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Mozambican miners win class action suit against British Group Gemfields

Gemfields will pay 5.8 million pounds in compensation to nearly 300 artisanal miners over accusations of abuse

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The entrance of the Montepuez Ruby Mining company - AFP

British mining group Gemfields has confirmed it will pay 5.8 million pounds in compensation to nearly 300 artisanal miners over accusations of abuse around a ruby mine in Mozambique, but denied liability.

In a class action suit, Gemfields was accused of hiring police and private security officials who were involved in the alleged torture and death of some residents in the company’s concession area, as well as destroying their property, to force them to leave.

The London-based Leigh Day firm said the suit brought by 273 miners is to be settled with the payout, worth 6.7 million euros ($7.6 million) including the claimants’ legal expenses.

“Gemfields… has agreed, on a no-admission-of-liability basis, the settlement of all claims brought by English law firm Leigh Day on behalf of individuals living in the vicinity of Montepuez Ruby Mining Limitada’s (MRM) mining concession in northern Mozambique,” the mining company said in a statement sent to AFP.

Gemfields denied any wrongdoing but said it “recognised that, in the past, instances of violence have occurred on and around the MRM licence area, both before and after Gemfields’ arrival in Montepuez.”

Gemfields is a majority shareholder of MRM, which won the mining rights to 36,000 hectares (89,000 acres) of ruby-rich land in Mozambique in 2011.

The agreement also provides for an agricultural development and training project, as well as a mechanism for resolving conflicts between MRM and local residents.

The plaintiffs’ law firm, which prides itself on waging “David and Goliath” legal battles pitting individuals against corporations and governments, hailed the settlement, saying it would “provide significant redress to our clients”.

“These incidents should never have happened. However, we commend Gemfields for engaging constructively to resolve this case promptly and for putting in place an independent grievance mechanism,” Leigh Day partner Daniel Leader said.

Mozambique accounts for 80 percent of global ruby production.

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Semenya cleared by court to run 800m in Rabat

Organisers of the Diamond League had initially refused to allow Semenya to take part but on Friday they “confirmed her invitation”

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Semenya cleared by court to run 800m in Rabat

Caster Semenya will run her specialist 800m distance at Rabat on Sunday, organisers said, after the South African two-time Olympic champion won the latest round of a bitter court battle over gender rules.

Semenya was cleared to take part in the Diamond League meeting after Switzerland’s top court rejected an IAAF request to re-impose rules obliging her to lower her testosterone before competing in certain events.

Organisers of the Morocco event had initially refused to allow the South African to take part but on Friday they “confirmed her invitation”.

“After checking the situation of Caster Semenya in the light of the decisions of the Swiss Federal Court, and the Court of Arbitration for Sport, the head of the international athletics meeting in Rabat, Alain Blondel, is happy to confirm the invitation,” said a statement on the event’s official site.

The Swiss federal court issued their order on Wednesday, explaining “this means that Caster remains permitted to compete without restriction in the female category at this time.”

The IAAF had earlier this month opposed a ruling by the court temporarily suspending the federation’s rules following an appeal by Semenya who won the women’s 800 metres at the 2012 and 2016 Olympics.

The athlete was contesting a decision by the Court of Arbitration for Sport which previously found the rules were “discriminatory” but “necessary” to ensure fairness in women’s athletics.

The rules require women with higher than normal male hormone levels, a condition known as hyperandrogenism, to artificially lower the amount of testosterone in their bodies if they are to compete in races over distances of 400m to the mile.

“No woman should be subjected to these rules,” Semenya said in a statement, adding she had “thought hard about not running the 800m in solidarity unless all women can run free. But I will run now to show the IAAF that they cannot drug us.”

The athlete also dismissed the IAAF’s claim that it is committed to the full participation of women in sport.

“I am a woman, but the IAAF has again tried to stop me from running the way I was born,” she said in the statement, pointing out the hormonal drugs she had been required to take to compete had made her feel “constantly sick and unable to focus for many years.”

“No other woman should be forced to go through this,” she said.

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Public health officials employ “time-honoured” tactics to combat dengue in Ivory Coast

Two people have died and 130 have fallen ill since the fever returned to the country last month.

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Health workers fumigate an area to prevent mosquitos from breeding, in Abidjan, as part of a campaign against the mosquito borne virus dengue

“Cover your goods,” Diakaria Fofana, a doctor of public health charged with combating dengue, warns food vendors as a thick cloud of insecticide spray wafts down a street in Abidjan, Ivory Coast’s economic capital. Men in protective clothes, goggles and masks are disgorging plumes of mosquito-killing chemicals in a bid to roll back an outbreak of dengue.

Two people have died and 130 have fallen ill since the fever returned to the country last month. The toll, so far, is tiny compared with other tropical countries, especially in Southeast Asia, where the painful and sometimes deadly disease is an entrenched peril.

But tackling the outbreak is a major challenge for Ivory Coast, having to resort to time-honoured, labour-intensive methods of spraying and neighbourhood awareness campaigns to prevent its spread. Female mosquitoes carrying the dengue virus transfer the pathogen when they tuck into a blood meal from someone.

 National institute for public hygiene (INHP) are at work to fumigate an area as part of efforts to fight Dengue in Ivory Coast
In this file photo taken on June 3, 2019 officers of the National institute for public hygiene (INHP) are at work to fumigate an area to prevent mosquitos from breeding, in Abidjan, as part of a campaign against the mosquito borne virus dengue. (Photo by Sia KAMBOU / AFP)

Related: 18,000 tonnes of ‘dangerous Myanmar rice’ destroyed in Ivory Coast

A vaccine does exist, but is not available in Ivory Coast because “it has many secondary effects (and) it’s expensive”, explained Joseph Vroh Benie Bi, director of the National Institute for Public Hygiene (INHP). Developed by French pharmaceutical group Sanofi Pasteur, the vaccine is recommended for use in people aged nine and older, and only for individuals who have already been infected.

Usually accompanied by flu-like symptoms, dengue makes some people very sick indeed, developing into a haemorrhagic fever that can cause difficulty breathing, heavy bleeding or even organ failure. While the first bout of dengue is rarely fatal, subsequent infections are usually worse.

Fighting the mosquitoes equals combating dengue

The UN’s World Health Organization (WHO) says there are up to 100 million cases of dengue worldwide every year, and almost half the world’s population lives in countries where the disease is endemic. It kills more than 20,000 people each year. Southeast Asia and the Western Pacific are the worst-hit areas.

There is no cure and the WHO recommends that patients take paracetamol, rest and drinking plenty of fluids. Five new vaccines are in development, but in the meantime, Fofana says: “The only effective means of fighting (dengue) is fighting the mosquito.”

In Ivory Coast, most recorded cases have occurred in Abidjan. Health workers are striving to enlist the public in tackling the mosquito, targeting its life cycle. “The larvae multiply in stagnant water, for example inside used tyres,” said Fofana, deputy director of the vector control unit at the INHP.

“People should never store water in buckets in the open air and they should regularly throw out the water in plates under houseplants.” But he faces an uphill job in a sprawling port city of 4.4 million people in the middle of the rainy season.

National institute for public hygiene (INHP) are at work to fumigate an area as part of efforts to fight the spread of Dengue in Ivory Coast
(FILES) In this file photo taken on June 3, 2019 an officer of the National institute for public hygiene (INHP) is at work to fumigate an area to prevent mosquitos from breeding, in Abidjan, as part of a campaign against the mosquito borne virus dengue. (Photo by SIA KAMBOU / AFP)

Related: The endangered reality of traditional priestesses in Ivory Coast

What’s more, people who are infected, even without knowing it, and can bring the virus to new areas when they are bitten by local mosquitoes. The WHO has set a goal to halve the number of dengue deaths by 2020, but, the incidence of the disease has increased 30-fold in the last 50 years.

“Before 1970, only nine countries had experienced severe dengue epidemics. The disease is now endemic in more than 100 countries,” it says.

Dengue – Malaria’s big brother

In Ivory Coast, where malaria accounts for a third of all medical consultations, many people self-medicate when they experience symptoms such as high fever, vomiting, nausea or aches and pains. “This is a real problem, because the symptoms of malaria, dengue, typhus and yellow fever are similar. Doing a blood test is absolutely indispensable,” said Fofana.

Treatment with the wrong medicines can worsen the situation, he stressed – aspirin or ibuprofen can increase the risk of bleeding, for example. In the meantime, the spraying goes on.

“We know the risks,” said Bamba Segbe, an Abidjan resident watching the masked men in action. “It’s not for nothing that we call dengue malaria’s big brother.”

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Botswana’s High Court legalises homosexuality, repeals colonial penal code

“We say the time has come that private, same sexuality must be decriminalized.” -Court judge

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Botswana's High Court legalises homosexuality, repeals colonial penal code
(File photo)

Botswana’s High Court, in a highly-anticipated verdict, on Tuesday ruled in favour of decriminalising homosexuality, which is outlawed under the country’s 1965 penal code.

Judge Michael Elburu “set aside” the “provisions of a Victorian era” and ordered the laws be amended. 

In a courtroom packed with activists, the judge emphasised that the current laws oppressed a minority of the population.

“There’s nothing reasonable in discriminating,” he said.

“We say the time has come that private, same sexuality must be decriminalized.”

“It is a variety of human sexuality,” he said.

The High Court had been petitioned by an anonymous person, identified only by initials LM for security reasons.

The individual challenged two sections of the penal code under which offenders face a jail sentence of up to seven years. 

In March, the court postponed a ruling on the issue, sparking fears that the much-awaited decision could be delayed indefinitely.

But on Tuesday, Judge Elburu stressed that the country’s highest judicial body took the matter deeply seriously.

“Sexual orientation is human, it’s not a question of fashion,” he said. “The question of private morality should not be the concerns of the law.”

Last month, Kenya’s High Court upheld laws against same-sex relations, dealing a blow to activists campaigning to roll back anti-gay laws and stigma in Africa.

Before Tuesday’s ruling, 28 out of 49 countries in sub-Saharan Africa had laws penalising same-sex relationships, according to Neela Ghoshal, a Human Rights Watch (HRW) specialist in lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rights.

The death penalty is on the books, under sharia, in Mauritania, Sudan and northern Nigeria, although there have been no known executions in recent times.

In southern Somalia, gay men are believed to have been put to death in territories ruled by the Al Shabaab jihadist group.

However, Angola, Mozambique and Seychelles have scrapped anti-gay laws in recent years.

Rights groups say many laws punishing homosexuality date from the colonial area.

They represent a peril even in countries where they are not implemented, according to campaigners, as their existence on the statute books entrenches discrimination and encourages harassment.

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