Ghanian Anti-Mining Activists Threatened and Harrassed
By Mike Anane
ACCRA, Ghana, July 30, 2003 (ENS) - The National Coalition of Civil Society Groups Against Mining in Ghana’s Forest Reserves has condemned what coalition members describe as deliberate and horrific acts of harassment directed at two of their colleagues by Ashanti Goldfields Company Limited, the district chief executive of Adansi West, and a number of the traditional rulers in the Obuasi area.
The coalition encompasses more than 13 civil society groups and includes FoodFirst Information Action Network, Friends of the Earth, Third World Network, Centre for Public Interest Law, GreenEarth, Abantu for Development, the General Agricultural Workers Union, Wassa Association of Communities Affected by Mining, Friends of the Nation, Ceres, and the Integrated Social Development Centre.
At a press conference today, the coalition expressed grave concern at the harassment and intimidation of two of their colleagues.
Benjamin Annan, an assemblyman for the Sanso electoral area in the Adansi West District, and Clement Kofi Scott, a community volunteer who lives in Obuasi in the same district, have been subjected to various kinds of intimidation and harassment. The targeted men are engaged in the campaign against injustices by mining companies and their plans to open up some of Ghana's forest reserves for open pit mining.
Coalition speakers criticized District Chief Executive of Adansi West Kwadwo Boampong and the Chief of New Edubiase Nana Asiama Guahyia Ababio for perpetrating this latest round of attacks on their two colleagues.
The coalition accused Ashanti Goldfields of complicity in what appears to be a campaign of harassment, intimidation, and threats against advocates, and speakers called on the Ashanti Goldfields CEO Dr. Sam Jonah to publicly disavow the vicious attacks.
Speaking on behalf of the coalition, Daniel Owusu-Koranteng, executive director of the Wassa Association of Communities Affected by Mining (WACAM) told reporters that on May 7, the coalition had issued a declaration demanding that the government of Ghana rescind its decision to allow mining in forest reserves and withdraw any mining leases on forest reserves already granted. The declaration requested a clear regulatory framework that prohibits mining in forest reserves.
The coalition said that the country’s growing foreign direct investment and production in the mining sector had been destroying the national economy, the environment, community livelihood and human rights for the past 20 years.
“Rather than addressing these issues, the mining industry especially Ashanti Goldfields Company backed by the District Chief Executive for Adansi West Mr. Kwadwo Boampong, and a section of the traditional rulers in the Obuasi area have resorted to a pattern of intimidation and harassment of some members of the coalition," Owusu-Koranteng said.
Owusu-Koranteng said that on Sunday, July 20 Anann was summoned to the New Edubiase chief’s palace and made to stand in the scorching sun for five hours while the chief and his elders rained unprintable and derogatory tribal remarks and insults on him.
Annan was forced to render an apology to the chief and his elders for petitioning Ghana's President Agyekum Kufour on human rights issues commited by Ashanti Goldfields against the Sanso community.
Owusu-Koranteng revealed that prior to being summoned to the chief's palace, Annan had received threatening anonymous telephone calls asking him to dissociate himself from advocacy groups in the interest of his life.
Owusu-Koranteng said that on July 1 Annan was taken to Obuasi Central Police Station on the instructions of the Sansu Chief Nana Bawuah. The allegation was that Annan was creating chieftaincy problems in Sansu. “Unfortunately, they could not establish any proof of Benjamin’s role in any chieftaincy problem in the Sanso area,” the mining community leader said.
Scott was arrested and detained at the Obuasi Central Police Cells on November 8, 2002 on instructions from Ashanti Goldfields security officials when he went to the corporation’s premises to deliver a letter containing grievances of some of the communities. Scott was released without any charges against him.
Owusu-Koranteng said, “The District Chief Executive of Adansi West Mr. Boampong at a recent public hearing on the Supuma Forest Reserve at Kubi on July 10 threatened advocacy groups in his address saying that 'they would have seen what I would have done to them if they had attended this public hearing.'"
When Boampong noticed that Scott was at the public hearing, he confronted Scott and asked why he had been visiting the villages under Boampong without seeking permission from him. He then warned Scott not to visit any community in his jurisdiction without his permission.
The chief of New Edubiase told Annan at his Palace that the managing director of Ashanti Goldfields' Obuasi Mines, Mr. Owuredu, had indicated that the company would not undertake development in their area if they do not compel Annan and his associates to stop their advocacy work in the area, according to Owusu-Koranteng.
Owusu-Koranteng disputed Jonah's statement that an advocacy organization had reported in a documentary film now being shown in Sweden that the company killed people and threw them into pits.
“We are very much aware of the tape. We have seen it and it documents nothing but detailed and shocking testimonies of gross human rights abuses by AGC and other mining companies in the country. Nobody mentioned anywhere in the tape that AGC killed people and threw them into pits,” said Owusu-Koranteng.
The mining community leader believes that the intimidation of Annan and Scott and "the trumped up charges against them" were "carefully designed, rehearsed and orchestrated to silence them and to intimidate advocacy groups in general," he said today. "Clearly these tactics by AGC reflect an unwillingness on their part to countenance any democratic demand for justice and a clean environment,” Owusu-Koranteng said.
Members of the coalition remain resolute and steadfast and pledged to continue to oppose and expose all the deceptive schemes and machinations of the mining companies.
Owusu-Koranteng called for a prompt independent investigation and prosecution of those responsible for stifling criticism, saying that threats, intimidation and harassment against activists create an atmosphere where people fear to speak their minds and exercise their rights and responsibilities as citizens.
Last week, unarmed ex-casual workers of Ashanti Goldfields who had embarked on a peaceful demonstration to demand payment of court ordered benefits due them which had been delayed for three years, also had a taste of AGC’S power when police opened fire on them, injuring six people. Eyewitnesses reported that policemen also kicked and shoved the demonstrators.
Joshua Awuku Appau of the GreenEarth organization said the massive show of force and the deployment of dozens of police to disperse a non-violent gathering of unarmed ex-casual AGC workers was intolerable and unjustifiable.
He called on the government to conduct an independent and impartial investigation into the incident and discipline or prosecute as appropriate all police officers and persons who used or authorized excessive force and brutalization of the ex–casual workers.
He called on the security agencies to refrain from using unnecessary or disproportionate force in response to protests.
Owusu-Koranteng expressed concern at the passivity of Ghana’s Environmental Protection Agency and other relevant governmental departments and lamented that to date, they have failed to denounce the mounting environmental degradation and human rights violations or launch any investigations into possible criminal responsibility for the incidents.
Owusu-Koranteng said the potential for further harassment remains high, given a warning by Dr. Jonah at the just ended 7th Quadriennial Delegates Conference of the Ghana Mineworkers Union, that activists should watch their mouths since the "negative things they say about mining could drive away investors."
The mining community leader said that mining investment should not be at the expense of citizens' rights to freedom of expression, movement and association. “Rather than intimidating concerned citizens," he said, "the mining industry and Ahanti Goldfields Company in particular should be encouraging attempts at participation and dialogue, particularly on an issue like mining that affects the livelihoods of so many Ghanaians.”