IACHR serves 20-day ultimatum on Gov’t over bauxite mining dangers
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) imposed a 20-day ultimatum on the Jamaican Government after it failed to respond to the body’s request for information about precautionary measures taken to prevent health and other dangers posed by bauxite mining to residents in several St Ann communities.
Referencing Barnstaple, Bryan Castle/Mountain, Caledonia, Endeavour, Gibraltar, Madras, and Somerton, Malene Alleyne, representing Freedom Imaginaries, on June 4, 2022, wrote the IACHR seeking “a request for precautionary measures” on behalf of Afro-descendant families from peasant communities in St Ann.
“The request urges the commission to require that Jamaica adopt the necessary measures to protect the rights to health, personal integrity, and life of the persons proposed as beneficiaries, who are currently in a situation placing them at risk due to the impacts of bauxite mining activities within their communities and acts of violence …,” the IACR said, inter alia, in its letter to the Jamaican Government dated November 24.
After the residents complained to the IACHR in June, the body asked the Government, on July 14, to respond. When no response was forthcoming, it wrote again in September 26. Up to November 24, there was no response.
While at least two high-ranking government officials visited the areas singled out in the complaint, it was unclear if Jamaica formally responded.
Among other high-profile officials to visit the area were representatives from the United States Embassy in Kingston.
Robert Adelson, the US Embassy’s public affairs officer, told The Gleaner that the visit included a broad base of attendees.
“Embassy officials met with members of the Maroon leadership to discuss ways in which the embassy can best engage with Maroon communities. This was part of a broader outreach tour by the embassy, where officials also met with the custos of Manchester and the mayor of Mandeville,” he said.
Minister with responsibility for the environment, Matthew Samuda, said he could not immediately comment on the document as he was away and did not have the opportunity to peruse it.
In its summary of the claim from Freedom Imaginaries, the IACHR said the applicant, Alleyne, stated that the affected areas “are deep-rural communities where most of the proposed beneficiaries are farmers and rely on rainwater to obtain drinking water”.
The applicant said the communities have been plagued with problems since the 1940s. Mining activities are being carried out by Noranda Jamaica Bauxite Partners II and/or Noranda Jamaica Bauxite Partners (Noranda), of which the Government is a majority owner. In the past few years, these mining operations have expanded across the proposed beneficiaries’ communities through Special Mining Leases (SML), particularly SML 165, SML 172, and SML 173. The individuals on whose behalf the claim was filed live in and around the ecologically sensitive area traditionally known as Cockpit Country, but outside of the boundary of the recently designated Cockpit Country Protected Area, where no mining is allowed.
Alleyne said that some of the proposed beneficiaries living in communities already mined out have received from Noranda J$8,500 (approximately US$57) every three months for dust nuisance.
Beneficiaries reportedly view the amount to be insufficient to compensate for the harm caused to their health, medical expenses, and livelihoods.
According to the IACHR, “Within the context described above, the proposed beneficiaries face imminent risk due to mining activities in the middle of their settlements, including their homes, farms, churches, and schools … .”
The request for the IACHR’s intervention allege that exposure to bauxite dust has caused a raft of illnesses, including compromises to the ear, nose and throat, upper respiratory tract infections, bronchial asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, acute-chronic rhinitis, acute-chronic sinusitis, eczema and impetigo, and exacerbation of heart failure. The dust impact was blamed for a number of health problems faced by children.
The applicant said the proposed beneficiaries’ medical conditions are consistent with several studies on the negative health impacts of the major pollutants produced during bauxite mining.
A 2020 report by the Jamaica Environment Trust and a 2007 study conducted by Dr Patrece Charles on “the reported respiratory illnesses in communities within the parish of Clarendon” were cited to support the health challenges faced.
However, the State claimed that the evidence provided regarding the health effects is unsubstantiated and “failed to provide any evidence of the effects of bauxite mining on community health”. A constitutional case and application for an interim injunction against Noranda’s mining operations was also filed. The Government requested that the application be struck out. At least three scheduled hearings have been adjourned, and the constitutional case will be heard in November 2023.
The IACHR said individuals who have complained about the situation have been harassed by police personnel, and that others have received threats, including to life and property.
The Inter-American Commission considers that this matter meets prima facie requirements of seriousness, urgency, and irreparable harm set forth in Article 25 of its Rules of Procedure. Consequently, it requests that Jamaica must:
1. Take the necessary 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, including the following: i. carry out the necessary medical diagnoses to define the corresponding medical care; ii. guarantee adequate, timely, and specialised medical care, according to the medical conditions; and iii. guarantee access to contaminant-free water;
2. Adopt the necessary measures to prevent threats, harassment, and other acts of violence against the beneficiaries
3. Consult and agree upon the measures to be adopted with the beneficiaries and their representatives; and,
4. Report on the actions taken to investigate the events that led to the adoption of this precautionary measure, so as to prevent such events from reoccurring.
5. The commission requests that the Government of Jamaica inform the commission, within a period of 20 days, as from the date of this communication, on the adoption of the precautionary measures that have been agreed upon and to periodically update such information.
6. The commission emphasises that, in accordance with Article 25(8) of its Rules of Procedure, the granting of this precautionary measure and its adoption by the State do not constitute a prejudgment on any violation of the rights protected under the applicable instruments.
7. The commission instructs its executive secretariat to notify this resolution to the State of Jamaica and the applicant.