WACAM, human rights and mining advocacy nongovernmental organisation, has condemned the brutalization of demonstrators of the Atta ne Atta community by the Military for engaging in lawful demonstration against Goldfields Ghana Limited Damang Mine.
WACAM described the brutalisation of sovereign Ghanaians exercising their constitutional rights and Journalists from Metro TV performing their normal duties, as "a shameful, illegal and barbaric act, which undermines the democratic principles of the country".
A press release signed by Mr Daniel Owusu-Koranteng, Executive Director of WACAM, said the brutalisation "depicts Goldfields Ghana Limited Damang Mine and their Military allies as spineless bullies, who want to turn Ghana into a jungle where might is right. There are many examples to show that mining companies trample on the rights of poor farmers in mining communities with impunity and then cover up with concocted stories.
"Advocacy NGOs that dare raise the crimes committed by mining companies become targets of mudslinging and smear campaigns of the mining companies and their allies.
"The mining companies are gradually becoming a law unto themselves and if such bad corporate (misbehaviour) behaviour goes unchecked, the oil companies could easily adopt these bullying tactics as part of their operational plans and the consequences could be anybody's guess. Ghana needs to be sensitive to blatant violations of the rights of citizens who live in mining areas by corporate bodies, the release said.
WACAM has, therefore, called on the Ministry of Defence to institute a full-scale investigation into the brutalisation of the Atta ne Atta demonstrators and the Journalists.
It has also called on the Commission of Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ) to investigate the allegations of detention of suspects by mining companies and those found to have participated in the perpetration of these crimes should be punished severely to deter others from inflicting unjustified pain on others.
It has also called on the Ghana Journalists Association (GJA) to use all legal means to ensure that the Journalists who were brutalised by the Military and detained by the security of Goldfields Ghana Limited Damang received justice.
The release said: "Goldfields Ghana Limited Damang Mine should be held responsible for the brutalisation of the Atta ne Atta demonstrators and the Journalists, who suffered detention in addition to the brutalisation.
WACAM said the Atta ne Atta community, near Damang is affected by the operations of Goldfields Ghana Limited Damang Mine, formerly, Abosso Goldfields Limited and they had complained about problems resulting from the operations of the Company.
It said the people of Atta ne Atta are mostly cocoa and food crop farmers and had complained that the Company was mining in pits some of which were as close as 200 metres from some of the villages.
The intensity of blasting was affecting their buildings and creating safety problems for them. The Company's haul roads are within some of the villages and the people are compelled to live with dust and noise pollution created by the Company's operations. The Company's operations have also destroyed the wells, which serve as the sources of drinking water for the communities.
The release said the Company had resettled 20 villages at Bompieso out of about 90 villages in the Atta ne Atta area. The resettled farmers could easily walk to their farms when the Company was not mining in the area but now they have to incur additional transportation cost to travel to their farms thus making farming unsustainable for the farmers, who the mining company resettled in Bompieso.
The people of Atta ne Atta community had made complaints to Goldfields Ghana Limited Damang Mine; Environmental Protection Agency, the District Chief Executive of the Prestea-Huni Valley District and the Member of Parliament for the Prestea-Huni Valley Constituency about the problems faced by the community.
WACAM said the people in Atta ne Atta community informed the Tarkwa Divisional Police Commander on 30th November 2009 about their intention to hold a peaceful demonstration on 8th December 2009, which the Police consented to.
"On the day of the demonstration, the Company was able to commandeer a Military contingent to beat (up) the demonstrators and the Journalists who covered the demonstration before the arrival of the Police to protect the demonstrators, the release said.
WACAM said: "Despite the initial military brutalities, the Police later protected the demonstrators to embark on the demonstration up to late afternoon when the demonstrators dispersed. This is indicative of the fact that the demonstrators had met the legal requirements of the Public Order Act in the exercise of their constitutional right to demonstration.
"The brutalities meted out to the Journalists and the demonstrators constitute a violation of Article 21(1d) of the 1992 Constitution of Ghana, which states, "all persons shall have the right to freedom of assembly including freedom to take part in processions and demonstrations".
The release said: "The brutalities meted out to the Atta ne Atta community people and Journalists raise a number of important governance issues. The support and consent by the Police to the Atta ne Atta demonstration and the brutalization of the demonstrators by the Military shows the conflicting roles of the security agencies and the lack of coordination among (the) security agencies.
"It also indicates the ineffectiveness of the Tarkwa-Nsuaem Municipal Security Council in coordinating security matters. In the Atta ne Atta demonstration, the Police granted the constitutional right of the Atta ne Atta community to undertake a demonstration and the Military acting for and on behalf of Goldfields Ghana Limited Damang Mine punished the citizens for exercising their constitutional right to public protests and demonstrations.
"If these conflicting roles among our security agencies are not checked, we would have a situation where the security agencies would one day declare war on each other, WACAM said.
The release said: "It constitutes corporate crime for mining companies to detain suspects in their private detention facilities as they did to the Journalists. WACAM had campaigned against the act of detaining suspects in private detention facilities of mining companies in the past and the report of the Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ) on the human rights situation in mining communities had confirmed that mining companies such as AngloGold Ashanti Obuasi Mine operated private detention facilities."
It said: "The pattern of human rights abuses in mining communities is worrying. Unfortunately, mining companies have shown insensitivity to these serious human rights abuses by sweeping them under the carpet as untruths being peddled against the mining industry by advocacy NGOs even when credible independent human rights institutions like CHRAJ had confirmed such abuses.
"The brutalisation of the Atta ne Atta community people and the Journalists represent another example of corporate control of the Military to violate the sovereign rights of citizens who are supposed to defend the sovereignty of the nation even at the peril of their lives.
"These very serious governance issues undermine the very core of our democratic values and erode the effectiveness of our democratic institutions in defending the rights of citizens when there is increasing investment in the extractive sector including oil, the release said.
WACAM said: "There are already attempts to justify the military brutalisation of the demonstrators and the Journalists by describing the shameful act as a response to some infractions by the demonstrators.
"This dubious justification flies in the face of the fact that even if there were infractions, which the demonstrators deny, it is the Police that have the responsibility to address such issues and not the Military. If indeed there were infractions by the demonstrators, what is the justification for the deliberate brutalisation of the Journalists?
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