A Madagascan farmer who says he and his neighbours have lost access to their land because of the UK mining company Rio Tinto has been blocked from visiting London, where he had been due to address the firm’s annual general meeting.
Athanase Monja planned to speak at the firm’s AGM on 12 April, but was refused a visa by the Home Office. Monja, a subsistence farmer, fisherman and first assistant to the mayor in his town of Antsontso, was told by British officials he had a “lack of qualification” to speak about environmental and human rights concerns.
After making his visa application, Monja was contacted by QMM and questioned about why he had travelled to the island’s capital, Antananarivo, and why he wanted the visa. London Mining Network, a coalition of anti-mining campaign groups, said: “It is unclear why the foreign multinational would have had access to this information or considers it has any jurisdiction to question Malagasy citizens in this way.”
The mine was billed as a future model for responsible mining, but campaigners say it has had a devastating impact on the environment and community. QMM, which is the local Rio Tinto subsidiary, uses a controversial biodiversity offsetting scheme that pledges to counteract environmental damage by protecting other areas. Campaigners say QMM’s conservation projects are rapidly losing credibility. In October, QMM’s biodiversity committee resigned, writing that Rio Tinto and QMM had watered down their commitment to responsible mining by creating “a vague and fundamentally weakened strategy”.
Yvonne Orengo, director of the Andrew Lees Trust, a charity that runs social and environmental projects on Madagascar, said the AGM was a rare opportunity for local people to make their voices heard. “They would have an audience of shareholders who have vested interests and probably have more power to hold the company to account than anybody in the local community over there. That’s the sad reality,” she said. “Malagasy people are mostly living from the land, and it’s important to them spiritually and culturally, as well as for their livelihoods. Any loss of land, and any loss of access to natural resource like forest, is going to severely impact on their wellbeing and ability to survive.”