West African Court Finds Guinean Officials Guilty in Mine Conflict

Iron ore mines in the Simandou Mountains in Guinea.

Iron ore mines in the Simandou Mountains in Guinea. Google Earth

West Africa’s top court has ruled that Guinea is responsible for the deaths of six people and the unlawful arrest, injury, or torture of 15 others in the village of Zogota during a 2012 conflict over abusive mining practices. The Economic Community of West African States’ Court of Justice, found that Guinean authorities violated protesters’ human rights and ordered the state to pay the villagers $463,000 in damages, as well as legal fees.

“For over eight years, the people of Zogota in southern Guinea have been seeking justice for the massacre that devastated their village,” lawyers representing the villagers said in a statement.

On the evening of August 3, 2012, Guinean security forces raided Zogota, located in the southeastern part of the country, shooting at random and burning homes. “They came at night, while people were sleeping,” Kpakilé Gnédawolo Kolié, the president of the community, said in a statement. “We were woken up by the sound of bullets and when people came out to see what was going on, they shot our fathers and brothers.”

The villagers in Zogota and surrounding communities had been protesting an iron ore project co-owned by the mining companies Vale, the world’s top iron producer, and BSG Resources. The activists’ protests included a sit in near the mine site and destroying company equipment.

“Guinea violated the right to life, the right not to be subject to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment, the right not to be arrested or detained arbitrarily, and the right to effective recourse,” said Justice Gberi-Bé Ouattara, reading the court’s ruling, according to Reuters.

Both Guinean officials and Vale have long denied any involvement in what happened in Zogota.

Vale and BSG Resources suspended operations at their Zogota mine after the massacre, and later lost their concession to mine in the region. But Guinean authorities recently re-awarded the concession to Niron Metals, a company with close ties to BSG Resources, which hopes to restart mining in the region soon, the industry news site Mining.com reported.