Barrick and Tanzania Government Muzzling Evidence on Bulyanhulu Murders
By Finnigan wa Simbeye
Posted May 7, 2002
FINALLY Tanzania Government has formally charged opposition leader Augustine Lyatonga Mrema and two leading environmental lawyers, Tundu Lissu and Rugemereza Nshala of Lawyers Environmental Action Team (LEAT) on four different counts related to allegations of extrajudicial killings of artisanal miners in 1996.
Mrema who is Chairman of the opposition Tanzania Labour Party (TLP) was the first accused to appear at Kisutu Resident Magistrate's Court in Dar es Salaam on Monday morning while prosecutors asked presiding magistrate Steven Karua to issue arrest warrants for Nshala who is LEAT president and Lissu a researcher based in Washington DC to appear in court after failing to do so during the first hearing.
They are facing charges of sedition through inciting the public against the government, publishing of false allegations in the media and fabrication of video evidence on alleged extrajudicial killings of over 50 artisanal miners at Bulyanhulu, Shinyanga region of Western Tanzania.
LEAT and TLP's Mrema have been demanding formation of an independent commission of enquiry by Tanzanian President Benjamin William Mkapa or allow an internationally mandated probe team to investigate the truth surrounding the allegations which both authorities in Dar es Salaam and Barrick Golds, the Canadian transnational corporation owning Kahama Mining Corporation Limited (KMCL) have dismissed as a pack of lies.
Prior to buying KMCL and Bulyanhulu gold mines at around US$ 280m in 1999 from Sutton Resources also from Canada, Barrick Golds was confident that the extra-judicial killings of artisanal miners were cleared by a parliamentary probe team formed by the government in 1996 after former Magu legislator and opposition United Democratic Party (UDP)'s Chairman John Memose Cheyo took the issue to the House.
Cheyo's party had conducted a brief enquiry into the allegations and came up with concrete evidence which pressurised the government to form the probe team which critics say was not independent as it was stuffed by ruling party legislators who had acted in defence of their party and government. The team reported back to parliament that the allegations were unfounded as no evidence existed on the ground to substantiate them.
Briefly there was a lull in the local media and the public was almost forgetting the issue after Cheyo was out of parliament with reports that former Canadian High Commissioner to Tanzania Verona Edelstein met him to calm down the issue.
A Sutton Resources vice president Tony Luteijn also met with Cheyo in December 1996 allegedly to cool down his party's findings which were threatening Bulyanhulu gold mine's financing by a World Bank loan.
Behind the scene, Tundu Lissu and LEAT were doing a professional job of gathering hard evidence needed for legal backing before blowing off the lid mid last year. Mrema who had been facing a lengthy court battle after accusing the ruling party and government elites of involvement in a fish fillet and tax evasion scam by Indian businessmen, also joined LEAT's call for the formation of the enquiry commission, after his bribery case was dismissed last year.
Both LEAT and Mrema are claiming to have video tapes showing police officers exhuming bodies of the miners from burried mine shafts, a job which had been done by Barrick Golds' bulldozers under orders from President Mkapa. The Tanzanian President had since 1997 ordered the police force to arrest anyone making reference to the extrajudicial killing allegations because investigations had established that none was burried in the mine shafts.
But the government reaction to fresh evidence which LEAT and TLP claim to have has been swift and brutal. First Home Affairs mInister Mohammed Seif Khatib dismissed the fresh evidence and resumption of allegations and warned the two parties that police would arrest them for mudslinging the government.
True to his words, police raided LEAT headquarter offices in Dar es Salaam last November and searched through looking for the video tape. LEAT president Rugemereza Nshala's house was also raided just like TLP headquarter offices and Mrema's residence. Lissu had returned to Washington and police alleged that he had fled and said they were going to ask Interpol for assistance to arrest him.
Mrema and Nshala were interrogated and released until last Monday when formal charges were instituted. But before the latest fiasco, a team of international human rights activists from Canada, the US, Britain and Netherlands jetted into Tanzania. Led by Dean of Faculty of Law of University of Calgary in Canada Professor Catherine Mahony, it sought to investigate the allegations by interviewing relatives and survivors.
The team whose other members were Paula Buttler of Mining Watch, Stephen Kerr of Atkinsonian newspaper, Steve Herz of Friends of the Earth in US, Briton David Ransome of The International and Dutch journalist cum film maker Mattias Yistra, were ordered to leave hardly three days after their arrival by Khatib who alleged that they had entered the country on tourist visas which did not allow them to conduct investigations.
"They cheated our embassies by getting tourist visas but when they arrived here they started conducting investigations without formal government approval," Minister Khatib said.
LEAT however disputes the government position by saying that authorities were well informed of the international team of human rights activists to probe the Bulyanhulu killings which has become the latest eye sore on Tanzania's human rights record following January 2000 killings of 25 opposition party members in Zanzibar by the police force.
Lissu argues that LEAT met with senior Tanzania Police Force officials before the team arrived to brief them on the mission and request cooperation from the law enforcers who stand accused as first suspect in the killings.
Tanzania government's efforts to frustrate unveiling of the truth in the saga has now reached in court as earlier demanded by the two accused parties who have frequently urged authorities to prosecute them so that the justice system should decide who is saying the truth, came to fruition.
Outside Tanzania, it's Barrick Golds Chairman Peter Munk who is suppressing dissenting voices on the killings. Munk whose fortune out of mining is measured in millions of dollars filed a libel suit against Britain's leading liberal newspaper, The Guardian, whose sister paper, The Observer published an investigative story by American leading investigative journalist Greg Palast headlined, "The Best Democracy Money Can Buy," sometime last year.
Among other things, the report unveiled how Barrick Golds' US subsidiary, Barrick Goldstrike made donations to Republicans and George W Bush's presidential campaign in 2000. The most controversial part of the report was that which named Barrick as owning KMCL in Tanzania which three successive Amnesty International annual reports (1997 to 99) alleged that it was behind the extrajudicial killings of 52 artisanal miners at Bulyanhulu.
Munk whose multinational corporation boasts of having big names as its board members and directors, including former US President George Bush senior and Vernon Jordan and whose over $300m Bulyanhulu project is also supported by World Bank loan, knew that such allegations could easily derail the company's success and reputation. Experts estimate that Bulyanhulu gold fields have a fortune of over $3bn.
World Bank regulations prohibit the institution from supporting projects with gross violation of human rights while influential personalities like Bush and Jordan wouldn't like their names associated with a company that slaughtered natives while pursuing corporate interests.
The Guardian was forced to seek an out of court settlement with Barrick for fear of legal costs and possible negative ruling by Britain's judicial system which has one of the world's most draconian libel laws and which does not accept reference of published evidence as defence. Palast's report was partly based on Amnesty International reports.
Amnesty International itself has been denied by Tanzanian authorities from visiting Bulyanhulu to investigate the reports of mass killings of the miners since 1997 when it made mention of the case for the first time.