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Background & Introduction
The Njuli Community was suffering from the negative environmental impacts of mining activities at the Quarry at Njuli in the Chiradzulu District through the alleged pollution that followed the activities of this Terrastone Ltd Company. This affected five villages in Njuli community, namely: Chakachaza, Katsizi, Luwanga, Chikuse and Namakhuwa in Traditional Authority Mpama in Chiradzulu District. The quarry itself is situated at Njuli along Blantyre-Zomba Road. The complaint was made to the Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC) by a village organisation called Olira Club through Mr. Mandala Potiphar Kumbemba.
The Malawi Human Rights Commission undertook an investigation into the allegations from the complainant through site inspections and observation; focus group discussion with community members (including marginalised groups like women); semi-structured interviews; picture documentation and vegetable sampling. These were to help ascertain the truth of the allegations.
Very importantly, special interviews were conducted on the Managers at the Quarry at Njuli and the Medical Assistant at a nearby health facility where people reported cases of sickness from pollution. Special inspection was undertaken on the stream, maize gardens and people’s houses to ascertain alleged damages to property and food in the community.
The MHRC found that there were long term and short term negative impacts of the mining activities on the environment and people’s life as well as health and property issues. Also the Company failed to conduct any Environmental Impact Assessment as required by the Environmental Management Act, thus operating outside the requisite legal regulations. The Ministry of Energy and Mining also failed its duty as required by law to monitor activities of mining companies.
In other words, the Human Rights of the Njuli people had been violated from the angles of Safety and Security of persons; Health; Food; Clean and safe Environment; Liberty and Freedom; Housing and Property. These violations were ubiquitous because of the inefficiency of state institutions with regulatory and monitoring duties for the mining sector, as well as the failure by these relevant state machineries to hold the Company –Terrastone – accountable for its environmental responsibilities by law. MHRC thus recommended an effective involvement of the Ministry of Energy to ensure the implementation of remedial measures (such as compensation for damages and addressing environmental degradation and conducting an Environmental Impact Assessment).
MHRC recommended an effective involvement of the Ministry of Energy to ensure the implementation of remedial measures (such as compensation for damages and addressing environmental degradation and conducting an Environmental Impact Assessment). The end result of this recommendation is as follows:
- Meetings by relevant Ministries on the Quarry Problem.
- Independent inspection of the Quarry and confirmation of the findings of MHRC.
- Issuance of a STOP ORDER to the Quarry Authorities in line with the Environmental Management Act.
- Round Table meeting evaluating adherence by the Company to the conditions of the STOP ORDER (noted significant improvement).
There were some challenges to the mediation process of the MHRC, and some of them include:
- Lack of cooperation from the Local Chief for the MHRC Investigators apparently because his house was built by the Company to keep him loyal to their cause.
- Political squabbles between complainants’ representatives and the local Chief de-railing the hub of the investigation.
- Inadequate resources for the MHRC culminating in the non-involvement of experts for experts’ opinion on important issues.
The Bureaucratic bottle-necks that hampered an engagement with the relevant government departments
The significance of issues that emerged from this case-story include, among other things:
- The pertinence of employing a Rights-Based Approach in engaging businesses on issues of Human Rights.
- The significance of building strong alliances (e.g. with the media, local authorities, etc.
- The cost effectiveness of resolving matters by way of alternative dispute resolution.
- That National Human Rights Institutions can employ their broad mandate to promote and protect Human Rights to hold business entities accountable to human rights violations as well as playing strategic and complementary roles with other enforcement mechanisms within the framework of business and Human Rights since the Human Rights of a people should not be sacrificed on the altar of economic gains/growth.
1. MHRC insists that “ the relevant ministry had the obligation to ensure that where the activities of companies in the extractive industry would affect people through displacement, land acquisition or any damage to property, the affected people are supposed to be thoroughly briefed ad the issues of compensation or relocation have to be properly addressed if the venture should really be sited in the selected place at all.” In this way the MHRC showed the faults of the relevant ministries as well as the Companies themselves.
Contributor(s): This article was modified by George Hodge (5).