Mauritanian Copper Mines (MCM) says that the need for expansion of operations in Akjoujt requires excavation of new areas to act as a dumping ground for chemical waste products: scrap metals that have been processed with chemicals, including arsenic.
This situation caused MCM to expand on the west side of the plant, a region where scattered groups of graves are located, according to a survey.
The desecration of graves during excavation operations by MCM in Mauritania has infuriated locals and placed the company between a rock and a hard place as rights organizations threatened the exposure of health and environment violations.
Residents of the Inchiri region in western Mauritania have recently opened fire on Mauritanian Copper Mines after it dug into several graves and moved their contents without their knowledge.
In response to the accusations, the company stated that surveys and studies revealed that several parts in the Inchiri region are rich in copper and gold. These parts, they added, had several scattered graves ─ mostly of nomads and shepherds who died on the way to another destination ─ which is why it is difficult to find their families and obtain their approval.
The company then submitted an official request to the Ministry of Oil and Mining to excavate in this area and dig into the graves. The ministry referred the request to the Ministry of Islamic Affairs for religious advice regarding the desecration of the graves and which, in turn, referred the issue to the Mauritanian Islamic Scholars Union. The final verdict was that digging the graves was permissible as long as it will be done for the sake of public interest.
Despite getting official permission, the company started its excavation in absolute secrecy for fear of infuriating the residents in the area or in case any of the deceased’s families are still around.
Local authorities formed a committee made up of a representative of the Ministry of Islamic Affairs, a doctor, a clerk, and manual laborers. Since the beginning of November, the committee has been overseeing the transfer of the contents of the graves in the area in which the company will start its excavations. The company was also planning to pay compensations for any of the families of those buried in the graves in case they still live in the area after the transfer was over.
However, the committee’s hopes to accomplish the mission discreetly were dashed when the media got wind of the grave digging process and Mauritanian public opinion was outraged by such an unprecedented action.
The desecration of graves is new to Mauritania even though it is quite common in other Arab countries, said researcher Mohamed Olu Adomo.
“Some countries allow construction operations at grave sites to solve population problems and make new lands available to people who have nowhere else to go, but this is not the case in Mauritania,” he said.
Olu Adomo explained that Mauritania is full of sites that are rich in several kinds of metals, so there was no necessity in choosing regions that house graves for excavation. Mauritania is an Islamic Republic over a million square kilometers in area and has one of the lowest population densities of any inhabited country in the world.
“Graves are sacred and they are the property of those buried in them. They should never be desecrated and their contents cannot be transferred unless it is an emergency.”
Olu Adomo pointed out the difference between bodies that have turned into dust and those whose remains still exist and said that only in the first case can digging be done, and then too, only if cause for necessity is established.
“Digging into graves with remains will terribly hurt the feelings of the deceased’s family and will violate the sanctity of the dead body.”
The grave digging incident opened a Pandora’s Box for the copper company and other mining companies as activists and non-governmental organizations launched a campaign to expose the violations committed by those companies.
Campaigns focused on the chemicals and toxins those companies use or leave behind and which have serious, sometimes fatal, effects on the people, the environment, and livestock.
Activists who led the campaigns referred to reports issued by several mining and environment experts and which accused mining companies of violating international standards. This, they said, especially applies to the methods those companies use to dispense of their waste and the way they turn areas of land to open waste dumps. These practices, researchers point out, have detrimental effects on arable land and potable water.
Mauritania is known for the abundance of metals in its land. Last year alone, 11.1 million tons of iron, 330,000 tons of copper, and 7.311 tons of gold were excavated.
The number of companies working in mining in Mauritania has reached 55, granted a total of 197 excavation permits.
Main story translated from Arabic by Sonia Farid for Alarabiya
Additional information tranlsated by lissnup from original article by Mohamed Abdel-Kader, Akjoujit in ani.mr