RIO TINTO AND THE PANGUNA MINE: STILL NO JUSTICE
The case of Bougainville and the Panguna mine is arguably the most serious example of corporate misconduct by an Australian company overseas in our recent history. From 1972 to 1989, the company Bougainville Copper Limited (BCL), a subsidiary of Australian-British mining giant Rio Tinto, operated the lucrative Panguna copper and gold mine.
The mine was forced on the locals without genuine consent being asked for or given. Years of peaceful protests were ignored: when the protestors turned to sabotage, the PNG Government, with the enthusiastic support of BCL and the Australian Government, sent in the military. A decade long civil war and blockade saw tens of thousands of Bougainvilleans die, mostly civilians.
During the operation of the mine, the company discharged millions of tonnes of mine waste into two local rivers, causing adverse environmental and social impacts for the local communities. Meanwhile, a site visit by the Human Rights Law Centre and Jubilee has found that the situation has gotten worse, not better. As the mine was never properly closed, polluted water continues to flow into local rivers from the mine site, impacting people’s livelihoods and food security.
Jubilee is working with local partners and the Human Rights Law Centre (HRLC) to demand that Rio Tinto help clean up the environmental mess caused by their actions.
"We live with the impacts of Panguna every day. Our rivers are poisoned with copper, our homes get filled with dust from the tailings mounds, our kids get sick from the pollution.... These are not problems we can fix with our bare hands. We urgently need Rio Tinto to do what's right and deal with the disaster they have left behind."
-THEONILA ROKA-MATBOB, BOUGAINVILLEAN POLITICIAN AND CABINET MINISTER
BOUGAINVILLE: THE NEW SCRAMBLE FOR RESOURCES
For many years now, Bougainville has been subjected to repeated pushes to reopen the country to mining. This is despite the fact that the wounds of the civil war have not yet healed, that mining is still a heavily divisive issue on the island, and that research suggests that it will almost impossible to mine Panguna in a way that will be both environmentally safe and see significant revenues for the new nation.
A major concern is that mining will once again be forced upon Bougainvilleans without their proper consent. Before the recent elections, the previous government, in league with Australian corporate actors, attempted to push through a new mining law. Our research found that the new law would be nothing more than a black cheque that would dispossess customary landowners of their rights. Fortunately, lawmakers saw this naked land grab for what it was and rejected it.
However the threat to Bougainville remains. Australian-based companies continue to team up with Bougainvillean actors to push for new mining leases. Our upcoming report, the Scramble for Resources, will examine this phenomenon in more detail.