Category Archives: Human rights

Group wants deep-sea mine permit, licence cancelled

The National aka The Loggers Times | March 16, 2020

A GROUP of people concerned about the implications of deep-sea mining wants the Government to cancel the environment permit and mining licence granted to Nautilus Minerals Niugini Ltd.

The group is led by Jonathan Mesulam of the Alliance of Solwara Warriors, Peter Bosip, the director for the Centre of Environmental Law and Community Rights, Marie Mondu, the development secretary of the Catholic Bishop’s Conference of PNG and the Solomon Islands, and Cardinal Sir John Ribat, the Archbishop of Port Moresby, in association with the Catholic Bishops’ Conference, Coffee Industry support project, Caritas and the Social Communication of CBC PNGSI.

Mesulam said there was a lot of debate and opposition to the project since 2011 and with the project being declared “a failed project” the goal was achieved and asked the Government to go further and cancel its mining and exploration licence.

“The Solwara 1 Project has been declared a failed project in a public statement by the managing director of Mineral Resources Authority Jerry Garry in The National of Jan 24, 2020,” he said.

“The mining licence was given in 2011 and there is no mining, why is the company still holding onto the licence?

“The Government has to cancel the licence before the end of this year,” Mesulam said.

“As stewards of the sea and future, we are now giving notice to the responsible ministers to cancel the seabed mining licence ML154.”

Bosip said the deep-sea mining in PNG was the first of its kind in the world and “we do not know the negative impacts of it”.

“We do not know the best method of mitigating its negative impacts that will arise, we are not prepared to face the negative impact of deep-sea mining.”

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Indigenous women in Philippines mark Women’s Day with protest dance against mining

TAYAW DANCE. Photo courtesy of Shar Balagtas and Susan Corpuz

More than 100 indigenous women and women’s rights advocates in Brgy. Didipio in Kasibu town dance the Tayaw to protest the mining operations of OceanaGold Philippines

Mavic Conde | Rappler | March 07, 2020

“Tayaw,” a traditional dance of the Tuwali tribe in Nueva Vizcaya, is about unity and the power to face threats against a community.

On Friday, March 6, more than 100 indigenous women and women’s rights advocates in Brgy. Didipio in Kasibu town in this province danced the Tayaw to protest the continuing mining operations of Australian-Canadian company OceanaGold Philippines, Inc (OGPI).

Among the Tuwali women who danced was Myrna Duyan, who called the action “a dance of our lives.”

With this dance, “What we are fighting for is our life and our children’s future. Mining has destroyed our way of living. They have destroyed our sources of food and water,” Duyan said.

“To mark International Women’s Day, we dance, we protest, and we say – no more mining. OGPI has to leave,” she said as the leader of the community organization, Bileg Dagiti Babbae (Power of Women).

According to LILAK (Purple Action for Indigenous Women’s Rights), “the Tuwali women have led the movement against the destructive gold mining of OGPI for almost two decades. They now guard the picket-line in Sitio Verona, Brgy. Didipio where they maintain a round-the-clock schedule.”

LILAK added the community set up the barricade several months ago to prevent the entry of mining equipment following OGPI’s permit expiration. The women, armed only with placards and streamers bearing their calls to end mining, have successfully faced against ten-wheeler trucks and backhoes.

Expression of struggles, aspiration, and support

The “Tayaw” dance has 3 main movements, with each move representing unity, power, and freedom.

The women also held a “Gopa”, a Tuwali ceremonial chant that told the interwoven stories of their past and the future they are fighting for. The Gopa told the women’s decades-long struggle against mining and told a story of a future where they are finally freed from it.

The Tuwali women were joined by support organizations such as LILAK and Alyansa Tigil Mina (ATM), Didipio Earth Savers Multi-purpose Association Inc., (DESAMA), and Samahang Pangkarapatan ng Katutubong Magsasaka at Manggagawa Inc. (SAPAKMMI).

“As women, we understand the indescribable pain when you witness your land being destroyed and poisoned, the land where you come from – the land where you grow food,” said Mary Ann Forton, a member of LILAK and an Iraynon Bukidnon indigenous woman from Antique.

“As indigenous women, we are one with the Tuwali women in this fight for the land and against mining,” she added.

Strengthening the women’s movement

According to Judy Afan Pasimio of LILAK, joining the action of the Tuwali women for Women’s Day is staying true to its origin.

She said, “International Women’s Day has its roots from the march of thousands of women to demand their right to vote. More than a hundred years later and women are still fighting for their rights. It is important that we continue to strengthen the women’s movements as we fight for our rights and freedoms. On this day, we join the Tuwali women in their fight for their land and their life against OceanaGold.”

“We call on DENR (Department of Natural Resources) to cancel the mining permit of OGPI. They must never be granted another renewal of their mining license; else we allow another 25 years of destruction and violations of human and environment rights. Enough is enough,” said Caryl Pillora of ATM.

2018 report slams OceanaGold

Mining Watch Canada and the Institute for Policy Studies supported this call, as its 2018 report found “not only of lack of compliance, but also of unacceptable impacts of OceanaGold’s Didipio copper and gold mine on water, forests, land, indigenous peoples, human rights, biodiversity, and workers’ rights” because of the following:

  • No social license to operate, nor the Free Prior and Informed Consent of the Indigenous Peoples in Didipio;
  • Depletion of groundwater;
  • Contamination of surface water;
  • Failure to comply with commitments made in a 2013 Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) with the community;
  • Labor rights; and
  • Security/Red-tagging.

In a separate statement in 2018, Mining Watch Canada said OceanaGold’s November 2018 response to their report “does not address, let alone refute, the critical findings in our October 31 report: OceanaGold in the Philippines: Ten Violations that Should Prompt Its Removal.”

Mining Watch Canada’s secondary statement thus reiterated calls by local affected community members, including indigenous Ifugao peoples and the provincial and national organizations that support them, for the president and the DENR secretary to act on OceanaGold’s mining license. (READ: Environment group hits Oceanagold for operating without gov’t contract)

“OceanaGold’s 25-year mining license ends in June 2019. The Philippine government can – and should – deny the mining company’s request for a renewal. So too should OceanaGold’s requests for new exploration permits in the Philippines be denied,” it said.

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MRA embarks to reduce mercury usage

alluvial miners at work

Alluvial miners at work on Bougainville

Cedric Patjole | Loop PNG | March 8, 2020

The Mineral Resources Authority (MRA) recently launched a project to reduce the use of mercury in small scale mining operations.

The Project aims to identify the extent to which mercury is used in the industry and how it is used and by whom, in a bid to mitigate health risks.

On March 6th, the ‘Reducing Mercury Use in Papua New Guinea’s Alluvial and Small-Scale Gold Mining Sector’ Project was launched in Port Moresby, following a workshop with key stakeholders and project partners.

The Alluvial Mining industry is one of the largest small to medium enterprise sectors in PNG that engages thousands of rural small scale miners.

It is also a sector that is great health risks due to the usage of mercury.

“This project is designed to get a better understanding of our alluvial sector general, and more specifically to identify the extent to which mercury is used how it is used and by whom,” said MRA Executive Manager of Regulatory Operations, Roger Gunson.

“In addition, it will track the supply trial and identify the regions where it is used. The data collected relating to the sector will be entered into a database administered as part of MRA’s land-folio tenement system.

“This will be able to better inform on policy development, resourcing, training and sector needs.”

Gunson, said the Alluvial Mining is one of the biggest revenue earners for the country with K550 million recorded in 2019.

He said this is similar to revenue generated by smaller mines such as Simberi Mine. However, the use of mercury in extracting gold poses major health risks to the miners.

“Unfortunately, in many parts of PNG gold is extracted through the use of mercury. This is a danger to the health of miners, their families and communities as well as we have heard from the workshop today.

“Hence, we have a paradox, we want the gold and we want to be able to seek it, but we also have a health risk that sits alongside it,” said Gunson.

The project is funded by the US Department of State and implemented by Artisanal Gold Council (AGC) in conjunction with the MRA.

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Sinivit mine clean up to cost taxpayers K10m

Clean up to cost K10mil

IT may cost up to K10 million to detoxify and clean up cyanide at the abandoned Sinivit mine in East New Britain (ENB), an official says.

Mineral Resources Authority (MRA) managing director Jerry Garry said the Conservation and Environment Protection Authority (Cepa) and MRA officials visited the site last year and had completed monitoring by sampling to test for elevated cyanide content in the soil and water sources.

“There are interim plans to have security guards on site,” he said.

“Cepa advised that it may cost up to K10 million for external experts to detoxicate and clean up the cyanide.”

Last week, ENB Governor Nakikus Konga told Parliament that there were 18 vets, (an outdated way of storing mine wastes at the abandoned mine), which could be disastrous for the people, especially during the flash flood the province was experiencing.

Konga’s concerns were on the effect the mine wastes would have on his 45,000 people along the Warangoi River catchment area.

He said he had been discussing with Mining Minister Johnson Tuke for the last six months regarding the mine.

“He came to my province last weekend to see for himself what is happening with the abandoned Sinivit Gold mine, it will cause a catastrophe to my province.”

Meanwhile, Environment, Conservation and Climate Change Minister Wera Mori said he would be visiting the abandoned mine to assess the wastes.

“I will basically make a visitation to that province, hopefully together with MRA,” he said.

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Companies leave communities to grapple with mining’s persistent legacy

John C. Cannon | Mongabay | 28 February 2020

  • The destructive legacy of mining often lingers for communities and ecosystems long after the operating companies leave.
  • Several large, multinational mining corporations have scrubbed their images — touting their commitments to sustainability, community development and action on climate change — but continue to deny accountability for the persistent impacts of mining that took place on their watch.
  • A new report from the London Mining Network, an alliance of environmental and human rights organizations, contends that these companies should be held responsible for restoring ecosystems and the services that once supported communities.

The scale of excavation for copper and gold in the 1970s and 1980s at the Panguna mine, then one of the world’s largest open-pit mines, was massive: It swallowed up surrounding tracts of forest and farmland and wiped out wildlife populations on the island of Bougainville off the coast of Papua New Guinea. The company that operated Panguna, a predecessor of London-based mining giant Rio Tinto, dumped the mine’s contaminant-loaded wastewater into local streams for more than a decade and a half, killing off fish and rendering them too polluted for human use.

A mill at the Panguna mine, Bougainville. Image by Robert Owen Winkler

Neither the Papua New Guinea government nor the company stepped in to protect the environment, even after local communities, reeling from the impacts, sounded the alarm on the mine’s effects on their health, lives and livelihoods. Those tensions festered, and soon a war for Bougainville’s independence began. Fighting throughout the 1990s killed some 20,000 Bougainvilleans, and though a 2001 peace treaty granted Bougainville a measure of autonomy, the effects of the conflict and the mine still linger.

The company abandoned the mine in 1990, leaving it under the control of the Bougainville Revolutionary Army, and in 2016, Rio Tinto officially handed over its shares in the mine to Papua New Guinea and Bougainville.

“There is, in my personal view, an obligation of Rio Tinto to come back and to contribute to cleaning up the mess they left behind,” Volker Boege, who has studied the conflict and co-directs the Peace and Conflict Studies Institute Australia in Brisbane, said in an interview. “The effects of mining will be with the people on the ground long after [the] mining ceased.”

Holding Rio Tinto and other corporations accountable once they’ve relinquished their control of mines remains a difficult task, according to a new report published Feb. 19 by the London Mining Network, a consortium of environmental and human rights groups.

Equipment at the Panguna mine in the early 1970s. Image by Robert Owen Winkler

Rio Tinto said in a 2016 letter written by a company executive that the operation of the Panguna mine “was fully compliant with all regulatory requirements and applicable standards at the time.” But for Boege, who wrote the case study on the Panguna mine included in the London Mining Network report, that assertion doesn’t address the company’s ethical responsibility.

“I think it’s not good enough to just say, ‘We followed the legal obligations of the early 1970s or late 1960s,’” Boege said, “because everybody knows that this enables this kind of environmental destruction that people are suffering from even today.”

The report details lays out similar stories throughout Oceania and Southeast Asia. In western Papua New Guinea, BHP, a mining company with headquarters in Melbourne and London, elected to go with riverine tailings disposal — the same waste management strategy that polluted waterways around Panguna — for the Ok Tedi mine, a gold and copper deposit that BHP excavated until 2002. Situated amid forested mountains, the mine has been blamed for a 95% drop in fish numbers in the Ok Tedi River and degrading 2,000 square kilometers (772 square miles) of forest. Researchers figure that Ok Tedi has affected the livelihoods of around 40,000 people who depend on fishing, hunting and gardening.

Hannibal Rhoades, head of communications for the London-based NGO Gaia Foundation, said that companies like BHP often lobby governments for less stringent regulations. In Ok Tedi’s case, BHP persuaded the government to go along with riverine tailings disposal in the early 1980s.

The Ok Tedi mine in western Papua New Guinea. Image by Ok Tedi Mine CMCA Review

Papua New Guinea, like many resource-rich countries, has struggled to develop economically. As a result, leaders are often amenable to legal conditions favored by the company so they don’t lose a possible source of revenue.

While that’s a familiar pattern, said Rhoades, who wrote the Ok Tedi case study, it shows that governments too must be held accountable for protecting their citizens and the environment.

In addition to the companies’ role, he said, “It’s a game of power influence at the state level.”

Across the border in Indonesia’s half of New Guinea Island, the massive Grasberg gold and copper mine sidles up to the flanks of some of the region’s tallest mountains. Nearby, rare (and shrinking) equatorial glaciers cling to the summit of Puncak Jaya, towering 4,884 meters (16,024 feet) above sea level.

Still in operation today, the mine pumps an estimated 200,000 metric tons of waste into the Ajkwa River every day, contaminating a source of drinking water for local communities. Rio Tinto had been involved in the mine from 1996 until 2018, when it sold its stake to Indonesia’s state mining company, PT Indonesia Asahan Aluminium.

The Grasberg mine as seen from space. Image by ISS Crew Earth Observations Experiment and the Image Science & Analysis Group, Johnson Space Center

An investigation by The New York Times in 2005 found that Rio Tinto’s partner, U.S.-based mining company Freeport-McMoRan, had been paying tens of millions of dollars for Indonesian military and police to protect the operation’s employees. Local residents, such as Yosepha Alomang of the indigenous Amungme people, say that these government security forces in fact were there to deter local communities through intimidation from voicing their concerns.

But Rio Tinto says that when it sold its stake for $3.5 billion in 2018, its responsibility to address the problems for the local environment and communities that the mine has created ended as well, according to a case study written by Andrew Hickman, a researcher with the London Mining Network.

Hickman, Boege and Rhoades agree that challenging such contentions by companies that were once involved is an uphill battle. The success of using the courts varies. Several lawsuits against BHP for its operations of Ok Tedi yielded a settlement with the company, but BHP didn’t stop dumping waste in the river. In 1996, Alomang and other leaders sued Freeport unsuccessfully in the United States.

The London Mining Network advocates for the continued development of a United Nations treaty on transnational corporations that would codify protections for human rights.

Boege said that such “globally applicable guidelines” were necessary. But “they are not a panacea,” he said. “The problems can only be solved in the specific local context.”

Another tactic has been to bring local leaders like Alomang to the annual general meetings of companies such as BHP and Rio Tinto so they can speak with executives and shareholders about the problems their communities face.

Requests for comment from Mongabay to BHP and Rio Tinto went unanswered.

The Grasberg mine in 2007. Image by Alfindra Primaldhi

Companies have responded in their approach, however — at least as far as changing the narrative around the impacts of resource extraction. Rio Tinto, for example, says that a future “low-carbon economy” will rely on the minerals it produces, and touts its moves toward carbon neutrality in its operations.

Hickman calls such moves to scrub a company’s image “window dressing.” He also said that, when confronted with the testimony of leaders such as Alomang, these companies “have learned to be polite, but underneath the politeness is a fist of steel.”

That’s because the changes to operations, whether to make them more environmentally friendly or to ensure that communities are better informed, often lag behind the rhetoric put forth, the Gaia Foundation’s Rhoades said.

“It’s great that there’s that narrative and the investors are more active,” he said. But across much of their operations, he said, “their PR still far outstrips the genuine efforts on the ground to change practices.”

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World class Canada mining firm accused of slavery abroad can be sued at home, supreme court rules

Trucks ferry excavated gold, copper and zinc ore from the main mining pit at the Bisha Mining Share Company in Eritrea. Photograph: Thomas Mukoya/Reuters

Case brought by three Eritreans against Nevsun Resources can continue as companies operating overseas face new legal risk

AFP | 28 February 2020 

A Vancouver-based mining company can be sued in Canada for alleged human rights abuses overseas including allegations of modern slavery, Canada’s supreme court has ruled.

The decision means three Eritreans who filed a civil suit against Nevsun Resources in British Columbia can continue their case in a lower court.

It also creates new legal risks for Canadian firms operating abroad – notably in the resources and clothing sectors – as companies previously could only be held liable in foreign jurisdictions in which alleged abuses occurred.

The plaintiffs claimed they and more than 1,000 others had been conscripted through Eritrea’s military service into forced labour to construct Nevsun’s Bisha gold, copper and zinc mine in the east African nation between 2008 and 2012, and subjected to violent, cruel and inhuman treatment.

In court documents they alleged being forced to work 12 hours a day, six days a week, being beaten with sticks, and being bound and left to bake under the hot sun.

The trio later escaped Eritrea and became refugees.

Nevsun argued that the case should be thrown out on the basis of the act of state doctrine, which precludes domestic courts from assessing acts of foreign governments. But that was rejected by a majority of the justices on the top bench.

The supreme court also held that international human rights law – notably fundamental tenets called “peremptory norms” that are so important they are considered universal – may be applied to this case.

“Violations of peremptory norms are serious violations of rights that are important to everyone, everywhere. They need to be strongly discouraged,” the court said in a statement.

In 2017, the supreme court declined to hear a similar case involving a group of Guatemalans suing Vancouver-based Tahoe Resources for alleged abuses at the company’s mine in Guatemala.

The men sought redress for what they say were injuries suffered during the violent suppression of their protest against the company’s Escobal silver and gold mine south-east of Guatemala City.

They argued in court filings – and a lower court agreed – that they were unlikely to obtain justice in Guatemala, and therefore brought the civil case to Canada, where Tahoe has its headquarters.

The company apologized in July 2019 for the rights violations as part an out-of-court settlement with demonstrators who had been shot and wounded while protesting.

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Internal probe shows why ‘World Class’ miners can’t be trusted

The tailings dam failure on Jan. 25, 2019, killed 257 people and left 13 others missing for an assumed death toll of 270. (Image courtesy of Vinícius Mendonça | Ibama.)

Internal probe confirms Vale knew Brumadinho dam was unsafe

Cecilia Jamasmie | Mining dot com | February 21, 2020 | 3:48 am  

Brazilian iron ore miner Vale has published the results of an independent report into the Córrego do Feijão mine’s tailings dam collapse that killed 270 people last year, which reveals the company knew about the facility’s fragile condition since 2003.

According to the document, prepared by a committee formed by Vale last year, concerns about how unstable the main B1 dam was were raised at various points over the course of 16 years, but the miner failed to appropriately deal with them.

Last month, state prosecutors charged Fabio Schvartsman, the chief executive at the time of the burst, and 15 other people with homicide. Schvartsman left his position at the company in March 2019.

They also charged Vale and its German contractor, TUV SUD, with environmental crimes, as the burst unleashed an avalanche of muddy mining waste that polluted the nearby town of Brumadinho, water streams and agricultural land.

The independent committee, led by former Federal Supreme Court minister Ellen Gracie, concluded the tailings storage facility’s rupture was triggered by structural instability caused by liquefaction.

The situation, it says, was worsened by a series of other factors, including inadequate drainage of the reservoir and the fact the dam was not designed to contain liquefied material.

Previous reports

The tragic incident has triggered over the past year several criminal investigations, including a global inquiry into the status of 726 tailing dams.

In mid-December, the company released a long-awaited report from a panel of experts on the technical causes of the dam failure at the mine in Brumadinho. The report found that the failure was “unique” as it occurred “with no apparent signs of distress prior to failure.”

That document acknowledged that parts of the dam were under very high loading due to its steepness, the heavy weight of the tailings and the high internal water level.

“The combination of a steep upstream-constructed dam, high water level, weak fine tailings within the dam, and the brittle nature of the tailings created the conditions for failure,” it concluded.

Destruction caused by spilled tailings from the Córrego do Feijão iron ore mine in January 2019. (Image courtesy of Felipe Werneck | Ibama.)

The investigating team provided recommendations of technical and governance nature, adding that Vale should evaluate the potential risks at other similar dam structures.

The iron ore giant responded by saying it had already addressed most of the issues mentioned in the recommendations, taking steps to improve its internal controls.

The Rio de Janeiro-based miner, which posted this week a loss of $1.68 billion in 2019, said it will announce a timetable for implementing the proposed actions within 30 days.

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