Category Archives: Human rights

New watchdog to investigate Canadian companies for human rights abuses

Hilary Beaumont | Vice News | January 18, 2018

The Canadian government is creating a new watchdog to investigate human rights abuses by Canadian companies operating overseas, fulfilling a Liberal campaign promise.

Canadian companies have long faced accusations of human rights abuses abroad, including gang rapes by security guards at a mine in Papua New Guinea operated by Toronto-based Barrick Gold, and the collapse of the Rana Plaza garment factory in Bangladesh that killed more than 1,000 workers who were making clothes for Joe Fresh, a brand owned by Canadian company Loblaws.

Canadian companies employ workers in developing countries to make clothing and mine materials that end up in electronics, but these mines and factories are often subject to lax regulations. When human rights abuses arise, there can be little recourse for complainants due to police corruption and weak justice systems on the ground, and lack of access to remedies through Canada’s courts.

‘RIGHT THING TO DO’

The new ombudsperson’s office will independently investigate abuse allegations against businesses operating overseas, including in the mining, textile and oil and gas sectors. The ombudsperson will have the power to request documents from companies and the power to gather testimony from witnesses. Canada’s trade minister François-Philippe Champagne said the ombudsperson will have “all the tools and resources to ensure compliance.” The watchdog’s recommendations will be made public, and the ombudsperson’s office will have the ability to withdraw government funding from companies.

There will also be a multi-stakeholder body to advise the ombudsperson and the government. That advisory body will include representatives from the mining, oil and gas and apparel sectors, as well as human rights and labour advocacy organizations, and an Indigenous representative.

“I’m adamant that Canada is to be second to none when it comes to business and human rights,” Canada’s trade minister François-Philippe Champagne said Wednesday. “This is not just the right thing to do, but that’s what Canadians expect from us.”

Advocacy organizations have waited more than a decade for this announcement, calling it “long overdue.” But critics are pointing out that the ombudsperson’s mandate will not include investigating environmental violations, which are often wound up in human rights abuses.

ENVIRONMENTAL QUESTIONS

Liberal MP John McKay, who has pushed for mining industry oversight for years, stood next to the minister as he made the announcement. McKay’s private members bill to create a similar ombudsperson’s office was killed in 2010. It was only six votes short of passing.

Similar to the new ombudsperson’s office announced Wednesday, McKay’s bill called for the ability to withdraw government support and funding to companies found to be breaching human rights.

“The only significant difference is that they’re not going to do environmental investigations,” McKay told VICE News of the new ombudsperson. “Not quite sure why they arrived at that decision, but there’s a lot of interaction between environmental rights and human rights.”

Everlyn Guape, who was brutally sexually assaulted by security guards near the Barrick Gold mine in Porgera, Papua New Guinea, told VICE News she wanted to thank everyone who fought for the creation of the ombudsperson’s office.

Locals near the mine have also accused the company of contaminating their river. Guape added that “humanity depends on the environment,” so environmental abuses should also be investigated.

“This coexistence cannot be deliberately ignored by Canadian corporations and the government of Canada,” she warned.

‘INDEPENDENT AND EFFECTIVE’

Reacting to the government’s announcement, Barrick Gold said it supports the “additional accountability mechanism for Canadian businesses operating overseas, focused on dialogue and conflict resolution.”

“We look forward to engaging with the ombudsperson in a transparent and constructive manner, to assure Canadians that mining activities continue to generate economic and social benefits for host communities and governments, while respecting human rights.”

Advocacy organization Mining Watch Canada has been pushing for an effective ombudsperson since 2005, Catherine Coumans, the group’s research coordinator, said in a statement.

“We will continue to press the government to ensure that the ombuds office is independent and effective, and has adequate resources to do its job.”

Coumans added that additional measures still need to be taken, including allowing complainants access to Canadian courts to sue Canadian companies for rights violations overseas, and allowing communities free, prior and informed consent before new resource projects go ahead.

In a Canadian Network on Corporate Responsibility survey before the 2015 election, the Liberals stated they would “set up an independent ombudsman office to advise Canadian companies, consider complaints made against them, and investigate those complaints where it is deemed warranted.”

The Liberals also committed to act on the recommendations of a 2007 National Roundtable on Corporate Social Responsibility and the Canadian Extractive Industry in Developing Countries.

But they have not committed to making Canada’s courts open to legal action from complainants in other countries.

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Bougainville clans regain power over mining rights

Bougainville Finance Minister Robin Wilson

The National aka The Loggers Times | January 12, 2018

Bougainville landowners own all the resources on their land and the Bougainville government only facilitates resource development, says Bougainville Finance Minister Robin Wilson, pictured.

“Unlike the rest of Papua New Guinea, landowners in Bougainville have the power to allow or disallow exploration and extraction of minerals on their land,” he said.

Wilson was speaking when handing the province’s 2018 Budget of K254 million to national Treasurer Charles Able in Port Moresby yesterday.

Wilson said Bougainville has lifted the ban on mining in Panguna, Mt Tore and Isinai and mining activities in those areas are now being driven by the landowners.

“We introduced a law that is unique to the rest of the country where in terms of mining we have made the landowners the owners of resources,” he said.

“If there are resources in an area the landowner will give consent on, whether or not exploration will take place and if exploration has found minerals, the landowner will again give consent to whether it will be extracted or not.”

In regard to the PNG Mining Act, Able said the Act states that any resources below six feet (about 2m) under the earth belongs to the government, but the ABG has done away with that provision – only for Bougainville.

Abel said the PNG government’s ownership of mining resources was to ensure that profits were equally distributed throughout the country.

Meanwhile, to continue to strengthen relations between Bougainville and the Papua New Guinea government, Wilson is providing quarterly reports to the government on how money it provides is spent on Bougainville.

“The accountability of the grants will not be an issue anymore. I have provided those reports throughout last year and am committed to do it in this term,” he said.

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Bougainville imposes moratorium on Panguna mine over fears of civil unrest

The Panguna mine, located in the east of Papua New Guinea in the Autonomous Region of Bougainville, was at the centre of Bougainville’s decade-long civil war.

In dramatic policy turnaround, government determines people feel Bougainville Copper Limited doesn’t deserve a social licence to run the controversial mine

Helen Davidson | The Guardian | 10 January 2018

The Bougainville government has enacted an indefinite moratorium on renewing the licence of a controversial mining company over fears it could reignite violent civil conflict.

In December Bougainville landowner groups were called to vote on allowing Bougainville Copper Limited (BCL) to renew their mining licence and potentially reopen the Panguna mine, but the vote was split.

“If we went ahead now, you could be causing a total explosion of the situation again,” the Bougainville Autonomous Government (ABG) president, John Momis, told the ABC on Monday.

The Panguna copper mine was central to the civil war and blockade in the 1990s that killed tens of thousands of people. Conflict escalated after landowners protested environmental damage by the mine and the lack of economic benefit for local people.

The Rio Tinto-owned BCL was forced to close the mine, and discussion in recent years about reopening it has sparked hostilities in the nearby communities.

In June protesters blocked Momis and other political leaders from accessing Panguna to sign an agreement with landowners, which the ABC reported would have opened the way for BCL to work towards returning.

Legislation passed in 2015 gave traditional landowners greater ownership over resources as well as powers over the establishment or reopening of mines, but confusion and division remains.

At the time of the BCL vote local journalist Aloysius Laukai reported Momis said mining by any company would be “untenable” under the circumstances. However on Monday Momis told the ABC the moratorium only strictly applied to BCL, not other potential operators.

The moratorium is a dramatic turnaround in policy from the ABG, which determined people felt BCL didn’t deserve a social licence to run the mine.

The ABG owns a 36.4% share in BCL, and has consistently said reopening Panguna was essential for the island’s economic self-sufficiency if it is to become independent.

Luke Fletcher, the executive director of an Australian-based NGO, Jubilee, said it wasn’t clear if the turnaround was “a temporary retreat or a permanent change of direction”.

“It could be they’re just biding their time for another couple of years, or they’re considering opening Panguna with other operators,” Fletcher said. “It does seem the intention is still to reopen the mine.”

The Papua New Guinea government is the only other major shareholder after Rio Tinto left in 2016. It has said it will give its 17% share to Bougainville, making the ABG majority shareholders of a company that has just one project – a mine over which the ABG has now placed a moratorium.

BCL is yet to be officially informed of the moratorium, but learned of it through media reports.

The company’s Port Moresby general manager, Mark Hitchcock, said it had sought further clarity, as it still “firmly believed” it had strong support among landowners.

“Hitchcock said previously held community forums led by the ABG had also demonstrated strong majority support and this reflected the company’s own experiences on the ground,” a spokesman told Guardian Australia.

“He stressed that BCL was a local company majority owned by the people of PNG, including Bougainville and had always acted in good faith after being invited to enter a new process for the redevelopment of Panguna by the ABG and landowners.”

BCL claimed it had support from eight of the nine landholder groups, as well as the Special Mining Lease Osikaiyang Landowners Association. It said minority elements – and competing mining interests – were disrupting consensus.

There were disputes with the association’s chair, Philip Miriori, BCL said, citing a letter from 367 authorised customary heads who disputed Momis’s characterisation of the vote as a “narrow divide”.

The customary heads told PNG’s Post Courier the meeting was given a submission signed by 320 of the heads giving their support to BCL.

As the resource-rich country moves on from civil war and towards independence, it is increasingly looking to mining for its economic future.

West Australian company Kalia Ltd recently announced it had signed a land access agreement with north Bougainville landowners, allowing the start of a “full-scale exploration program”.

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BCL to find a way through the window despite ABG shutting the door

Bougainville Special Correspondent

Bougainville Copper Limited has not relented in the face of the recent shut out by the Momis government through the reimposition of the Moratorium on mining in Bougainville. The blanket moratorium imposed has effectively put an end to any talks on mining on Bougainville until after the referendum in 2019. This shut out has not, however, deterred the company, which convened a meeting in Buka last Thursday and has developed a strategy to counter the move by the legitimate government of the Autonomous Region of Bougainville.

Bougainville Copper Limited will now employ a more radical and very ambitious strategy that includes the very controversial Panguna New Generation Leaders (PNGL). This group includes former fighters paid to lobby for mining and also act as a security group for the company. This group had a fallout with BCL in the recent past due to payment issues and their handling of affairs on the ground which is more of a force than a legitimate landowner group.

The key strategy for BCL is the facilitation of a rogue pro-mining element that has the ability to intimidate and harass civilians, just as happened recently to the Melanesian group that entered Bougainville in August of 2017.

Coupled with that, the company intends to use Village Liaison Officers (VLOs) who will target mainly the areas within BCL tenements in and around Panguna to foster support from the community level. The VLOs are comprised of individuals who are pro-BCL supporters who will liaise for the company to create support on the ground. This group includes individuals from PNGL and a pro-mining chiefs, women and youth.

Despite having the door shut on the contentious issue of reopening Panguna, Bougainville Copper Limited still intends to find a way in, this time through the window.

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Total steamrolling Papua LNG project against landowner wishes

Landowners want mapping delayed

The National aka The Loggers Times | January 8, 2018

BAIMURU landowners in Gulf are calling on Papua LNG operator Total SE to defer the social-mapping exercises to allow the landowners to be better represented and informed.
The call is for Total to reschedule the process for Petroleum Retention Licence (PRL) 15 to allow for an awareness programme and more consultations.
Baimuru local level government deputy president Omaro Karara said the communities involved did not know enough of what was going on.
He said the SMLI should be done properly so that the communities can be accurately identified. He was speaking in Port Moresby at the weekend on behalf of the social mapping and landowners identification working committee (SMLIWC) and the PRL 15 landowners.
He said the committee objected to the dates set by the developer because they were told late.
“We would like to defer the activity to March 2018 as government accounts will be opened and we will be in a better position to raise awareness and to mobilise our ward members to organise their people,” Karara said.
“I am informed that as of Friday January 5, 2018, the four villages of Uraru, Wabo, Poroi and Subu had been surveyed but the survey team was prevented from continuing at the fifth village of Eva’ara because the people there wanted more time to learn about what was going on.”
Karara said that if the process was rushed through, there would be conflict.
“We are appealing for more consultation for the safety of the SMLI team and the successful completion of the survey,” he said.
Better communication was needed, Karara said.

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Call to have equal sharing of benefits from resources owned

Jack Lapauve Jnr. | EMTV | 7 January, 2018

The President of Resource Owners Federation PNG is urging the National Government to be a firm regulator in the Mining, Gas and Oil sector.

Jonathan Paraia said resource owners in the country have been pushed to the side by the Government in many of the projects.

He said if the Government takes centre stage, resource owners around the country will continue their struggle to claim benefits.

According to a report by Mineral Resource Authority, almost more than half of Papua New Guinea’s income comes from the Oil, Gas and Mining sector [false!].

And with more explorations around the country, there is opportunity to pass the current rate. But the President of the Resource Owners Federation said there is no real benefit for resource owners.

Mr Paraia [sic] the Government must not interfere, but embrace resource owners for equal sharing of benefits.

Mr. Paraia believes benefits of the resources the country boasts about is not equally shared among the key stakeholders.

He said it is time the Government thinks of its people and provides that ownership platform to resource owners.

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LNG Landowners Believe They Were ‘Robbed’

Photo: Michael Nagle

Landowners continue to become spectators on their own land while their resources continue to be exploited

Post Courier | January 5, 2018

There is nothing to show for in the PNG LNG impacted areas with the Government continuously misleading the people and promising better benefits as captured in the PNG LNG agreement of 2009.

Since the agreements were signed in Kokopo in 2009, and the first shipment of the prophetic Gigira Laitapo gas left the shore of PNG in 2014, more than 300 shipments have been made, generating millions of kina for the developers, its partners and the Government, yet the upstream landowners have yet to benefit.

Hiwa landowner chief Max Ekeya said the upstream landowners have been misled by the state and several landowner leaders.

He said landowners continue to become spectators on their own land while their resources continue to be exploited.

Mr Ekeya said the situation continues and it is sad and sickening, a daylight robbery to (them) the landowners, when they cannot see any cash follow in their communities and within the impacted project areas.

“We at the corridors of Hides PDL1, contributing about 37 per cent of the gas and where most of the Well Heads are located have nothing to show for in terms of development.

“The Nogoli police station is run down, tribal fights everywhere within the vicinity of the project area, killings happening regularly. We need to upgrade the police station,” Mr Ekeya said.

He said the Yuni Community School was supposed to be upgraded to high school level but didn’t eventuate.

“The fulfillment of promissory notes by MRDC and KPHL to convert Yuni training centre to technical college by 2017 with the first intakes but is yet to come in place.

Mr Ekeya raised concerns on the bad road conditions, along the Komo-Margarima Koroba-Kopiago and Tari Pori electorates.

“Why isn’t this happening while the country and the world is feeding on Hela gas?

“We see PNG Power and some local contractors trying to erect power lines out of Hides and supply power to Hela people, support should be given,” Mr Ekeya said.

He said the main problem we have with the landowners was with too many chiefs and leader.

“The Hides landowners have a common problem of not having a solid group to address concerns in unity to achieve a result.

“We have a situation where we have differences among ourselves, when we are divided the government and the developer are not interested to hear our concerns.”

He said the landowners were faced with tough economic conditions and our people are pressured over school fees and other daily necessities.

The conerned leader has called for te government to give priority on clan vetting and ILG to be completed, so landowners can benefit through the payment of royalties to sustain their livlihood.

Mr Ekeya called on the landowner leaders to prioritise government expenditure of K35 million as project security to address law and order, pay compensation-related killings in the project areas and empower the local leaders and policemen to provide peace among the people.

“All Hiwas should unite with the Hides Hiwa Block Landowners Association to raise our concerns.

“I appeal to our leaders to provide good leadership to make way for clan vetting to be done,” Mr Ekeya said.

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