KAMPALA – Members of the Natural Resources Committee of Parliament want the Minerals Police Protection Unit disbanded for brutalizing artisanal miners.
The unit was created at the height of conflicts in the mining areas of Bisya, Engaju and Nsiika among others between the large-scale miners and Artisanal and Small scale miners in August 2017. The conflict saw the small scale miners evicted from mines and territories they had occupied, both in Buhweju, Mubende and parts of present-day Kassanda district.
Kiboga East MP Keefa Kiwanuka condemned the manner in which the unit conducted the evictions saying it was inhumane and without any due regard to human rights. The miners were given two hours without prior notice to vacate the mines without collecting any of their properties.
“It is disturbing that over 20,000 artisanal miners were violently evicted and not even allowed to take their belongings, some of which is later alleged to have disappeared. During the eviction, people were beaten by police subsequently displaced and denied access to their homes and the essentials in the community,” the committee report reads.
The committee members also observed that there were reports of extortion of money and continued illegal mining superintended over by the Mineral Police Protection Unit which is now accused of aiding illegal mining in the areas.
The MPs have now recommended that in order to save Uganda Police and before more scandals erupt, the Mineral Protection Unit be disbanded because its current role is not defined. Although the unit is supposed to be responsible for the planning of policy formulation, supervision and monitoring of mineral security in the country, it had been structured to report directly to the then Inspector General of Police Kale Kayihura.
According to Keefa Kiwanuka, it is not clear how the unit was being facilitated as they seemed to be even above the known police structures, operating outside and in complete disregard of the district security structures. He added that the unit was not created as a result of a request by the ministry but as a brainchild of the then lGP who also set up the scope of operation.
“It was not even clear whether the all-powerful, SP Jessica Keigoba, the unit commandant, was reporting to the IGP. She came across as a law unto herself. Throughout these investigations, the unit has remained an issue of serious concern to the community wherever they are operating” added the committee.
The committee is now advising that the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Developement should call for the help of either the Uganda Peoples Defence Forces (UPDF) or the police and when it is required.
The Committee further recommends that, within three months, the government carries out a forensic investigation into the actions of the Mineral Police Protection Unit and bring the perpetrators of the cited human rights abuses to book. The Committee also urged the government to refrain from using excessive force when dealing with the population.
The committee recommends that the Ministry of Energy also revises the license granted to mining investors with a view of bringing it to conformity with the Mining Act. Some of the companies mining in the areas include C-Asian Mining and Minerals Limited mining gold and base metal, Hubei Jiu Zhou Geological Exploration Company, and Kitomi Gold & Base Metals Co. Ltd & C-Asian Partnership.
But the committee noted some irregularities in the licensing regime of the miners with some groups getting licenses in already licensed areas. They also want speculators who are hoarding licenses without meeting the obligations of the licenses penalized. According to the report, some companies lie C-Asian mining and Minerals claim that they were doing exploration, yet they were mining.
“The Committee also heard that the activities of Kitomi Gold and base Metals Company are in total disrespect of the environmental laws because of the deforestation and pollution of water which is channelled to the community without any treatment for community use in a search of gold from some of the mining sites in Bihanga forest reserve and there was the pollution of River Kyambura” reads the report.
The committee has also directed that the Ministry should issue a Cease and Desist Order immediately to illegal gold mining operators and that C-Asian should declare all the gold recovered in the course of exploration and pay all the attendant royalties.
They have also asked the government to expedite the process of registering all Artisanal and Small Scale miners throughout the country to have their activities streamlined and to enable them to benefit from the various Government programs geared towards the sector. Parliament is yet to debate and make a decision on the report.