Petra Diamonds probes new claims of human rights abuses in Tanzania

Dump trucks at the Williamson diamond mine. (Image courtesy of Petra Diamonds.)

Struggling Petra Diamonds (LON:PDL) said on Tuesday is investigating fresh allegations of human rights abuses at its Williamson mine in Tanzania, following a lawsuit against the company launched last year.

UK-based law firm Leigh Day filed claims against the South African miner in May 2020 in the High Court of England on behalf of 32 anonymous individuals. 

The accusations against Petra and the mine operator Williamson Diamond Limited (WDL) included reports of personal injuries and deaths at the diamond mine, allegedly caused by security guards.

Last year, Petra launched an investigation into those allegations, as well as similar accusations brought forwards by RAID, a UK-based NGO, based on research conducted between September 2019 and November 2020.

The diamond miner said it had since received new reports of incidents involving security operations at its Williamson mine spanning to January 2021. 

In those three months, Petra said, there have been 79 recorded incursions onto the mine property, involving approximately 1,091 illegal miners. The company found that in most cases (60 of the 79 incidents), security guards did not react violently despite the illegal diggers becoming aggressive in eight of those 60 incidents.

Between Nov. 2020 and Jan. 2021 there have been 79 recorded incursions onto the Williamson mine property, involving approximately 1,091 illegal miners, Petra said

In 19 of these incidents, Petra said, “reasonable force” was required to remove or disperse illegal miners from Williamson premises or for the security patrol teams to defend themselves. 

“Live ammunition was only discharged on one occasion during November 2020, when the Tanzanian Police fired one live warning round in the air to disperse a group of illegal diggers,” the miner said in the statement.

“The largest group of illegal diggers recorded in a single incident was approximately 150 and in all of the incidents where force was required, the diggers were aggressive and armed with slingshots and rocks.”

The company added that nine members of the security patrol team were injured in the events that required the use of force, adding that there were no reports of illegal miners hurt.

“It is of course possible that some of these diggers may have been injured in these engagements [but] It has been confirmed that no patients were received at the Mwadui hospital with injuries consistent with those which might be sustained by illegal diggers during this period,” it said.

Internal committee

The diamond miner said that it has created a Board sub-committee to oversee the investigation being carried out by a specialist external advisor in conjunction with the company’s lawyers.

The committee will consider the outcome of the investigation and the recommendations to address any findings. This may include any required remedy or corrective action to be taken as a result of the probe’s conclusions, it said.

Petra will provide further feedback on this investigation by the end of March 2021.

The Williamson mine, active since 1940, is in Shinyanga, one of Tanzania’s poorest regions. It produced a 54.5-carat pink diamond presented to Queen Elizabeth for her wedding in 1947.

The mine has been shut since April, when Petra put it on care and maintenance after the coronavirus pandemic caused rough diamond prices to plunge.

Petra was already struggling before the pandemic hit and had to put itself up for sale. It reversed the decision in October, opting instead for a debt-for-equity restructuring. The deal would leave existing shareholders with just 9% of the company.

Petra also operates mines in South Africa.