The mining boom in Sierra Leone that is supposed to help the poor West African nation is harming its citizens.
African Minerals Limited has been working in the iron ore-rich central Sierra Leone for nearly eighteen years. The company’s resulting work has led to the forced displacement of hundreds of families and excessively violent crackdowns against protests, says Human Rights Watch (HRW).
Workers at the African Minerals Limited mine located in Bumbuna went on strike, on April 16, 2012. Unhappy with the working conditions and the inability to unionize, the workers gathered together to prevent vehicles from entering the mining site. The following day, 200 police officers showed up to control the protests.
One of the contractors, a woman named Musu Conteh, was shot and killed while she was singing in protest with her fellow workers, said HRW. Eight more people were injured in the incident. The police defended their actions by saying that the protesters were attempting to burn down a fuel depot.
“[She] was right in front of me,” said a witness to HRW.
“The police led an ambush close to the police station using teargas on us. We all fell, and the woman in front of me bent down to gather leaves to cover her eyes and nose. As she was bending to pick up the leaves, she was shot.
“As she got up, she was shot again in her heart and back.”
Investigations following the incident by Amnesty International and the Human Rights Commission of Sierra Leone determined that was not the case. Further, the people were not carrying weapons, beyond sticks and stones, as the police also alleged.
A new report by HRW, Whose Development? Human Rights Abuses in Sierra Leone’s Mining Boom, says the economic drive of the nation’s government is hampered by current policies. It investigates the events that happened during the protest and the conditions that led to it taking place. The report recommends total transparency of operations to increase the accountability of mining companies and ensure that communities are well informed.