London law students play key role in Guinean mining reforms

Law students at the School of African and Oriental Studies (SOAS) in London have been working to reform Guinean mining practices.

The work, performed by a human rights advocacy network established by SOAS students called Banyan, focused on researching Guinean mining companies and was commissioned by the Guinean government as part of its systematic review of all of the country’s mining conventions.

Students used their knowledge of company law and structures, labour rights and human rights law as well as researching each company’s prospects and African presence.

Banyan’s co-founder Luke Smitham worked on the project along with other students Virginie Rouas, Allison Lindner and Katharina Theil. Smitham said: “The work was fairly extensive and required more hours than originally estimated. By the end of the project, we had completed four reports on four of the world’s biggest mining companies.”

Reports were submitted to coordinating groups the Revenue Watch Institute and the Technical Committee. The latter has been created to ensure greater transparency in the Guinean mining sector and re-negotiate contracts with international mining corporations to make sure the country benefits fairly from revenue generated by mining its natural resources.

Patrick Heller, senior legal advisor at Revenue Watch Institute, said: “The work conducted by the Banyan researchers provided invaluable information and guidance to Revenue Watch and our counterparts in the government of Guinea as we sought to deepen our understanding of the particular challenges the country faces in reforming its management of the mining sector. The Banyan team conducted strong, context-specific analysis well-tailored to our needs, and made a significant impact on the reform process.”

Smitham added: “The drive for further reforms in the Guinean mining sector is continuing, a development we at Banyan are proud to have been a part of. We hope the Guinean example will inspire other countries not only in their aims but also their methods to make their extractive sectors more accountable.”

The group’s previous work includes working on briefs in the landmark US Supreme Court case of Kiobel vs. Royal Dutch Petroleum, alleging that Royal Dutch aided torture and mass murder.

Banyan allows students to work pro bono on cases which aim to further human rights, development or social justice and are committed to practical change. The group is offering its research skills and knowledge to civil society agencies, development groups and law firms.