African Commission Working Group on Extractive Industries to consider improper mine closure impacts following the LHR and FIDH Blyvooruitzicht Gold Mine report

Press release

During the 60th Ordinary Session of the African Commission for Human and Peoples’ Rights in Niamey, Niger, the Chairperson of the Working Group on Extractive Industries, Environment and Human Rights Violations, Commissioner Solomon Dersso, acknowledged in his Working Group Activity Report the negative human rights impacts of improper mine closure on individuals and communities. He also acknowledged the call by Lawyers for Human Rights (“LHR”) and FIDH for recommendations to member states on this issue.

In January this year, LHR and FIDH published a report on «the human toll of state and corporate abdication of responsibility with respect to proper mine closure in South Africa ». The report documented the widespread and precipitous decline in both environmental and socio-economic standards for the 6,000-resident community surrounding the Blyvooruitzicht Gold Mine, after the Mine suddenly initiated liquidation proceedings in 2013.

During the 60th Ordinary Session, LHR and FIDH submitted a joint oral statement calling the attention of the Commission and its member States to the fact that in South Africa, thousands of mines have been abandoned or otherwise improperly closed, with mine operators simply deserting the premises without undertaking any environmental rehabilitation or helping to mitigate the severe socio-economic impacts of the mine closure on the surrounding communities. This phenomenon persists with alarming regularity, despite legal requirements to the contrary. At the same time, a worrying trend is emerging: mine operators initiating insolvency proceedings as a way to sidestep these obligations otherwise required of them in the course of properly closing these operations under the terms of South African law.

These practices facilitate broad violations of key rights safeguarded by the African Charter itself, including Articles 21, 22, and 24, which speak to the disposal of natural resources in the interest of the people, as well as to the right to a generally satisfactory environment favourable to economic, social, and cultural development.

LHR and FIDH therefore urged the Commission to take measures aimed at safeguarding the environmental and socio-economic rights of mining-affected communities in the context of mine closure, including:

Calling on member states to introduce robust legal requirements governing proper mine closure and to enforce these requirements where sufficient legislation currently exists;
Conducting an official visit to South Africa, led by the Working Group on Extractive Industries, to observe the human rights impacts associated with widespread, improper mine closure; and
Issuing recommendations to member States regarding the management of the impacts of mine closures on affected communities, particularly in relation to environmental and socio-economic rights.

In his Activity Report, Commissioner Dersso acknowledged the contents of the report and the recommendations therein.

LHR and FIDH welcome the Working Group’s statement and will continue to actively work on the matter in the coming months, including supporting the Working Group’s efforts wherever possible. The South African example with respect to mine closure underlined in the Blyvooruitzicht report must serve as a warning to other mining-based economies on the continent whose extractive industries have not yet reached the end of their productive lives. Preparation for proper closure must begin during the life of those operations.

Read more