In late March, MiningWatch Canada and other NGOs sent an international fact-finding mission hoping to visit the villages at Bulyanhulu, listen to the stories of the people, observe the general living conditions and small-scale mining sites, and gain first-hand information about the 1996 evictions. Paula Butler represented MiningWatch Canada on the mission. The other Canadians were Rights and Democracy Chair Kathleen Mahoney and Steve Kerr of the Varsity.
The visit was at the invitation of the Lawyers Environmental Action Team in Tanzania.
The team all obtained visa through the appropriate channels, and met in Dar Es Salaam on March 25. The next day, accompanied by lawyer Vincent Shauri of LEAT, they flew to Mwanza and then proceeded by road to Geita, a small town one hour's drive from Bulyanhulu. They were nine persons altogether.
Shortly after their arrival in Geita, a police officer delivered a letter from the Shinyanga regional police director informing the team that he had received instructions from the Director of Criminal Investigations in Dar es Salaam to deny them access to Bulyanhulu, inform them that they had not obtained proper authorization to carry out their work and order them to return immediately to Dar to obtain proper authorization from the Attorney General.
There is no such authorization for travel throughout the country required by any law of Tanzania.
Later that evening, the police erected an armed roadblock on the road to Bulyanhulu, and a large number of police had been deployed in the villages at Bulyanhulu.
The next day despite calls to the powers that be, the team continued to be directed to return immediately to Dar es Salaam and the police roadblock was not taken down. The LEAT lawyers phoned the people at Bulyanhulu and invited them to come to meet with the team at Geita. Fifteen people managed to come through by minibus, arriving at the guest house around 1:00 pm. The team was able to get hours of audio, video-tape and notes from these witnesses.
Late in the afternoon, maybe around 5:30 pm, the local police officer and the Shinyanga regional police officer, accompanied by a couple of other armed officers, arrived at the guest house, clearly very angry that the team had managed to meet with leaders of the Bulyanhulu small-scale miners and had disregarded their orders. The team was forced to agree to return promptly to Dar es Salaam.
Once there, they met with Judge Bomani, a former Attorney General and advisor to Nelson Mandela on the Burundi peace talks. Bomani expressed his embarrassment at how we had been treated by the police, re-iterated his opinion that there needed to be an independent inquiry, and talked with us about his views about the composition of an inquiry.
Says Paula, "Although we were not able to reach Bulyanhulu, the fact that we were blocked from going there reinforced and indeed, increased, our sense that there was something being covered up. There may have been other aspects to the police decision to block our access, but we remain convinced that that was the main motive."
The mission's report is available for download as a PDF file.