Atewa Forest case: State unable to file witness statements, case adjourned to February 8, next year

An Accra High Court has adjourned to February 8, 2022, a case in which the state has been sued over the prospecting of bauxite by the Chinese government in the Atewa Forest Range.

This follows the state’s (Attorney General) inability to file its witness state in the matter.

A group of environmentalists, climate change activists, individuals, civil society and non-governmental organisations sued the government few months ago, over the decision to allow the Chinese to prospect bauxite in the forest.

The plaintiffs in a writ stated that the Government had already signed a memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the People’s Republic of China to develop a bauxite industry in Ghana with the Atewa Range Forest as one of the sources of bauxite.

The plaintiffs held that government, acting through the Ghana Integrated Aluminum Development Cooperation (GIADEC), entered the forest in May 2019, to explore for bauxite by drilling deep holes causing damage to the forest which protects the watershed for three major rivers and several streams, serving water to more than five million Ghanaians.

The plaintiffs alleged that they initiated the present action after several unsuccessful attempts to engage the Government on why it should not touch the forest, as it was classified as Globally Significant Biodiversity Area (GSBA) and a protected forest.

It is their case that Ghana did not need to exploit the Atewa Range Forest bauxite reserves because there are other far richer bauxite reserves, according to information available to government, which government has made publicly available.

The plaintiffs contend that strip mining, the only way to mine Ghana’s bauxite could result in loss of forest cover, loss of biodiversity, loss of access to clean water, build-up of greenhouse gases, loss of climate amelioration services, loss of emission reduction services, loss of medicinal/economic valuable plants and change in tourism potential of the area.

The plaintiffs said the Government was undertaking mining activities in the forest without mineral right, and urged the Court to compel the Government to restore or pay the cost of damages that had been caused as a result of recognisance, prospecting and clearing of roads in the Forest.

The Attorney-General and Ministry of Justice in its response stated that the Government only intended to utilize 1.9 per cent of the Atewa Forest Range and not the entire range.

The state contended that the actual mining area would cover 14.05 kilometer square and therefore, prospecting bauxite in the area would not be hazardous to the forest and any specie that lived within it.

According to the Attorney-General, the plaintiffs were merely crying wolf, as many countries, such as Brazil and Australia had successfully conducted mining activities in forest reserves, like the Amazon Rain Forest and Jarrah Forest under well supervised sustainable mining practices.

The state said government in ensuring the protection of the environment and species had set up a standing committee which comprises various mining and environmental regulatory agencies and commissions to ensure optimum adherence to responsible and sustainable mining practices to protect the water bodies and species within the mining area.

The plaintiffs are therefore praying for a declaration that mining of bauxite in the Atewa Range Forest violates the right to life and dignity as enshrined under articles 13 and 15 of the 1992 Constitution.

Plaintiffs want the Court to declare that the state breached their “right to life and dignity by exploring and driving deep holes into the ground at 53 different points in the Atewa Range Forest which activities started in May 2019.”

They are also seeking a declaration that the state breached the Minerals and Mining Act, 2006 (Act 703) by exploring and creating deep holes in the Forest.

The plaintiffs want the Court to compel the Government and its agents to declare Atewa Range Forest as a protected zone and take the necessary steps to protect the forest, in accordance with its constitutional obligations as contained under article 36(9) of the 1992 Constitution.

It also sought an order restraining the Government, its assigns and agents, servants, workmen, allotees and guarantees whatsoever and howsoever described from undertaking mining and its related activities in the Atewa Range Forest.

They want the Court to award damages for breach of articles 13 and 15 of the 1992 Constitution.

Source: GNA

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