According to the Guardian Newspaper in the United Kingdom, High court in United Kingdom has heard evidence of Tonkolili Iron Ore Ltd’s which is now controlled by Chinese Shandong Steel formerly owned by African Minerals Limited alleged complicity in killings, beatings and eviction of villagers by armed police in the northern town of
Tonkolili in Sierra Leone.
Kelly Conteh lies in hospital with a head wound after police opened fire at protesters in Bumbuna, in the north of Sierra Leone, in April 2012. Photograph: Finbarr O’Reilly/Reuters.
“An iron ore company once listed in London is accused of presiding over a deadly police crackdown in Sierra Leone, where villagers were arrested, beaten and killed,” the Guardian mentioned.
The newspaper explained that evidence on allegation of the company’s involvement in the police operation will be presented to the court in UK on Tomorrow Thursday 2 November 2017.
“The multimillion pound case against Tonkolili Iron Ore Ltd, formerly a subsidiary of African Minerals Ltd, has been brought by London law firm Leigh Day on behalf of 41 people from Bumbuna, in the north of Sierra Leone,” the newspaper revealed.
The Guardian furthered that according to a witness statement given by a commander, AML ordered the operational support division, the armed wing of the country’s police, to shoot at workers “causing problems” during a strike at one of its mines in 2012, adding that; “during a patrol of the local area by members of the division, police fired at villagers, killing a young woman.”
“AML is also accused of complicity in false imprisonment, assault and battery, trespass and theft of the claimants’ property.
The allegations relate to two incidents: the police response to protests by local people against an alleged landgrab by the firm in 2010, and the police response to a workers’ strike in 2012,” the Newspaper asserts.
The Guardian said the police acted under instructions from the company during the strike and that in written evidence, the operational support division commander described an AML manager as “superior, even to my commander”, and said that the staff member handed out alcohol and money to officers on a daily basis.
“The alcohol gave us energy, made us aggressive and ensured we were not afraid to do what we had to do … We were told to do whatever we needed to do to get the situation under control, including firing.”
The commander asserted that a woman was shot during a patrol of the local area in 2012 and added: “we saw a group of women doing a traditional dance down the road. There were some men throwing stones at us from the side of the women and so we opened fire on them. When you fire, bullets do not select people, and many people got hit with bullets.”
He continued that he decided to speak out: “This is my country and so the girl that got shot is a sister of mine.”
AML was once one of Sierra Leone’s largest employers, with almost 7,000 staff supplying the raw material for China’s production of steel.
According to Human Rights Watch, hundreds of families were evicted from their land to make way for the mine near Bumbuna with minimal consultation with villagers. The move undermined the livelihoods of local people, who lost access to lands used for farming.
In a witness statement, the commander said that, during the strike in 2012, he would break into people’s homes, before beating and arresting individuals. “By doing this we were scaring people away and showing them that we were in charge.”
A former driver asserted that an AML manager told operational support division officers that if workers cause problems “you should do anything to them”.
During the police crackdown, he said that a friend of his had been beaten up by a policeman in the town. “She was cooking in front of the house and the police kicked over her food pot … Her clothes were covered in dirt as if the policemen had stomped on her. She had scratches on her face and blood,” he said.
The driver’s witness statement also alleged that, at the company’s mine in 2013, police officers would shoot intruders, while AML workers would help to bury the bodies. “One OSD officer walked over to the machine and talked to the operator. A few minutes later, the excavator dug a hole in the ground and then the arm of the excavator pushed the body into the hole.
Shortly after that, a road roller, also working nearby, levelled the area,” the former driver said.
The mining company declined to comment on the allegations. In January 2017, 101 claims relating to the case were settled. On Thursday, Leigh Day will ask for anonymity for a number of individuals giving evidence.
The hearing will also consider whether the court should travel to Sierra Leone to hear evidence, or whether witnesses should speak through video link.
In 2009, oil firm Shell agreed to pay $15.5m (£9.6m) to the Ogoni tribe of southern Nigeria after a case was brought by Leigh Day, accusing the multinational of human rights violations.