of children" in China. However there's nothing about the thousands who have gone to their deaths at the deadliest of coal mines.

The court case against the Copper Mesa Mining corporation is alluded to in the closing paragraph of the chapter on Ecuador (nothing else).

There's also an elliptical reference to "threats and judicial harassment"  being made against Peruvians who stood up against the government's plans to expand mineral extraction.

It's also true that HRW mentions the Sahrawi Tent City - but only as an expression of "economic grievances" against the Moroccan government. In fact, those who joined this protest specifically challenged Morocco's egregious over-fishing and phosphates mining.

And that's it.

As for industry-related human rights atrocities  in the Philippines, Colombia, El Salvador - and many other relevant states - the slate is blank.

When we turn to India, we're simply informed that "Maoist (Naxalite) insurgents killed more than 100 police and paramilitary personnel in 2010 ... Civilians were often caught up in the fighting" .

This is downright irresponsible way to characterise the ongoing civil wars in India's tribal heartlands, many of which are unequivocally rooted in attempted mineral expropriation.

It's as if these conflicts were only being fomented by the left wing and not by the state and its own proxy terrorists.

Whatever else HRW has been "watching" over the past year, it's certainly not the mounting roll call of some of the worst human rights abuses currently being committed on earth.

[London Calling is published by Nostromo Research. Comments in this column do not necessarily represent the opinions of any other author, including the editors of the MAC website. Reproduction of the column is welcome, provided full acknowledgment is given to Nostromo Research as the source].

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