Fri | Sep 22, 2017

Unjust laws breach human rights

Published:Friday | July 24, 2015 | 7:00 AM

Last Tuesday, I went to a community meeting at Caledonia Crossing in the Cockpit Country, between Endeavour-Gibraltar and Bryan Castle-Madras in western St Ann. The purpose of the community meeting was to protest new bauxite mining about to take place in certain residential and farming communities in the Cockpit Country area.

While travelling to the meeting, I could see why the residents are up in arms. On our way from Brown's Town, we passed through Tobolski and Lime Tree Garden, which has been mined out. Total devastation! The landscape is utterly destroyed! Open pits and trenches mark where bauxite mining has taken place, and in most cases, nothing was growing on the land, because - apparently - nothing can grow.

Crops won't grow without topsoil. The process of bauxite mining removes the topsoil to expose the bauxite, which is then removed. What is left after that is barren subsoil in which nothing can grow.

The colonial government that crafted our 1947 Mining Act knew that. The law requires mining companies to 'rehabilitate' the land within three years of mining. The Ministry of Mining calls it 'sequential land use': land originally in agriculture is mined for three years or so and then put back into agriculture after the land is 'rehabilitated'.

 

Mined-out lands

 

It sounds good, but it hasn't happened that way. The bauxite companies have mined out the lands and then have moved on. There are penalties if they fail to comply with the law. Failure to 'rehabilitate' the mined-out lands within three years incurs a fine of US$25,000 for each hectare of land disturbed by mining, and an additional US$2,500 per hectare per year thereafter. But the minister has the power to waive these penalties. Thousands of hectares of Jamaican lands remain devastated by mining and 'un-rehabilitated' and I am not aware of any mining company being charged any penalty.

Jamaica's 1947 Mining Act is unjust, and breaches the human rights of Jamaicans. Born Jamaicans can have registered title for their lands, occupied by their forefathers for generations, on which they have built their homes, grown their crops, and pastured their animals. Their communities can have churches built by the sweat of their forebears under the supervision of stalwarts like the Revs William Knibb and William Menzie Webb, and yet be required to vacate their land against their will. Yes, they will be paid compensation for the value of their crops and for their land, but their way of life will have been destroyed forever.

Jamaica's 1947 Mining Act is a powerful piece of colonial legislation that overrides all other interests, including property rights, the environment and our cultural heritage. This imperial law ensures that large foreign mining corporations are not impeded by local considerations from making their money.

 

Too little income

 

Jamaica's bauxite is the patrimony of our people, but when the law was crafted, it provided that only one shilling per ton of bauxite would be paid into the coffers of the Jamaican Government. Michael Manley's government recognised the injustice and imposed the bauxite levy to restore some balance. The bauxite companies resisted, and continue to resist; they want to be given the bauxite almost for free.

Who benefits from the bauxite industry? Certainly not the people on whose land the bauxite has been found. In other jurisdictions, it would be they who would get rich from the windfall. In 1947, the Jamaican colonial government passed a law confiscating all the bauxite in the country for itself, and created arrangements to disadvantage Jamaicans who have occupied the land since slavery days.

And then the Government basically gives away the bauxite to foreign mining companies.

There is a lot of money in bauxite mining. The mining companies make so much money, they can build railroads to transport their raw materials and product and can build thousands of new homes to resettle people.

A careful study needs to be made of who locally really benefits from Jamaica's bauxite industry. If only a few shadowy people benefit, it might make more sense to stop mining altogether, considering the damage it does.

The present Mining Act needs to be repealed because it breaches the human rights of Jamaicans and is unfair to the owners of the bauxite.

The people of Endeavour, Gibraltar, Barnstaple, Knibb Street, Bryan Castle, Madras and surrounding areas have seen what has happened to Tobolski and Lime Tree Garden, and they don't want the same thing to happen to their communities.

Those who lobby for the human rights of Jamaicans should take on the just cause of these hard-working Jamaican farmers.

- Peter Espeut is a sociologist and human rights advocate. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.