I rarely “copy and paste” editorials or articles in our local newspapers, if at all. However, I see this Sunday Gleaner editorial, published on January 1, as related to a recent post – where I pointed out that, as it appears, the Jamaican Government has not yet responded to Resolution 65/22 of the Inter American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) regarding the human rights of residents affected by bauxite mining. I noted in that post that the Government “has had three weeks from November 24, to respond to the Commission. This would take it up to December 14, which is already past. If those twenty days are working days, then this would mean they would have to respond by December 22″…
I would be pleasantly surprised if the Government has, in fact, responded. I would also be pleasantly surprised if there any meaningful dialogue on the future of bauxite mining was to take place, as this editorial urges. I don’t think it’s high on the agenda, right now.
Anyway, here is the full Sunday Gleaner editorial, which you can find online here:
Urgent Dialogue on Bauxite
It is unfortunate that the Government has not only determined it better to remain mum about the human rights complaints raised against bauxite mining in the periphery of the Cockpit Country in the parish of St Ann, but that it has been slow to respond to – if not spurn – suggestions for a stakeholders’ dialogue on the future of the industry.
The latter failure is surprising given the signal by the mining minister, Audley Shaw, that the Holness administration was ready for a reset of the industry. Or maybe we read too much into what Mr Shaw said in August.
The Gleaner’s concern about the Government’s approach to the governance of bauxite sector was deepened by its handling of the case now before the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights (IACHR) in which residents of several communities in areas around the Cockpit Country, just outside its formally protected boundaries, complained that their health and way of life are being compromised by bauxite mining in the region. The IACHR referred to the several families who filed the petition as “Afro-descendant persons” – a description that encompasses more than 90 per cent of Jamaicans, but is more probably intended to define members of the maroon community.
In a November 24 resolution, the IACHR called on the Government to take the necessary precautionary measures “to protect the rights to life, personal integrity, and health of the Afro-descendant persons identified as beneficiaries in the St Ann region, with a cultural, gender-based, and age-appropriate perspective.” The commission gave the Government 20-days within which to act. There is no indication of what the Government has done in response to the ruling, which, we suspect, is nothing.
Maybe there is nothing the Government believes to be done and that, despite the IACHR’s ruling that they had made out a prima facie case of being negatively impacted by the mining activities of Noranda Jamaica Bauxite Partners, there was no substance to the petitioners’ argument.
SURPRISED AND APPALLED
That notwithstanding, we are surprised and appalled at the contemptuous manner with which Jamaica has seemingly treated the IACHR, a creature of the Inter-American Convention of Human Rights, of which Jamaica is not only a signatory but has ratified.
According to the commission, after the complaint by the St Ann residents, it requested information from Jamaica on the matter on July 14 “and reiterated the request for information on September 26, 2022.”
“To date, the State has not submitted its observations,” IACHR said.
Probably the foreign ministry has an adequate explanation for the inaction. But even only decency required that Jamaica acknowledge the complaint and provide at least a holding position on the issue.
The Cockpit Country, a mountainous spine of karsts along Jamaica’s north, is among the world’s most biodiverse and ecologically sensitive areas. It is, for example, home to nearly 70 species of birds, nearly half of which are endemic to the island. Its underground rivers are an important source of water for the swathes of the island’s north. It is also rich in bauxite.
But the delineation of the Cockpit Country is controversial. Campaigners insist that it is well beyond the protected area. They want mining banned in the entire region – a matter that gained attention early in 2022 when Noranda was awarded a licence to mine in an area adjacent to the protected region.
While ecological and cultural concerns were raised by the petitioners at the IACHR, the complainants’ more immediate concern is the alleged damage to their health and property and economic circumstances caused by the open pit mining done close to their homes – as is the case in all areas where bauxite is mined in Jamaica.
FUTURE OF MINING
Which highlights the questions of the future of mining in the island.
Early in 2022, campaigners, Jamaica Environment Trust (JET), published a compendium of reports, whose conclusions, essentially, were that bauxite mining was inadequately regulated; that companies weren’t held to account for failing to meet their obligations; that it disrupted the livelihoods of small-scale farmers as well as the health of people who live close to mining activity; and that there was little empirical analysis of the industry’s real economic value to Jamaica, compared to the damage it costs.
Yet, there is little doubt that the industry provides relatively high-paying jobs, is an employer of skilled labour, and that communities in the vicinity of bauxite mines and alumina refineries tend to be more prosperous than other rural communities.
Whatever the net benefits may be, in the four decades after the 1974 introduction of an output tax, the bauxite production levy, the sector contributed over US$4 billion to the national treasury.
Moreover, as the JET founder, Diana McCaulay, conceded, notwithstanding concerns of communities about bauxite mining “they did not want the industry to close down, but they wanted their rural livelihoods to continue and not have their health or the health of their children compromised.”
It is against that backdrop that this newspaper called for a reset of the industry – frank, even if uncomfortable, dialogue between stakeholders on the way forward.
We saw greater potential for this when Mr Shaw called last August for partnership.
“We can work together,” Mr Shaw said. “I say to the environmentalists, let’s not be enemies, because there are things that we can do to improve how we mine and how we restore our land.”
It is not our sense that Mr Shaw has done much to advance “working together.” And the IACHR’s account of the Government’s approach to the complaint by the St Ann residents doesn’t encourage confidence that the administration appreciates the value of discourse and debate.
We believe that there is value in the bauxite industry and that its future need not be one of bitterness and confrontation. The greater obligation for building consensus rests with the Government. It is not too late for Prime Minister Andrew Holness to mandate that someone takes charge – or do it himself.
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Reblogged this on Ned Hamson's Second Line View of the News.