Senegal: Human rights of communities trampled in ‘Gold Rush’

Rights to land are being sold from beneath the feet of rural communities in mining areas as the government of Senegal grants concessions to mining companies without safeguarding human rights in a flagrant breach of their duty under international law, a new report by Amnesty International published today has found. 

The report, Mining and Human Rights in Senegal, reveals that communities are being relocated without due regard for the impact on their livelihoods and access to food and water to make way for international mining companies, eager to exploit the country’s rich reserves of gold and other minerals. 

“The government of Senegal has made much of its ambitions to become a leader in sustainable mining in West Africa but this report shows they are falling woefully short of these aims,” said Seydi Gassama, Director of Amnesty International Senegal. 

“As more mining concessions are granted and mining activity intensifies, the harmful impacts on local communities will only increase. It is vital that the rights of the local communities are not trampled in this gold rush and that new legislation is urgently passed to ensure human rights can be adequately protected by the State and respected by companies.” 

Senegal’s mining industry is still in its relative infancy. Amnesty International’s research reveals bad practice by mining companies and failures by the government, raising fears that communities in Senegal could be subjected to the type of human rights abuses associated with extractive industries in other parts of West Africa. 

Senegal’s 2003 mining law offered various investment incentives for international companies to explore for and exploit gold and other mineral deposits. This legislation, coupled with the increasing price of gold, led to a rapid expansion in industrial mining particularly in the Kédougou region. Most projects are in the early stages of development but the industry footprint will grow rapidly in the coming years. 

Despite international human rights law and the Mining Directive, adopted in 2009 by the Economic Community of West African States (which is due to be in force across the region by July 2014) Senegal is allowing mining companies to acquire land use rights without providing adequate safeguards for the communities that live and subsist on the land. 

Under the terms of Senegal’s current land and mining laws people can be forcibly evicted from their homes without adequate prior notice, genuine consultation or due regard for the impact on their livelihoods, access to food and other economic, social and cultural rights. 

In the Kédougou region, Amnesty International followed the experience of the first group of families to be resettled to make way for a mining operation in Senegal, revisiting their community nearly two years after they were relocated.

At that time, Amnesty International found that the resettlement did not conform to international standards and that the new location had inadequate accommodation, and insufficient land and water for growing the community’s usual subsistence crops. 

“The experience of families, uprooted from their homes and relocated to an area where they struggle to subsist is deeply disturbing,” said Seydi Gassama.

“Human rights should never take second place to commercial interests and Senegal’s people should not have their land use rights sold from beneath their feet in the search for Senegal’s gold. The government must respect international law and take immediate steps to ensure human rights abuses do not occur.”