The Sierra Leone government must continue to ensure that the human rights of people living close to the diamond mine exploited by Meya Mining in eastern Kono district are protected, Amnesty International said today. The organization also urged Meya Mining to fulfil its commitments to respond to community concerns.
Between 2018 and 2021, Amnesty International delegates conducted research in the Kono district on the impact of Meya Mining’s mining activities. This research revealed several concerns, including unsafe water in boreholes constructed by Meya, dangers to communities living in the vicinity of the mine, and other violations of the socio-economic rights of local people.
After Amnesty International raised these concerns with the Sierra Leonean authorities and Meya Mining, Amnesty International received the company’s reply in August 2022 to outline the measures it has taken to consult neighbouring communities, and prevent any harmful impacts from its mining operations, such as water pollution. To date, Amnesty International has not received a substantive response from the Sierra Leonean authorities.
The authorities must ensure that all issues raised have already been addressed. Although, on 9 August, the Sierra Leonean Parliament passed the Mines and Minerals Development Act 2022, which aims to improve the welfare of communities affected by future mining exploration, the government of Sierra Leone must ensure that anyone whose human rights have been violated by any mining company has access to justice, an effective remedy mechanism and reparations.Samira Daoud, Regional Director for West and Central Africa, Amnesty International
In 2018, Amnesty International started research into mining activities in Kono District. According to the testimonies collected by Amnesty International, many residents claimed that they were not engaged in a process of genuine consultation before the mining operations began. Amnesty International recalls that international human rights norms, including the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, clearly state that communities must give their prior consent for all forms of resource exploitation on their traditional lands and must also benefit accordingly.
‘Everything is gone now’
“The place where the Meya Mining’s plant is located used to be a swamp. [We] had a plantation there. Everything is gone now. I used to survive on my plantation, to feed myself and get money to pay school fees for my children… We do not benefit from any of their activities. They gave me only USD 98 for the swamp and the plantation. […].” said a woman from the Simbakoro community.
In 2019, Amnesty International also took water samples for testing from two boreholes constructed by Meya Mining in the Koaquima community. The results revealed high levels of nitrates in both samples (110 mg/l for the sample 1 and 120 mg/l for the sample 2), which were well above safe levels (50 milligrams per litre) recommended by the World Health Organization.
At that time residents from the community were complaining about Meya’s borehole: “We cannot use the borehole water provided by Meya for drinking. It contains Spirogyra [a type of algae]. We see them in the water. It is poisonous. We use the water for washing and cooking because it has a taste, it is salty,” said a resident of Kaoquima community, located in an area where Meya Mining operates.
Meya Mining confirms that they also tested the water in the boreholes the same year and they did not contest the high level of nitrate in the water at this time.
Forced to shelter from explosions
After the communities receive notification from the company, the explosions of the mines take place. Before these explosions start, inhabitants explained that they are forced to evacuate their homes and take shelter in the different structures made by the company until the blasting is over.
In the Simbakoro community, at the time of the investigation made by Amnesty International, the wood-and-tarpaulin structure constructed by Meya Mining in which inhabitants sought shelter was covered in holes and in a state of disrepair. It also could not hold more than 300 people, when the community has more than 2,000 members. Simbakoro residents did not feel safe under this structure when blasting was taking place. As one of its members says: “The shelter is not safe. The shelter is not suitable for human use. It is like a pig shelter. It’s for animals.”
Amnesty International is also concerned that no sufficient steps were taken to ensure the safety of the mine sites despite their proximity to local communities including children.
What Meya Mining says
Reacting to the concerns raised by Amnesty International, Meya Mining said it had taken measures to mitigate some of the impacts of diamond mining.
According to the reply received by Amnesty International in August 2022, fences will be built around the mining site to increase the safety of residents. Still on the security side, a permanent blast shelter will be built to replace the temporary one whose shortcomings were highlighted in the Amnesty International findings.
It also asserts that it has put in place water filtration and purification systems to reduce the level of nitrate in the boreholes. Meya Mining also argued that they made sufficient consultation with the local community and notified Amnesty International that a socio-environmental impact assessment has been carried out to better mitigate the societal and environmental impacts on local communities.
While welcoming Meya’s commitment and new measures to improve community rights, Amnesty International encourages the Sierra Leone authorities and the mining company to do everything possible, together with the local communities, to alleviate their suffering related to the mine’s activities ensuring that United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights are always implemented.Samira Daoud
On 19 July 2019, the Government of Sierra Leone granted Meya Mining, a diamond mining firm, 35% owned by Sierra Leone-incorporated Germinate (SL) Limited and 65% by Namibian-incorporated Trustco Group Holdings, a license company covering a period of 25 years to extract an estimated around USD 850 million worth of diamonds.
During its research, Amnesty International interviewed 128 people in nine communities affected by Meya Mining’s operations. The organization also spoke to national and local authorities, as well as senior employees of Meya Mining.
The organization has twice written to the government — in August 2019 and February 2022 — to raise concerns about the human rights impact of Meya Mining activities. In July 2022, we also contacted Meya Mining giving them the right to reply to Amnesty International’s findings about their activities.
On 2 March 2022, Meya Mining received a request from the Senior Permanent Secretary at the Sierra Leone Ministry of Mines and Mineral Resources regarding the concerns raised by Amnesty International.