Petra overhauls Williamson security after interim report details running battles with illegal diamond miners

Truck transporting ore at Petra's Williamson mine. Source: Petra Diamonds

PETRA Diamonds suspended staff and would replace the private security firm at its Williamson mine in Tanzania as it sought to unscramble numerous claims of human rights abuses involving scores of artisanal miners over more than 10 years.

The UK-listed firm also said it would open up diamond tailings resources that artisanal miners could access in an effort to provide “economic development opportunities”.

These initiatives were the result of an interim report into human abuses first levelled against Williamson mine, in which Petra has a 75% stake, by Leigh Day, a UK-based law firm. A subsequent report was published by non-governmental organisation RAID, describing acts of violence against artisanal miners allegedly committed by Williamson mine’s security contractor, and Tanzanian police. The Tanzanian government owns a balancing 25% stake in the mine.

A full report setting out long-term remedies to certain acts of violence, allegedly perpetrated since Petra invested in the mine in 2009, would be published at the end of March, Petra said today. The report would be overseen by a sub-committee consisting of non-executive directors of Petra Diamonds.

The interim report detailed instances of skirmishes between artisanal miners, mine contractors, and police in which injury and fatalities were suffered on all sides. The overall picture presented by the events alleged and investigated in the interim report paint a picture of running, cat and mouse battles.

Petra stated that in just three months from November to January this year, there were 79 recorded incursions on Williamson’s Special Mining Licence (SML) involving 1,091 illegal diggers. In 60 of the recorded incursions, no force was used “despite the illegal diggers becoming aggressive in eight of those incidents,” said Petra’s interim report.

Petra investigated four recent events in which allegations were made that retreating illegal miners were either shot at or subjected to violent actions. Petra said in these events, there was no evidence baton rounds, for instance, were discharged by its security contractor or Tanzanian police. Teargas canisters were, however, discharged in order to disperse intruders, it said. In some cases, illegal miners totaled groups of 70 or 150 people, some armed with sling-shots.

Petra said it had suspended Williamson’s head of security and its head of general services pending the outcome of investigations. The security contractor would be replaced following the issue of a tender due to be completed by end-March.

Other remedial measures include ‘refresher’ training and education services, especially into the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights. A new grievance system will be implemented, medical facilities will be upgraded, as well as on-mine police facilities.

The report comes amid plans by Petra to reopen Williamson which was placed on care and maintenance last year. The company recently emerges from a year of some existential import relating to near-crippling debt.