MAC: Mines and Communities

Haitian Communities File Complaint about World Bank-Supported Mining Law

Published by MAC on 2015-01-08
Source: Statement, Inter Press Service (2015-01-07)

Haitian citizens are pursuing a complaint against the World Bank for its support of pro-mining legislation in the country.

Haitian Communities File Complaint about World Bank-Supported Mining Law

Sound Alarm about Lack of Participation, Environmental and Social Protections

Accountability Counsel & Global Justice Clinic Press release

7 January 2015

NEW YORK, SAN FRANCISCO, PORT-AU-PRINCE - Haitian communities and organizations filed a complaint with the World Bank regarding Bank-supported activities to develop Haiti’s mining sector today.[1] The complaint alleges that the Haitian populace has been left out of World Bank-funded efforts by the Haitian government to draft new mining legislation intended to attract foreign investors to exploit Haiti’s gold and other minerals. Complainants contend that the Bank has failed to follow its own social and environmental safeguard policies or ensure that the new legal framework adheres to international best practices. They fear that allowing the mineral sector to develop without much-needed human rights and environmental protections and without public consultation could harm rather than help Haiti.

“The mining law will attract investment from foreign mining companies and yet the government does not have the ability to monitor environmental impacts or to promote the interests of the affected communities,” said Nixon Boumba, a representative of the Kolektif Jistis Min (Mining Justice Collective), a group of six Haitian organizations and dozens of communities who filed the complaint. Haitian people who have had the chance to learn about the government’s efforts to develop the sector share serious reservations about the new mining law and the broader effort to encourage mining: over 400 people in Haiti have signed a petition stating their concerns with mining sector development and demanding access to accurate information about mining and its potential impacts on Haitian people and the well-being of the country. The petition also requests a national debate and a full, public review of this strategy before the proposed mining legislation is finalized.[2]

Some communities in Haiti have already had negative experiences with companies exploring for minerals on or near their land. “We have seen impacts that make us worry,” explained a complainant and community leader from northern Haiti. “People who have begun to understand what mining could mean, what an open-pit mine is, they are worried about how it will affect the environment and the way we live now.” Communities also claim that companies have already drilled and excavated on their land without seeking proper consent.

Complainants also fear the consequences of encouraging mining without ensuring the Haitian government’s ability to enforce social and environmental protections. The government has suffered from inadequate resources and failed regulatory processes for years, and the country’s recent protests and governmental instability underscore ongoing capacity issues.[2] “The World Bank is backing a law to promote investment in mining at a time of growing political turmoil,” said Professor Margaret Satterthwaite of the New York University School of Law Global Justice Clinic, which represents affected Haitian communities. “It would be irresponsible to open up the sector in the context of such governmental instability and without a full analysis of its impacts.”

“The World Bank’s assistance aims to change the entire legal regime for mineral mining in Haiti,” said Sarah Singh of Accountability Counsel, an organization representing affected Haitian communities. “Given the serious social and environmental risks associated with this industry, the Bank must ensure that the new law is developed with participation from civil society and includes provisions to protect human rights and adhere to international best practices.”

Notes for editors

[1] The complaint has been submitted to the World Bank Inspection Panel, an independent office that investigates allegations by people who claim to have experienced harm or who fear future harms as a result of World Bank projects. The complaint is available at: http://www.accountabilitycounsel.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/ENG-Complaint_FINAL.pdf.

[2] The Collective continues to collect signatures to the petition, which they plan to present before Parliament.

[3] Elections have been repeatedly postponed since 2011, leading to rising political protests. If no elections are held before mid-January, Parliament will be automatically dissolved and President Martelly has announced that he will begin to rule by decree.

For more information, please contact:

Margaret Satterthwaite (English, Kreyòl), NYU Global Justice Clinic, +1 212 998 6657, +1-347-277- 5035, satterth[at]exchange.law.nyu.edu
Sarah Singh (English), Accountability Counsel, +1 415 296 6761, sarah[at]accountabilitycounsel.org Camille Chalmers (Kreyòl, French, or Spanish preferred; English), Member of the Collective and Director of PAPDA (Haitian Platform for an Alternative Development), +509-3837-1899, chalmerscamille6[at]gmail.com

Peterson Derolus (Kreyòl, French), Coordinator for the Collective and member of MODEP (Popular Democratic Movement), +509-3667-0418, pderolus[at]yahoo.fr
Nixon Boumba (Kreyòl, French), Member of the Collective and member of MODEP (Popular Democratic Movement), +509-3622-1293, nicboum[at]yahoo.fr


Haitians Worry World Bank-Assisted Mining Law Could Result in “Looting”

By Carey L. Biron

Inter Press Service

13 January 2015 

WASHINGTON - With Haiti’s Parliament possibly set to dissolve by Tuesday, civil society groups are worried that the Haitian president may move to unilaterally put in place a contentious revision to the country’s decades-old mining law.

Starting in 2013, that draft was written with technical assistance from the World Bank. Last week, a half-dozen Haitian groups filed a formal appeal with the bank’s complaints office, expressing concern that the legislation had been crafted without the public consultation often required under the Washington-based development funder’s own policies.

The aim of the new draft mining law appears to be a massive expansion of Haiti’s mining sector, paving the way for the entry of foreign companies already interested in the country’s significant gold and other deposits.

“Community leaders … are encouraging communities to think critically about ‘development’, and to not simply accept projects defined by outsiders,” Ellie Happel, an attorney in Port-au-Prince who has been involved in the complaint, told IPS.

“These projects often fail. And, in the case with gold mining, residents learn that these projects may threaten their very way of life.”

Haiti’s extractives permitting process is currently extensive and bureaucratic. Yet the new revisions would bypass parliamentary oversight altogether, halting even a requirement that agreement terms be made public, according to a draft leaked in July.

Critics worry that this streamlining, coupled with the Haitian government’s weakness in ensuring oversight, could result in social and environmental problems, particularly damaging to a largely agrarian economy. Further, there is question as to whether exploitation of this lucrative minerals wealth would benefit the country’s vast impoverished population.

“The World Bank’s involvement in developing the Draft Mining Law lends the law credibility, which is likely to encourage investment in the Haitian mining sector,” the complaint, filed with the bank’s Inspection Panel on Wednesday, states.

“[T]his increased investment in the mining sector will result in … contamination of vital waterways, impacts on the agriculture sector, and involuntary displacement of communities. Complainants are also concerned about the exclusion of Haitian people from the law reform process, particularly when contrasted with the reported regular participation of the private sector in drafting the new law.”

The complaint comes five years after a devastating earthquake struck Haiti, and as political instability is threatening reconstruction and development progress made in that catastrophe’s aftermath. Elections have been repeatedly put off for more than two years, and by Tuesday so many members of Parliament are slated to have finished their terms that the body would lack a quorum.

On Sunday Haitian President Michel Martelly indicated that a deal might be near. But the leftist opposition was reportedly not part of this agreement, and has repeatedly warned that the president is planning to rule by decree.

The Inspection Panel complaint, filed by six civil society groups operating under the umbrella Kolektif Jistis Min (the Justice in Mining Collective), contextualises its concerns against this backdrop of instability. “[T]he Haitian government may be poised to adopt the Draft Mining Law by decree, outside the democratic process,” it states.

Even if the political crisis is dealt with soon, concerns with the legislation’s drafting process will remain.

The Justice in Mining Collective, which represents around 50,000 Haitians, drew up the complaint after the draft mining law was leaked in July. No formal copy of the legislation has been made public, nor has the French-language draft law been translated into Haitian Creole, the most commonly spoken language.

“The process has been very opaque, with a small group of experts from the World Bank and Haitian government officials drafting this law,” Sarah Singh, the director of strategic support with Accountability Counsel, a legal advocacy group that consulted on the complaint and is representing some Haitian communities, told IPS.

“They’ve had two meetings that, to my knowledge, were invite-only and held in French, at which the majority of attendees were private investors and some big NGOs. Yet the bank’s response to complaints of this lack of consultation has been to say this is the government’s responsibility.”

The Justice in Mining Collective is suggesting that this lack of consultation runs counter to social and environmental guidelines that undergird all World Bank investments. These policies would also call for a broad environmental assessment across the sector, something local civil society is now demanding – to be followed by a major public debate around the assessment’s findings and the potential role large-scale mining could play in Haiti’s development.

Yet the World Bank is not actually investing in the Haitian mining sector, and it is not clear that the institution’s technical assistance is required to conform to the safeguards policies. In a November letter, the bank noted that its engagement on the Haitian mining law has been confined to sharing international best practices.

Yet Singh says she and others believe the safeguards do still apply, particularly given the scope of the new legislation’s impact.

“This will change the entire legal regime,” she says. “The idea that bank could do that and not have the safeguards apply seems hugely problematic.”

A World Bank spokesperson did confirm to IPS that the Inspection Panel has received the Haitian complaint. If the panel registers the request, she said, the bank’s management would have around a month to submit a response, following which the bank’s board would decide whether the complaint should be investigated.

Parliamentary moratorium

Certainly sensitivities around the Haitian extractives sector have increased in recent years.

Minerals prospecting in Haiti has expanded significantly over the past half-decade, though no company has yet moved beyond exploration. In 2012, when the government approved its first full mining permit in years, the Parliament balked, issuing a non-binding moratorium on all extraction until a sector-wide assessment could take place.

Meanwhile, Haitians have been looking across the border at some of the mining-related problems experienced in the Dominican Republic, including water pollution. Civil society groups have also been reaching out to other countries in the Global South, trying to understand the experiences of other communities around large-scale extractives operations.

Current views are also being informed by decades of historical experience in Haiti, as well. Since the country’s independence in the early 19th century, several foreign companies have engaged many years of gold mining.

That was a “negative, even catastrophic, experience,” according to a statement from the Justice in Mining Collective released following the leak of the draft mining law in July.

“Mining exploitation has never contributed to the development of Haiti. To the contrary, the history of gold exploitation is one marked by blood and suffering since the beginning,” the statement warned.

“When we consider the importance of and the potential consequences of mineral exploitation, we note this change in the law as a sort of scandal that may facilitate further looting, without even the people aware of the consequences.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

 

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