Madagascar: Rio Tinto’s history of human rights abuses

In 2006 QIT Madagascar Minerals S.A (QMM), a joint venture between QIT Fer et Titane (Rio Tinto’s wholly-owned Canadian subsidiary) and the Government of Madagascar, began work on a new ilmenite mine in the Fort Dauphin area of the Anosy region of Madagascar. An estimated 6000 people, including many indigenous Antanosy, lived in villages in and around the area which was removed to make room for the mine. Other communities situated along the path of the mining operations were also affected or displaced in order to make way for the new port and roads.

Many Antanosy whose land was appropriated for the mine felt that their land was not measured fairly and were not satisfied with the compensation they were given for their land. In many cases the compensation received was far less than originally suggested in the media and to farmers themselves. There were also discrepancies between compensation for cultivated and uncultivated land, which many felt was just a way to reduce the value of their land. Many villagers also reported that local officials had told them to stop cultivating the land that was to be requisitioned, which caused them to lose out on compensation.  

After selling their land for mining, Antanosy farmers and their families have faced economic insecurity:

“Even though I received money in return for my land, I thought it was not enough. The money was spent building a house and buying some items that I needed for my daily life. Worse still, the money did not last.” - Jean-Claude 39, Ambinanibe.

QMM failed to respect customary land rights and people feel that the company took advantage of their situation as mostly uneducated and illiterate people to coerce them into accepting the company’s proposal against their will. Those who complained were ignored and those who opposed the mine were restricted in their protests by the lack of an official avenue to raise their objections.

The mining company now also controls the forest and its resources, which were previously used by local communities for firewood, food and traditional medicines. Such access is now denied to local communities, forcing them to pay for resources such as firewood which they would have previously collected for free.

“It is amazing how a forest growing in our region can become the property of foreigners. Right now, local people need authorisation to cut down trees. The worst thing is that we have to pay to get the permit”Fanja, St Luce.

Before access to the forest was restricted, local Antanosy people also benefited from the passing ecotourism trade to sell local crafts such as tsihy (woven mats) and also received a small amount of money from entry fees to the forest; but now QMM prohibites this. Although QMM has built a health centre for some local communities, its services are not free; and since people can no longer collect traditional medicine from the forest, they must now pay for expensive modern medicines at the clinic. Controlled access to the forest has not only affected livelihoods, but also restricted local traditions and cultures such as funeral practices, which have been part of Antanosy custom for generations. 

The construction of a port in Somatraha by QMM is also denying local communities access to fisheries:

“Even though fishermen work hard to get a good catch, they cannot match what they were able to do in Somatraha.” - Sambo 46, from Ambinanibe.

“Somatraha was to fishermen what rice paddies are to farmers, and it sustained their lives… Losing access to Somatraha was a terrible thing. We used to dock our boats in Ankitsikitsiky; but since they built a road from Ilafitsignana, where the QMM quarry is, to Somatraha, where they are now building a seaport, we cannot dock there any more… Our boats were always secure when moored there… [but now] people are forced to dock their boats in Bevava. As a result, about 400 boats were damaged due to the violent waves there.” - Rosette 54, from Ambinanibe.

Some people feel that the problems caused by QMM would not have been as bad if the company had created jobs for local Antanosy people, however this has not happened and instead the company has brought in workers from other cities and communities. The Antanosy feel cheated into accepting the QMM’s proposals and see the company and its mining activities as “bain-tany” (Zanaboatsy 58, from Petriky), a Tanosy rural expression relating to a time of hardship and deprivation which literally translates as ‘wound of the earth’.

For more information on how natural resource extraction is adversely affecting minorities and indigenous communities around the world, read MRG's report State of the World's Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2012.

References:

http://panos.org.uk/oral-testimonies/pushed-to-the-edge/

http://www.foe.co.uk/resource/media_briefing/mining_madagascar.pdf

Natasha Horsfield

Photo: An Antanosy girl. Credit: Woodlouse.

 

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Date: 27/06/2009

Countries:

Madagascar

Categories:

State of the World's Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2012
Indigenous Peoples
Natural resources
Land Rights

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