Human Rights, Communities and Mining Operations


Claude Kabemba's picture

Director of the Southern Africa Resource Watch (SARW)

January 13th, 2014


Mining operations tend to be capital intensive and use little unskilled or semi-skilled labour. They are geographically concentrated and create small pockets of wealth that typically fail to spread. They produce social and environmental problems that fall heavily on the poor. And they follow a boom-bust cycle that creates insecurity for the poor. This is why the active involvement of citizens is an integral part of improved management and why stakeholder engagement, consultation and empowerment – especially of local communities which are the stakeholders in closest proximity to the mine – are so critical. Engagement with communities must continue throughout the life of the mine on all issues of possible concern or interest to people in those communities.

Current arrangements where affected communities are excluded and not consulted are outdated and cannot continue. Lack of consultation and participation in policy making and decision making have led to an increase in social unrest among communities that feel excluded and believe they are not benefiting from the extraction of the minerals from their land. This state of affairs may lead to human rights violation.

Recommended Principles and Guidelines on Human Rights, Communities And Mining Operations

i.            All mining operators must accept the principle of continuous free, prior and informed consent throughout the life of their operations and ensure that affected communities are fully informed of both hidden and visible impacts as well as both direct and indirect costs at all stages of the mining project.

ii.            Mining companies must consult and involve communities in risk mitigation.

iii.            Governments must take measures to ensure that extractive companies adopt human rights risk assessments in communities likely to be affected by mining, particularly in relation to the activities of private and state security services in protecting the mines. Government must also take measures, through Human Rights Commissions, to investigate and monitor the human rights situation in mining areas.

iv.            Communities have the right to organise in any form to monitor the activities of mining companies, which must desist from creating obstacles to such initiatives.

v.            Mining companies must be fully aware of the social, civil, political, environmental and economic impact of their projects on community rights, and accept full moral, physical and financial responsibility for any related costs.

vi.            Communities should not only be compensated for the loss of their homes, fields, grazing lands and graveyards, but should also receive development funds so that they can cope with the huge changes resulting from loss of their land to mining operations.

vii.            Government must act as fair intermediary between local communities and the mining companies through balancing local rights with national needs.

viii.            Mining companies must recognise and respect local culture and decision-making processes and avoid trying to divide communities on the grounds of gender, class, race, ethnic origin, political allegiance, caste, sexual orientation or disability.

ix.            Mining companies must respect the rights of each individual affected by their activities and not base decisions on the ‘rights of the community’.              

x.            Mining companies must recognise the primacy of community, environmental and human sustainability over the sustainability of their own projects – and not take any actions that will undermine the integrity of human beings, culture, society, environment and the way of life of the local community.

xi.            Mining companies must ensure that they give preference to local people with the required skills before bringing in people with the necessary skills from outside the area. Local unskilled labour should be given pre-eminence in terms of employment where necessary and required. Government and mining companies must take measures to ensure the availability of resources and skills training for locals.

xii.            Governments must define resettlement policies and strategies. Any resettlement process must be preceded by an environmental, economic, social and cultural impact assessment before any decisions are taken to relocate people.

xiii.            Relocation and resettlement must be based on the understanding that resettled communities will be better off after resettlement and must take into consideration the social and anthropological spatial cosmology of the communities so that the social fabric and cultural identity of the communities are not destroyed.

xiv.            The right of communities to participate in, and benefit from, the extraction of minerals on their land cannot be denied on the basis of relocation from the mining area.


About the author(s)

Claude Kabemba is the Director of the Southern Africa Resource Watch (SARW). In 2006, the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (OSISA) asked him to spearhead the formation of SARW. He holds a PhD in International Relations (Political economy) at the University of the Witwatersrand (Thesis: Democratisation and the Political Economy of a Dysfunctional State: The Case of the Democratic Republic of Congo). Before joining SARW, he worked at the Human Sciences Research Council and the Electoral institute of Southern Africa as a Chief Research Manager and Research Manager respectively. He has also worked at the Development Bank of Southern Africa and the Centre for Policy Studies as Policy Analyst. Dr. Kabemba’s main areas of research interest include: Political economy of Sub Saharan Africa with focus on Southern and Central Africa looking specifically on issues of democratization and governance, natural resources governance, election politics, citizen participation, conflicts, media, political parties, civil society and social policies. He has consulted for international organizations such Oxfam, UNHCR, The Norwegian People’s Aid, Electoral Commissions and the African Union. He has undertaken various evaluations related to the work of Electoral Commissions and civil society groups interventions in the electoral process in many African countries. He is regularly approached by both local and international media for comments on political and social issues on the continent. His publication record spans from books (as editor), book chapters, journal articles, monographs, research reports, and newspaper articles.


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