London-listed diamond miner Petra Diamonds is already making some changes, such as appointing a new security contractor and implementing a new grievance mechanism, at its Williamson mine, in Tanzania, while it finalises an investigation into alleged human rights abuses by security personnel at the mine.
Petra last year launched an investigation after UK-based law firm Leigh Day issued claim forms in the High Court of England and Wales, in May last year, on behalf of 32 individuals, related to alleged breaches of human rights at the mine over a number of years.
In November last year, UK-based nonprofit organisation RAID also published a report alleging similar human rights abuses relating to the security operations at the mine by a third-party security contractor and the local Tanzanian Police Force.
Petra previously stated that it takes all the allegations seriously and had formed a subcommittee of the board comprised entirely of independent nonexecutive directors to oversee the matter.
Additionally, the company appointed a specialist external adviser to aid the company’s lawyers in the investigation of these alleged activities at the mine.
The company aims to conclude its overall investigation and provide feedback as to allegations from years back by the end of March, it said in a statement on February 9.
The miner has, however, provided information on what it has determined and uncovered so far in its investigation.
Before the acquisition of Petra’s 75% shareholding in the operating company of the mine, Williamson Diamonds, in 2009, and continuing throughout the last decade, there have been frequent organised incursions of groups of illegal diggers, sometimes in large numbers and who are believed to be sponsored by local dealers in illicit diamonds, onto the Williamson Diamonds special mining licence area, covering an area of 30.6 km2.
Although the vast majority of such incursions are resolved without any violence, there have also been incidences of confrontation and violence between illegal diggers, who are often armed, and the security patrol teams protecting the property and themselves, said Petra.
"Regrettably, the encounters between the security patrols, performed by guards from [the third-party security firm] and the Tanzanian Police, and the illegal diggers have resulted in injuries being suffered on all sides, and damage to Williamson Diamonds, [as well as the security team's] and [the police force's] vehicles and equipment.
"Tragically, some deaths of illegal diggers have also been reported and are being investigated by the specialist external adviser as part of the broader investigation," stated Petra.
The security firm has been Williamson Diamonds' security contractor since 2011 but will be replaced by a new security contractor following the completion of a tender process, with effect from March 1.
Petra noted that the security firm's employees were expressly required to abide by the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights (VPSHR).
It added that training on these rights had been provided to security guards by Williamson Diamonds.
Petra further pointed out that services provided by the Tanzanian police were governed by a memorandum of understanding, finalised and updated in 2019, which commits the Tanzanian police to act in accordance with the laws, rules and regulations of Tanzania, company security and safety policies and also the VPSHR.
There are normally between 20 and 25 Tanzanian police members deployed at the mine by the Tanzanian government.
Police equipment includes tear gas, stun grenades and firearms with live ammunition, and operates under Police and Government Rules of Engagement.
These are only used by the Tanzanian police in self-defence and to expel illegal diggers from the property. Private security guards are only authorised to use baton rounds (rubber bullet cartridges) in their shotguns and are subject to strict controls around the use of such weapons, which include a register of any rounds discharged.
All firearms and ammunition on Williamson Diamonds' premises are securely stored and are subject to routine checks and verification. No security employees are permitted to carry or use any firearms.
ONGOING ILLEGAL MINING
Further, Petra noted that, in the three months from November 2020 to January 2021, there had been 79 recorded incursions onto the special mining licence area, involving about 1 091 illegal diggers.
In the majority of cases – 60 of the 79 incidents – no force was used despite the illegal diggers becoming aggressive in eight of those 60 incidents.
In 19 of these incidents, reasonable force was required to remove or disperse the illegal diggers from the area or for the security patrol teams to defend themselves.
Live ammunition was only discharged on one occasion during November 2020, when the Tanzanian police fired one live warning round in the air to disperse a group of illegal diggers.
The largest group of illegal diggers recorded in a single incident was about 150 and in all of the incidents where force was required, the diggers were aggressive and armed with slingshots and rocks, stated Petra.
In the 19 incidents where force was required, nine members of the security patrol team were injured. No injuries of illegal diggers were reported, "although it is of course possible that some of these diggers may have been injured in these engagements", Petra acknowledges.
It has been confirmed that no patients were received at the mine's Mwadui hospital with injuries consistent with those which might be sustained by illegal diggers during this period.
A total of 13 Tanzanian police or security vehicles were damaged over the three-month period.
Seventeen illegal diggers were arrested by the Tanzanian police during this period.
Petra said it continues to provide new and refresher training to all mine line and senior management, the security team and security guards, night watchmen and employees working at the Mwadui medical facility.
Members of the Tanzanian Police Force assisted as facilitators in some of the sessions, the latest of which occurred in December.
Petra is also implementing a revised Tier 1 Operational-Level Grievance Mechanism (OGM) and is completing the design of a Tier 2 OGM, specifically aimed at considering any incidents involving potential human rights violations and providing redress, where indicated.
This Tier 2 OGM will be managed by an independent panel and is expected to be implemented during the third quarter of this year, following extensive and ongoing stakeholder engagement to ensure its support by the local communities.
The Tier 2 OGM will operate according to the highest international standards and will comply with the requirements set out in the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. It aims to resolve complaints following the full application of local legal requirements, including the provision of free and independent advice from local lawyers.
Petra has encouraged any community members who have been subject to any human rights violations to use this OGM.
The company has also endeavoured to establish a grievance desk at the main entrance of the mine and launched a new radio programme to facilitate open engagement with surrounding communities.
Petra had also closed the on-site police facility where arrested illegal diggers were temporarily detained in the past.
The company assures that Williamson Diamonds has significantly stepped up its engagement with its local communities, specifically focused on securing support for the independent, Tier 2 OGM referred to above.
The engagement also extends to looking at local economic development opportunities with a view to reducing illegal digger activity on the special mining licence area.
One such initiative is an artisanal tailings project, where local community members will be able to exploit old tailings material at the Williamson mine, in a formalised and controlled manner.
A memorandum of understanding between Williamson Diamonds, the local artisanal mining group and local and regional government authorities has been drafted and is with government authorities.