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HRW urges Uganda mining companies to respect indigenous rights

The burgeoning Ugandan mining industry must respect the rights of indigenous people affected by mineral exploration, Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] urged [report] Monday. The report argues that three large mining companies in particular have infringed upon the rights of the indigenous people of Karamoja by engaging in land and mineral grabs, causing environmental damage and refusing to provide information concerning the occurrence, extent and timing of their explorations. Communities in Karamoja traditionally own land communally or collectively. According to HRW, this type of ownership framework is at odds with Ugandan law. As a result, residents lack the ability to formally memorialize proof of their land ownership, which, HRW argues, puts the communities in "significant jeopardy of rights abuses" as mining activities increase. According to HRW, companies seeking to mine in Karamoja have a responsibility to respect human rights, including the land and resource rights of its indigenous peoples. In addition, HRW asserts that the government has an obligation to respect, protect and fulfill these rights, which include the rights of mining employees. One company mentioned in the report, East African Mining LTD [Bloomberg backgrounder], disputes HRW's claims [press release].

Disputes between mining companies and local communities are a global occurrence. In June Amnesty International (AI) claimed that Chinese-owned mining companies in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) have contributed to a culture of human rights abuses [JURIST report]. AI specifically claimed those companies should be held accountable for longstanding, ongoing human rights abuses related to child labor, on-site injuries, financial exploitation and illegal detainment of workers in handmade jail cells. In January 2013 HRW reported that investing in Eritrea's mines without assurance of fair labor practices could lead to allegations of complicity in human rights violations [JURIST report]. In February 2012 the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples James Anaya urged the Panamanian government [JURIST report] to open a dialogue with the country's indigenous peoples in an effort to alleviate tension and reduce violence. The request came after one indigenous group occupied portions of the Pan-American Highway in protest of mining and drilling activities taking place on their lands.

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