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Monitoring the impacts of government and corporate behaviour in communities overseas.

Bougainvilleans should not be left with Rio’s cleanup bill

Release Date: 08-Jul-2016

In the wake of Rio Tinto’s announcement that it would divest itself of interests in Bougainville, much remains at stake, including responsibility for costly mine rehabilitation.
 
Rio Tinto is the controlling shareholder in the troubled company, Bougainville Copper Lim ited (BCL) which operated the Panguna copper and gold mine between 1972-1989, and which currently holds an exploration license in the Panguna region. Disputes over the mine and the company’s conduct in the late 1980s led directly to the bloody Bougainvillean civil war.
 
“On the one hand, we welcome the news that Rio Tinto has given up the unrealistic aim of re-opening Panguna,” Director of Jubilee Australia, Luke Fletcher said.
 
“Jubilee Australia research showed that the people of Panguna were opposed to the reopening of a mine that caused so much bloodshed and pain to the people on the Island, particularly by the very company whose actions precipitated and fueled the crisis.
  
“Rio's decision was the result of a tireless campaign waged by landowning communities opposed to the company's return. Their capacity to organise, resist and condemn the operation, sent a powerful message to international markets that Rio Tinto was not welcome, making any commercial case near impossible. 
 
“This again attests to the important role local communities can play in determining their own future, even when facing opponents with considerable financial resources and significant political capital.  
 
“Nevertheless, Jubilee Australia is deeply concerned by the way that Rio Tinto has pulled out of Bougainville.
 
“Rio has walked away from the mess that it helped cause, both environmentally and in terms of human lives. By doing so, they have further reduced the chance that there will be any clean-up of the significant environmental damage caused by the Panguna mine.
 
‘They have also walked away without acknowledging their role in inciting the conflict and providing logistic support to government security forces. This is not the behavior of an ethical or socially responsible company.
 
“International civil society, communities on Bougainville and governments, must now work together to create a plan to address the toxic legacies of the mine and conflict. And they must ensure that those liable for the destruction compensate victims,” Fletcher said.
 
Jubilee has also raised concerns with the way that Rio has divested itself of its BCL shares. Rio plans to distribute its shares in BCL equally to both the Governments of Bougainville and PNG.
 
“By splitting its BCL shares between the Governments of Papua New Guinea and Bougainville, Rio has created an extremely destabilising situation.
  
“The country has many paths to independence and economic stability. It is up to the people to decide whether or not this will involve mining and under what circumstances. Much remains at stake,” Fletcher said.
 
See Jubilee Australia’s 2014 and 2015 research reports on Bougainville.
 

Contact: Luke Fletcher - luke@jubileeaustralia.org