Folks, It's bad news again. Over two weeks ago, on June 1, security guards employed by Barrick Gold Corp. at the North Mara Gold Mine in Tarime District, Northern Tanzania shot dead a villager who was alleged to have illegally entered the Mine complex. Kieva Yohanna was shot five times on the back at Nyangoto Village, home to the giant Mine. He died instantly. His death brings to six the number of villagers who have died violently at the hands of Barrick security operatives and/or riot police who guard the sprawling Mine since July 2005. Since April of this year, three villagers have been shot dead by company security alone. Even though the killers are well-known, not one of them has been arrested and prosecuted in courts of law.
The killings represent a major shift in Barrick's strategy for dealing with the troublesome locals who have always opposed the Mine. In the period after the forced evictions of the villagers in August 2001, hundreds of villagers, particularly community leaders and prominent locals were targeted for illegal arrests, criminal prosecutions and long term imprisonment. Numerous local leaders including the area's current Member of Parliament Chacha Zakayo Wangwe and elected Member of the Tarime District Council Augustino Nestory Sasi were harrassed this way, with the latter being sentenced to 30 year jail before we got him out on appeal to the High Court of Tanzania in December 2004.
The strategy was intended to frighten other villagers by making an example of their leaders. Though still used regularly, that strategy never quite worked, particularly after we started to offer free legal representation to the villagers thus targeted. The company and its government backers appear to have decided on a major escalation of their punitive measures against the communities.
Firstly, begining 2004, the company has been taking by force villagers' lands it requires for its mining operations. This is done by simply dumping millions of tons of waste rock and rubble onto village lands without even the pretense of seeking owners' consent or payment of compensation as required by law. The lands surrounding the Gokona Pit to the north of the Mine were taken over this. The Kihinda Clan and dozens of other landowners in the area have lost their lands in this way. Similarly, lands to the west and south-west of the Mine at Nyangoto Village have been taken over by simply dumping mountains of waste rock onto farmlands and residential areas thereby forcing the villagers off. All this is done with the active participation of the district and administration and police.
Another strategy has been to release waste water from Barrick's tailings dam onto villagers' lands. This is happening at Matongo Village to the west of the Mine where hundreds of hectares of farmlands have been inundated with the cyanide-laced sludge from the tailings dam. We also know inside sources that the company has been releasing this cyanide-laced water onto the Thigithe River which empties onto the larger River Mara just to the south of the Mine.
The third strategy is the use of lethal force and naked violence. This started in earnest in July of last year when two villagers were killed by by company security guards. Marwa Nyansinge was shot dead on the Nyabigena Primary School grounds on July 20 after he was alleged to have stolen petroleum oil from the company. Chacha Meng'anyi, Barrick's security guard alleged to have shot him dead was never arrested. The fatal shooting prompted an uprising of the villagers in which machines, vehicles and numerous other company properties were destroyed by angry villagers. In the wake of the protests, dozens of villagers were rounded up and many remain in Tarime Prison to this day.
The latest fatal shooting was also committed by Chacha Meng'anyi. After he was killed, the victim's body was taken to Tarime Police Station about 40 km. away and later to the Tarime District Hospital for alleged post-mortem. It was returned the next day. The angry villagers refused to accept the body, taking it in a demonstration to the company housing complex where they were met by riot police wielding guns and tear gas. One person was shot and injured and over sixty were arrested and detained at the Tarime Police Station. Many have since been charged in court and released on bail after community leaders protested to the Regional Commissioner.
The murderer, though, remains under police protection in Tarime Town. He has not been charged with any offense. The information we have has it that the police fear that charging him in court with murder would mean surrendering him to the jurisdiction of the courts and the prison department as murder is non-bailable. In the wake of the latest killings I personally visited the Mine area and held public protest meetings attended by thousands of villagers and their elected leaders. Later on Tuesday this week we organized a press conference in which we asked the Tanzanian president to intervene. Our Joint Statement released to the press is attached.
We ask for your support to put an end to these killings of innocent civilians. We particularly request our Canadian partners and friends to draw public attention to these abuses and to help bring Barrick Gold Corporation to account for its actions. When we campaigned for Bulyanhulu in 2001-03 Barrick feigned innocence, claiming that the killings - which it never quite admitted - occurred years before it took over at Bulyanhulu. This time around we await to see what this rich company will say as it is in full charge of the North Mara Mine, having taken over late last year after swallowing up Placer Dome. We are in the process of drafting a sign-on letter which we intend to circulate worldwide to press for our people's demands for rights and justice.
Please get back to me if you have any questions.
Tundu A.M. Lissu
Executive Director Lawyers' Environmental Action Team
Mazingira House, Plot 428 Mazingira Street, Mikocheni B PO Box 12605 Dar es Salaam TANZANIA