Tag Archives: Human rights

Institutions Should Include Alluvial Mining Training, Says Basil

alluvial miners at work

Alluvial miners at work on Bougainville

Jerry Sefe | Post Courier | August 17, 2018

Major tertiary institutions in the country must be given the opportunity to involve facilitating trainings and safety regulation in the alluvial mining sector.

Member for Bulolo and Minister for Information and Communications Technology and Energy Sam Basil made the call to the Mineral Resources Authority on Tuesday during day one of its 4th Alluvial Mining and Tradeshow convention held in Lae.

“I want to encourage MRA involve our research and tertiary institutions including University of Papua New Guinea, PNG University of Technology and University of Natural Resource and Environment in our collaborative efforts in alluvial mining and the environmental impacts and safety,” said Mr Basil.

Basil said these institutions are academically and professionally equipped with knowledge, expertise and innovations to expand the sector and in this partnership the country can make a difference in challenging times when resource scarcity and sustainability is concerned.

He said the challenges of the alluvial mining observed from in Bulolo district is the safety aspects that needs to be more regulated when unsafe practices are becoming an increasing concern especially with miners using the underground mining techniques where they dig through tunnels.

“This has resulted in numerous deaths over the years. This is because of the alluvial resource knowledge has always been a barrier in advancing the alluvial mining operations” said Mr Basil.

Basil said it is a must that all concerned stakeholders join forces and embrace the new developments in this era of alluvial mining because the alluvial mining sector is owned by Papua New Guineans using downstream processing.

“This area must be carefully considered because it has a high potential to enhance multiple revenue streams through maximum participation of our rural populace.”

He said MRA as the concerned regulator must strive in its efforts in maintaining safety practices within the alluvial mining communities.

Basil added that environmental compliance is another issue that must be strictly regulated by the Conservation Environment Protection Authority (CEPA) however mentioned that CEPA are yet to be fully aware of what is happening within the alluvial mining sector.

“I am aware of the financial requirements of the sector in supporting alluvial miners therefore as local MP for Bulolo we will be fully supporting our local miners through our district development authority” he said.

Meanwhile, the minister also commended MRA’s initiative in the alluvial resource mapping programs currently taking place in Bulolo to build the resource inventory of the district.

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How Gold Mining Companies Stifle Opposition in Peru

Police line up during a massive protest against the extractive economic model in Lima, 2015 (Photo by Michael Wilson Becerril)

Multinational mining corporations in northern Peru have devised a number of strategies for suppressing environmental activism and protest, from strategic investment to media relations to outright intimidation and repression.

It is not hard to find examples of many of the same tactics being used in Papua New Guinea.

Michael Wilson Becerril | NACLA | August 7, 2018

The glitter of gold conceals ugly realities in Peru, one of the world’s largest gold producers. While the treasured commodity promises to bring jobs and economic development to extraction sites, its production involves exorbitant water consumption, leaves behind massive amounts of toxic waste, and has led to deadly social conflicts. Harassment and intimidation, propaganda, criminalization, and targeted assassinations of environmental activists characterize everyday life across the world’s mining regions.

Peru’s economy is heavily dependent on mineral extraction, which represents about two-thirds of its national export income. The world price of gold peaked at $1,800 an ounce in 2011 after a 12-year period of rapid growth—enticing the state and mining companies to increase investment and expand mining operations. As the mining business expanded, so did conflicts. Peru’s human rights commission recorded well over 200 active conflicts each year between 2008 and 2017—most of which were related to mining.

Beyond health and environmental risks, extractive projects are often also linked to corruption and underdevelopment. People around the mining sites I’ve studied contest the companies’ false promises, their deception, their arrogance, and the unequal distribution of the benefits and burdens of mining.

For these reasons and more, conflicts around mining often escalate into violence. However, most analyses of these situations tend to focus on explosive conflict eventsrather than what leads to them. Particularly, the tactics that transnational companies use to stoke the fires of these conflicts are often left out. Activists involved in these conflicts want others to understand how corporate representatives gain support and suppress dissent among communities near mining projects, including through corporate social responsibility programs, media partnerships, and repression.

Corporate Social (Ir)responsibility

Extractive industries in Peru have pacified the public and specific groups who oppose mining projects through the adoption and promotion of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), which refers to the development of a philanthropic or charitable arm of a for-profit business. CSR is at once a public demand, a marketing strategy, and a byproduct of the diminished role of the state in the provision of public services.

CSR often takes the form of short-term philanthropy, such as handing out petty gifts to gain support for mining projects. CSR also appears as long-term investments in local development, for example through sponsoring scholarships or alternative industries like agriculture. Investment in development projects, like education, reforestation, and agricultural projects, is newer and less common than philanthropic gifts, but its results may be more enduring. The Johannesburg-based company Gold Fields, for example, has funded scholarships as well as dairy pasteurization training and infrastructure around its Cerro Corona mine in the Hualgayoc district of Cajamarca, Peru.

Like other corporate strategies, CSR has become more sophisticated over time. For example, around 2001, a Vancouver-based mining company, then called the Manhattan Minerals Corporation, offered kitchen and school supplies to crowds in downtown Tambogrande, according to local interviewees. More recently, the Toronto-based Barrick Gold set up a so-called “medical campaign” in towns around its Lagunas Norte mine, although one municipal official described this effort as nothing more than “a tent and two doctors pitched downtown for a week.” The U.S.-Peruvian joint venture La Zanja, owned by Newmont Mining, similarly sponsored an optometry campaign in 2011 and has offered basic medical services in nearby districts. Other companies have sponsored town fairs, given away free hot chocolate, and arranged other low-cost compensation activities. La Zanja has also sponsored local organizations, such as by providing t-shirts and hats, emblazoned with the company’s logo, to a local soccer club and an elders’ association.

Barrick Gold, the largest gold company in the world, is partly funding this hospital in Santiago de Chuco, La Libertad, the provincial capital nearest to its Lagunas Norte mine (Photo by Michael Wilson Becerril).

In some cases, companies fund local development projects under the banner of CSR, which may involve reaching agreements with individuals or groups, including people who are outspoken company opponents and present a risk to the company, due to their institutional authority, their organizing power, or both. In addition to financing their preferred candidates’ electoral campaigns, companies have offered cash handouts, construction equipment, contracts for basic services like food and sanitation, and employment—to mining supporters as well as to their opponents and their family members.

Such increasingly sophisticated strategies are on display in the case of the La Zanja mine. Tensions there escalated since the project proposal and construction stage, between 1998 to 2004, when locals burned down the company’s compound. La Zanja left the area and laid low for a few years, but they were not deterred. In 2007, the company returned with a new strategy, involving heavy CSR including hiring sociologists, contracting local opponents into seasonal work, and funding a development-oriented NGO.

These tactics help explain the opposition’s slow demobilization and the company’s successful installation into the community by 2008. In a province where over 60% of the population was classified as impoverished in 2007, the company presented powerful incentives. According to one interviewee who wished to remain anonymous for safety reasons, the opposition was essentially bribed into silence. Many in town blamed the movement leaders, accusing them of being merely self-interested or corrupt.

Critics of CSR broadly agree that the practice is a voluntary and insufficient substitute for strict regulations and adequate corporate practices, such as respecting public referenda on the projects, addressing their environmental risks, or truly redistributing the benefits of mining activities to locals. In some of its most common forms, CSR entails companies working with local authorities to fund public infrastructure en lieu of paying some corporate taxes. For example, companies fund the construction of electrical lines and roads—which mining companies need anyway—as well as water reservoirs and treatment facilities, stadiums, parks, and look-out points. Gold Fields, La Zanja, and Barrick tout their contributions to these kinds of construction and infrastructure projects. Meanwhile, residents and local government authorities in mining areas complain that these gifts attract positive attention to distract from corporate tax evasion and environmental degradation.

The Two Faces of Corporate Media Tactics

Gold mining companies collaborate extensively with local and national media to contain opposition to mining projects. Peru’s mining companies work with sophisticated, industry-specific public relations firms and advertising contractors to build strong online presences, open their own news outlets, and build personal relationships with journalists and news editors. These partnerships serve both to promote the firms’ brand and to discredit their opponents.

On the one hand, they curry positive public opinion, highlight their excellent rapport with local communities, and exploit photo opportunities. On the other hand, their publications and statements smear and delegitimize any opposition by portraying it as ignorant, backwards, corrupt, violent and even terroristic, and as an unrepresentativeradical fringe. In Peru, the use of criminalizing frames against “antiminers” and loose accusations of terrorism are particularly salient, given the country’s recent history of internal armed conflict. Words such as terrorism weigh heavily on those who survived the 20-year war, only partially resolved with a return to democracy in 2001.

These discourses have contributed to the pervasive perspective that mining represents an unquestionable path to development and widespread prosperity, that mining companies are socially responsible and environmentally sustainable, and that people who protest mining projects are either misinformed or purposely manipulating the public for self-gain. Such narratives are diffused through official rhetoric, established media, and even social media—for example, Facebook pages operated by mining companies, public relations firms, independent journalists, and other mining supporters—and they are latent in everyday conversations and public debates.

For example, in 2007, former Peruvian president Alan García published two essays that portrayed Indigenous populations—who were organizing a mass movement against extractive projects in their territories, at the time—as “prairie dogs” who were culturally backwards and opposed to “national” progress. In 2015, police detained and beat Antonio Coasaca Mamani, a farmer from Arequipa, for participating in a protest against the proposed Tía María copper mine, owned by the conglomerate Grupo México. During his capture at a protest, the Special Operations Division of the national police attempted to plant weapons on and incriminate Coasaca as a violent “antiminer,” and with the full complicity of the nationwide daily newspaper El Correo, as an investigation and videos of the event revealed. The state-sponsored attempt to frame Coasaca as violent, with the help of a national newspaper, is just one of countless examples of the state and mainstream media’s common practice of framing protest as illegitimate and dangerous.

Repression and Intimidation

The most coercive forms of quelling opposition to mining projects involve repressing and criminalizing opposition through state armed forces and the judicial system, and even intimidating them privately. Criminalizing dissent to protect extractive projects is well-documented in Latin America, where it is known to disproportionately harm womenIndigenous peoples, and Afro-descendent peoples. In each of the cases I studied, I heard countless stories of activists detained or otherwise processed through the court system, and about the distrust and trauma sowed by the armed forces, “always arriving to harm protesters and protect companies,” even during peaceful rallies, as a young activist in La Libertad told me. In Cajamarca alone—Peru’s top gold producing region alongside La Libertad—there were more than 300 protesters with open court cases as of mid-2016, according to Grufides, a regional human rights and environmental NGO.

Most companies often try to put down protests by working with the police, who they call for backup protection during demonstrations, assuming that the police will protect private property and restore order. Indeed, numerous companies have signed private protection contracts with the Peruvian National Police. On the other hand, a manager at the Cerro Corona mine claimed in our conversations that when his company called for police assistance, his supervisors instructed police chiefs to avoid using violence on peaceful protesters. Indeed, there has not been evidence of violence taking place at Cerro Corona. But this is not representative of the majority of cases. Mining companies are likely well aware of the widespread abuses committed by the state armed forces in the country. In assigning the work of quelling protest to the police, extractive companies are effectively transferring responsibility for any violent acts of repression that may occur.

Powerful and well-established mining corporations have ample influence over the state’s own actions, both through formal lobbying and in subtler ways. Yet companies tend to wash their hands from any responsibility when violence breaks out at mining-related protests with police presence.

Outside the realm of protests, dozens of activists I interviewed alleged that companies have also relied on private harassment and intimidation. Activists reported intimidation in the form of threatening phone calls, stalking, or surveillance by private security. Others spoke of physical damages to their homes or workplaces, or attacks on family members. A lawyer who leads the social movement against mining in La Libertad said he received threatening phone calls from a company manager, and claimed to local media that assailants showed up at his house and cut his sister’s face to intimidate him and dissuade his leadership. (He remains anonymous for safety precautions.)

An elected official I interviewed, who strongly opposes a large mining company in Cajamarca, said he could not even answer the phone anymore, given the frequency of the death threats he received, which he said have caused him psychological distress. Several mining company managers at one firm, who asked to remain anonymous, told me they had deeply infiltrated and “kept intelligence” about activist organizations. As one said to me, “In Tía María, protest leaders were recorded accepting bribes, then blackmailed and exposed by companies. The same thing happened here in town. We had to show their true face.” For most activists who reported these kinds of experiences, such tactics have strengthened their resolve to fight the companies. But others have seen the threats as a good reason to demobilize and keep quiet.

Activists have also blamed company actors of plotting the murders of environmental protesters in Piura and Cajamarca. Human rights activists claim that the frequent murder of environmental activists in Latin America cannot be considered coincidental or isolated. More than 270 people were killed in Peru’s social conflicts between 2006 and 2016, with about 70% of these conflicts related to extractive industries, according to the country’s human rights commission. However, in the majority of cases, deaths occurred at the hands of police and military forces, not private actors.

When I asked company representatives and police about assassinations of local leaders, many of them said execution orders are not corporate decisions, but that these actions are generally perpetrated by people with vested interests in silencing detractors. In some extreme cases, however, company managers and employees have directly armed their local supporters and their private security. For example, in the case of the Vale Do Rio Doce company’s Miski Mayo project in Cajamarca, the company formed and armed “defense groups.” The practice has also been documented in other parts of the Americas.

Channeling Conflict

These methods serve to suppress conflict, as opposed to resolving or transforming it. Moreover, even forms of community engagement strategies that purport some benefit, such as CSR investments, usually go hand-in-hand with cooptation, repression, and delegitimation strategies. While such strategies allow companies and the state to keep conflict at bay, they merely create a smokescreen of peace. Ultimately, they postpone and may exacerbate the tensions that underlie company-community relations. This often can lead to a boiling point, when affected peoples can resort to increased militancy. As such, eruptions of violent conflicts are merely symptomatic of underlying everyday tensions.

Though the majority of residents I talked to in mining districts said they were offended by the arrogance and impunity of mining operations in their towns, most claimed that they are not anti-mining or anti-development. Rather, they wanted results from the promise of development: they wanted companies to tighten their environmental standards, expand community participation, and invest more in sustainable economic activities like agriculture. Moreover, they demanded that companies stop cheating the population with inflated-valued buildings or free hot chocolate.

If they want to do more than create a façade of peace, companies must provide communities with meaningful consultation. They should be required to gain informed consent by a democratic majority, as verified by the state and independent monitors. They should promote participatory monitoring opportunities for the communities that accede to their projects. And finally, they should be ready to pay their hosts: for example, through paying higher taxes aimed at promoting local wellbeing, sustainable resource management, and alternative development.

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Mine LOs Upset Over Change In Meeting Venue

Jerry Sefe | Post Courier | August 17, 2018

The landowners of Yanta and Hengambu in the Wafi-Golpu mining have agreed to work with the district and province to do what is right for the benefit of the mine.

The landowners, who did not attend the consultative meeting in Kokopo, described the forum as political maneuvering that was not in their interest.

Landowner representative Being Sombe alleged that there were suspicious deals made during the meeting.

Mr Sombe said since the closure of the meeting, they were not briefed or informed by their landowner association leaders on the discussions at the meeting.

“We are waiting for them to tell us why the meeting was taken to Kokopo and what was discussed and passed for the benefit of the impacted communities,” said Mr Sombe.

The landowners also questioned Bulolo MP Sam Basil and Morobe governor Ginson Saonu on why the consultative meeting was moved.

The leaders told landowners they were not happy with the move in meeting venue.

The leaders after discussions on the Kokopo forum assured the landowners to work with the provincial government to protect their interests.

Mr Basil said the authorities in mining areas will be engaged as stakeholders to represent the landowners’ issues and spearhead positive drive for landowners benefits in the mine.

They also admitted they were not properly consulted on the meeting to be held in Kokopo but were surprised to be invited.

“We must not repeat what has happened at Hidden Valley, whatever meetings for Wafi-Golpu mining in future must be held in Lae,” the leaders said.

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Wafi Landowners Slam Kokopo Meeting

Mine consultation meeting in East New Britain has left Wafi-Gulpu landowners feeling betrayed

Post Courier | August 13, 2018

The landowner group from Wafi-Golpu mine in Morobe Province has described the consultative meeting in Kokopo as political maneuvering.

Paramount chief and landowner for Babuaf tribe Ezra Kwako said such political maneuvering is a disgrace to the Wafi landowners.

Mr Kwako accused the meeting of being hijacked over to Kokopo, East New Britain Province between the government and the miner, Wafi Golpu JV.

He questioned why the sharing consultative meeting was moved to Kokopo and not held in Lae.

He said legitimate landowners were left out when the meeting was moved to Kokopo.

He said only a few of their “paper landowners” attended the Kokopo and have ill-documented the meeting as the representative of the tribe when the case was still before the National Court pending decision, which is soon to be handed down.

“We were not properly consulted and the meeting venue over to Kokopo was a denial for the better process when we are yet to identify the real legitimate landowners of Wafi mine development area,” Kwako said.

“We do not want to keep on making mistakes like that of the Hidden Valley Mining, enough is enough.

“Political interference to propagate better process is not to be entertained. Bring your discussion points to the village and let’s share with the people of mine affected areas. The MOA signing is one key document that will benefit the landowners and thus be very mindful of this current trend after all clan vetting process if fully completed.

“This is Morobe resource and we must discuss this issue amicably with well-informed dialog including the legitimate landowners in Morobe and not elsewhere,” Kwako said.

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Alluvial Mining Meet Begins In Lae This Week

Post Courier | August 12, 2018

The Mineral Resources Authority will stage its 4th annual alluvial mining convention and trade show on August 14-15 at the Lae International Hotel.

Participants, presenters and attendees will include various stakeholders including gold exporters, miners and service providers.

Alluvial miners number more than 100,000 collectively contributing K300 million to the national economy in 2017.

This is an important sector of the economy that will rightly be given the attention it deserves by the government through MRA.

Under the theme ‘transitioning the alluvial mining sector for growth’, the two day program will cover programs and initiatives the MRA’s mines inspectorate has in terms of regulating safety in the alluvial mining sector.

Safety while conducting alluvial mining is an issue that the MRA has been addressing.

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IS BOUGAINVILLE ON THE BRINK OF WAR?

MOST OF THE NEWS COMING OUT OF PAPUA NEW GUINEA TODAY IS ABOUT THE REFUGEE CRISIS ON MANUS ISLAND. BUT 1,000KM SOUTHEAST OF MANUS ON BOUGAINVILLE ISLAND, A LITTLE-KNOWN STORY ABOUT THE BLOOD-SOAKED 40-YEAR-LONG INDEPENDENCE STRUGGLE OF A QUARTER OF A MILLION PEOPLE IS APPROACHING AN ENDGAME.

Ian Lloyd Neubauer | Penthouse | 13 July 2018

Cut from the pages of a glossy travel brochure and just smaller than Hawaii’s Big Island, Bougainville is blessed with incredible natural resources: sugar-white beaches, fisheries, hyper-fertile soil and one of the largest untapped mineral deposits on the planet – copper, silver, gold and uranium estimated to be worth hundreds of billions of dollars.

The largest known concentration of minerals lies in Panguna Mine, a vast hole in the ground in the Guava Mountains of central Bougainville. Between 1972 and 1989 it provided nearly half of PNG’s GDP and made billions in profit for its operator, Bougainville Copper Limited (BCL), a former subsidiary of Rio Tinto.

But while less than one per cent of those profits were reinvested in Bougainville, hundreds of millions of tonnes of tailings – the toxic by-product of industrial mining – were dumped straight into rivers, turning vast tracts of once-fertile farming and hunting grounds into barren, moonlike wastelands.

In the late 1970s, a landowner group led by Francis Ona presented BCL with a multi-billion dollar cleaning bill. BCL, however, claimed it was in compliance with the law while concurrently insisting it had not damaged the environment. It continued to dump tailings into the rivers like a careless tourist might drop a cigarette butt on the beach.

In 1988, push finally came to shove. Ona and his mob broke into BCL’s storerooms, stole a bunch of explosives and blew up Panguna’s power lines. The event marked the start of the longest conflict in the South Pacific since WWII and the world’s first successful eco-revolution – an episode of military history that has drawn parallels with the 2009 James Cameron film Avatar.

PNG sent in its army to crush the rebels, pitting Australian-supplied helicopter gunships and gunboats against a ragtag militia armed with slingshots and homemade rifles. When that failed, soldiers trained their sights on the general population, burning down villages, using rape as a weapon and executing alleged collaborators en masse. And when that failed PNG applied a cruel Australian-backed naval blockade, depriving the entire island of fuel, medicine and all contact with the outside world.

By the time a lasting peace agreement was signed in 2001, 15,000 to 20,000 Bougainvilleans – 10 per cent of the population – had been killed or succumbed to illnesses. For its woes, Bougainville was granted autonomy and tacit control of its fantastic mineral wealth, including the US$50 billion worth of copper and gold left at Panguna.

Now, a new-look independently listed BCL is plotting its return to Panguna, promising jobs and prosperity for all – despite not lifting a finger to clean the mess it left behind. Astonishingly, the Autonomous Government of Bougainville is courting the proposal because it desperately needs cash for an independence referendum scheduled for June 2019 and the prospect of running the world’s newest country the following year. But many Bougainvilleans hold serious grudges against BCL and warn if the company returns, war will follow.

HAPPY VALLEY

During the ’good times’ of the 1970s and 1980s, Arawa and its port Kieta, an hour’s drive from Panguna, was the second richest town in PNG. Hotels, restaurants and banks lined Happy Valley, Kieta’s dreamy beachfront strip, while cruise boats and sail craft crowded around the old yacht club.

All that remains of Kieta today are ruins overgrown with jungle and the wrecks of two small steamships at the end of a pier where Queen Elizabeth II and her royal entourage disembarked during a state visit in 1974. Arawa hasn’t fared much better; its wide boulevards lined with overgrown fields, stain-coloured apartment blocks and abandoned gas stations.

In Arawa I meet Philip Miriori, former private cabinet secretary of rebel leader Francis Ona, who died in 2005. Today Miriori is chairman of the Special Mine Lease Osikaiyang Landowners Association (SMLOLA), a group of 2,000-odd landowners who under the new Bougainville Mining Act hold rights not only to the topsoil but also the minerals underground. That makes Miriori one of the most powerful men in Bougainville and his opinion of BCL a matter of concern.

“BCL does not have any compassionate feelings. I have seen what they are capable of,” he says. “One night during the war, the PNGDF (PNG Defence Force) woke up everyone in my village and made us stand in a line while they burnt all our houses. I hold BCL directly accountable for what happened that night because BCL provided the soldiers with funding, logistics and shelter. Not as long as I am alive will I ever accept BCL coming back.”

Allegations of BCL’s complicity in Bougainville’s war stem back decades and have been corroborated by the highest level of government. In 2011, SBS’s Dateline unearthed an affidavit signed by former PNG Prime Minister Michael Somare that reads: “Because of Rio Tinto’s financial influence in PNG, the company controlled the government.” In a separate affidavit, former PNGDF general Jerry Singirok said the army “functioned as the corporation’s personal security force and were ordered by BCL to take action to reopen the mine – by any means necessary”.

BCL refused to comment for this story. But in a shareholder update released in October, the company claims it “has always maintained positive relationships in Bougainville” and “continues to respectfully build relationships with a range of stakeholders, including project area landowners”.

Yet in the very same document, the company scolds Miriori for “attack[ing] BCL through the media by using the title of SMLOLA chairman to convey the misleading impression that there is a united view of opposition to BCL”.

The notice also refers to a SMLOLA leadership dispute between Miriori and his cousin Lawrence Daveona, whose relationship with BCL stems back decades. Daveona was once president of the Bougainville Development Corporation, a purported BCL development fund that was run like a Fortune 500 company with interests in engineering, logistics and even mining. He was also a former director and secretary of BCL’s Roads Mine Tailings Lease Trust Fund – a body set up to administer compensation payments to Panguna landowners.

Daveona refused comment, citing ongoing court proceedings with Miriori. But he pointed out Miriori has a corporate sponsor of his own: RTG Mining, a Perth-based consortium that operates seven mines in five countries and is challenging BCL’s bid to reboot Panguna.

Miriori acknowledges he’s on RTG’s payroll but says his support for the company is based the award-winning environmental and social policies it has demonstrated at Masbate, the largest operating gold mine in the Philippines. “RTG will work well with the community,” he opines, adding: “If this story doesn’t go well, you will not be welcome back in Bougainville.

LEGACY PIT

In BCL’s October shareholder notice the company claims it is “increasing its presence in central Bougainville through the engagement activities of our local team”. 

Yet BCL has no official presence in Arawa. And it’s hard to imagine how a car with BCL logos could get past Alex Dakamari, a crusty old rebel with hangdog features who controls Morgan’s Crossing Checkpoint – a roadblock set up by Ona in the early 1990s on the only carriageway leading up to the mine.

“BCL are wasting their time. If they come back, we will fight,” Dakamari scowls. “We don’t want the mine reopened – full stop! Otherwise, all our money will go to white people like in the past. We were the owners and they turned us into beggars. They can’t get away with it again!”

Before it closed, Panguna was the largest open-cut mine in the world – 2.5 kilometres wide and half a kilometre deep. On one side of this titanic-size eyesore, a wall of untreated tailings hundreds of metres high marches slowly down a ravine. Millions of litres of opal-blue water rush from pit water drains on either side of this wall, forming waterfalls of the damned that lay waste to all life in the valley far below.

Dapera is a village that once sat right on top of the mine. In the early 1970s, BCL moved Dapera’s residents to a squatter settlement built on a plateau of crushed rock not far from the ore-sorting plant. A desolate collection of hardscrabble shacks, Dapera II is now home to a few hundred impoverished landowner descendants like Jayden Frankie.

“You can see the destruction BCL did to this community,” he says. “Before my father had good land. This is not good land. We can’t grow crops and when heavy rain falls, rocks in the ground turn blue and green.”

His friend, Richard Onio, voices similar sentiments. To find good land for farming we have to walk up to those hills,” he says, pointing to a steep ridge. “But it’s dangerous in heavy rains because of landslides.”

What do they think about the idea of a BCL comeback?

“They would not be welcome,” says villager Freddy Bernora. “We would send them off. They stole billions of dollars from us and I do not see how this company has changed.”

Frankie says he wants RTG to reopen the mine:

“We have seen some pictures of how RTG works in the Philippines, how people there live side-by-side with mining. They showed us how they produce benefits for landowners. They seem to respect landowners.”

“For me,” says Onio, “I am with neither RTG or BCL. I am neutral. I want to see if they meet our terms and conditions. I am not convinced by either side yet.”

CAESAR’S PALACE

On another plateau above the pit lies a small city where BCL housed more than 2,000 employees during the ’good times’. Today, around 8,000 landowners and squatters reside in the concrete skeletons of residential towers Ona and his mob set fire to after BCL withdrew. Masked in heavy fog, carpeted in moss and spattered with graffiti, it has the look and feel of a set from the Planet of the Apes.

Philip Takaung, Ona’s 77-year-old half-brother and Miriori’s deputy, is Caesar of this post-apocalyptic world. With the frame of a silverback gorilla and a crushing handshake to match, he makes an intimidating presence when I find him congregated with family and friends on the top floor of the tallest tower.

“When BCL came here and started polluting our land, we didn’t know anything about minerals. We had no education so they took advantage of us,” he says. “When we asked them to clean up the rivers, they did a feasibility study and said there was nothing poisonous in the water. We said NO! Our crops, our rivers, everything is dead! But they ignored us. They ignored us for 10 years until we took action. I was on that team with Ona that blew up the power lines.”

Takaung shows me his weapon of choice during the conflict: a nine-foot-long pole with a Y-shaped head known as the ‘Rambo Stick’ – a slingshot so powerful it can puncture a hole in a car, or take off somebody’s head. “This weapon is very good because it makes very little noise,” he says. “When you fire it, the enemy has no idea where you are. Then you can fire again.

I ask Takaung how many soldiers he killed during the war. He looks at two small children in the room who are glued to his every word, decides against answering and continues with his sermon:

“BCL burnt our villages. They tortured our people. They cut off people’s hands and threw them from helicopters. They raped our women, the young children, the men and old ladies! They put the machete in between women’s legs! I saw it! They slaughtered people like they were animals!”

On the way back to Arawa I stop at Anewa Bay, home to Bougainville’s modern port facilities.. There I meet port worker Francis Baubake, a withered old man in his fifties with a wooden leg and a terrible story to tell.

“In 1996, the PNGDF got a new mortar bomb that was untested. So they tested it on my family, “ he says. “We were in church in a refugee camp in Buin in the south when it hit us. My daughters Brenda and Alvina, seven and 12, and my wife Sicilia were instantly killed. I lost my leg,” he says, tapping his wooden stump.

I ask Baubake who he holds accountable for his loss. He stares numbly into the middle distance and thinks for a while before mumbling: “The PNGDF. The PNGDF and BCL.”

But when I ask what might happen if BCL returns to Bougainville, he answers without pause. “War,” he says, grinding his teeth. “War.”

THE NO-MINING VOTE

On my fourth day in Bougainville, I am struck with malaria and spend the next 24 hours shivering in bed, my joints and lower back burning with pain. The fever dissipates the next day but the experience makes me ponder the fate of an estimated 5,000 Bougainvilleans who succumbed to malaria during the blockade of the 1990s, and the poor state of health of most islanders today. In a squatter settlement next to my guesthouse, I find a man in his twenties with a cancer the size of a football growing from his heel.

More than half of all adults here are obese, while alcoholism is endemic. 

The war took everything out of everybody here and the trauma has been passed onto this generation,” says Geoff McAndrews, a Californian who recently opened Bougainville’s first surf camp. “There are no jobs. The only thing they have for entertainment is volleyball and homebrew.”

Over the next few days, I learn a significant minority are pro-BCL. “If BCL comes back, they can fix the environmental issues because they know all about them,” says accountant Lindsay Kalio. “I don’t think any other company can do this as we have no relationship with them.

Yet more than half of all islanders I speak to oppose any kind of industrial mining.

Our previous experience with mining was pollution and violence so I don’t want mining to come back,” says Alex Takena, a fisherman in Kieta. “We should focus on sustainable industries like copra (coconut) and cocoa farming.”

Lawrence Robert, a carpenter in Arawa, agrees. “I don’t think Panguna should reopen because our island is tiny and if miners come back, they’ll tear it to pieces. We should have tourism instead to promote our culture and heritage.”

Adds John Boscoe, a subsistence farmer from Oemah village in the island’s south: “Mining did not benefit any of us in in the past but we all lost our homes. If it happens again, the Panguna landowners will drink milk and honey and we will get nothing.”

The SMLOLA discounts anti-mining sentiment. “These people have to look at the bigger picture,” Miriori says. “Mining is the right choice for Bougainville because we need the revenue if we want to become an independent nation and generate employment and security. Panguna will reopen, whether they like it or not.”

BETTER THE DEVIL YOU OWN

A week passes until I regain enough strength to make the bone-jarring four-hour drive from Arawa to the capital Buka, which is as fly-blown as a place can possibly be.

When I arrive the city has been under a total electricity blackout for close to a week for reasons no one can explain. When I visit Bougainville’s House of Representatives in the middle of the day to make an appointment with President John Monis, no one is there. Ditto at the Ministry for Mineral and Energy Resources and BCL’s little office.

Later in the day, news breaks that the SMLOLA leadership dispute has ended and Miriori has emerged victorious. It sees RTG’s share price soar 83 per cent in a single day and the inking of a “historic” deal between the consortium and the SMLOLA.

“The Chairman and Mr Daveona have also pledged support for RTG as the preferred development partner,” RTG says in a statement. “This is a historic and important step for the landowners, with RTG being the first mining company that has been endorsed by the SMLOLA in 30 years.”

But the victory is short-lived. Bougainville Minister for Minerals and Energy Raymond Masono accuses RTG of trying to sneak into Panguna through the back door. “The Autonomous Bougainville Government rejects companies that think they can bribe their way into people’s resources by giving certain individuals money to gain landowner consent,” he says.

RTG rigorously denies it has bribed landowners even though Miriori admitted to me that he is on their payroll. However BCL has been busy handing out money to landowners, too.

In March of last year, BCL distributed US$1.5 million in compensation to landowners at a public ceremony in Buka attended by Masono. “It is not the devil that we used to know, but it’s now the devil that we own,” Masono said at the ceremony, adding that it would be foolish go out looking for other developers.

Masono’s comment about “the devil that we own” refers to Rio Tinto’s June 2016 decision to finally call it quits on Bougainville – and its subsequent donation of its majority shareholdings in BCL to the governments of Bougainville and PNG.

RTG chairman Michael Carrick says the move was in part an attempt by Rio Tinto to stack the deck in BCL’s favour. But the cards had already been stacked in a very big way by the authors of the 2015 Bougainville Mining Act, who gave BCL the first right of refusal to redevelop Panguna.

RTG’s Carrick insists the Act no longer applies. “BCL ’claims’ it has first right to the exploration license under the mining act,” he says. “But our legal advice is that the renewal application for extension of the term of their licence is invalid because it was submitted out of time and was incomplete.”

For his part Masono remains nonplussed, insisting BCL is still in the box seat and RTG doesn’t even have a seat on the table. “Right now, the only legal applicant on the exploration tenement is BCL,” he says. “Until that process is completed, there are no other applicants or applications over the same tenement. That’s the position of the government.”

THE PRESIDENT SPEAKS

On my last day in Bougainville, I score an interview with President John Momis at Buka’s tin-pot airport. Right from the get-go he contradicts Masono’s position and corresponding claims by BCL that its proposal has the support of the Autonomous Government of Bougainville.

“Currently we do not have a preferred partner. We will ask people who are interested to submit their applications and we will scrutinise their applications quite stringently,” the President says. “We are open to discussions with BCL but there’s whole new dimension today. They need to win the support of landowners who own the resources.”

I ask him what he thinks about RTG’s competing bid to redevelop Panguna, and of rumours that China is eyeing the mine.

“We are not sure about RTG,” he says. “They have to convince us first. I don’t know if they are in a strong position. As for the Chinese, they are not in the picture right now. But we are open for business.” 

And so the race for Panguna’s riches continues with no clear frontrunner. But no matter which company wins, three things seem certain.

First, the bulk of Panguna’s riches will inevitably end up in the pockets of oligarchs, shareholders and hopelessly corrupt officials instead of a sovereign wealth fund where it belongs. This prediction is drawn from the ’resource curse’, which dictates countries with lots of minerals tend to have less economic growth and democracy than countries with fewer natural resources. Hundreds of studies have been undertaken to prove the theory, though one need look no further to Hela Province on PNG’s mainland to see it happening in real time. There, ExxonMobil’s A$24 billion Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) project has failed to deliver any significant development outcomes for landowners. “In fact, it has, in important ways, made life worse for the majority of people living in the project area,” says Michael Main, an Australian National University doctoral student conducting fieldwork in the area.

Which leads to prediction number two: if Panguna reopens, there will be blood. According to the World Bank study ‘Natural Resources and Violent Conflict’, countries that export around five per cent of GDP have a six per cent risk of conflict. But when exports reach 25 per cent of GDP, the probability of conflict climbs to 33 per cent. If Panguna reopens, exports of minerals will account for close to 100 per cent of Bougainville’s GDP. That doesn’t bode well under the World Bank’s formula. And despite reassuring me the plans to reboot Panguna’s will definitely go ahead, a fortnight after I leave Bougainville he changes his mind, announcing an indefinite moratorium.

We will not allow this project once again to reignite the wounds of the Bougainville crisis and distract our focus for restoring peace and our preparation for our referendum in 2019,” he told New Zealand’s Asia Pacific Report.

The decision is a breath of fresh air and a rare example of a politician in PNG making an unpopular and unprofitable decision that is beyond a shadow of a doubt in the best interest of constituents.

My final prediction for Bougainville? That the people will overwhelmingly vote in favour of self-determination when they go to the polls in 2019. “We in Bougainville have a huge passionate ambition,” Monis told me before I left, mirroring the thoughts of every Bougainvillean I interviewed on the subject. “And that ambition is to liberate ourselves from all kinds of transgressors, evil and marginalisation so there will be unity to affect the kind of changes we need to truly become free.” 

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Can the law prevail over Chinese investments in Ecuador?

Police and Molleturo communities discuss procedures to monitor the suspension of mining activities. Photo: Manuela Picq

Manuela Picq | Intercontinental Cry | July 25, 2018

Last June, an Ecuadorean court ordered the suspension of all mining activities by a Chinese corporation in the highlands of Rio Blanco, in the Molleturo area of the Cajas Nature Reserve. It was a local court in Cuenca that gave the historic sentence: a court shut down an active mine for the first time in the history of Ecuador. Judge Paúl Serrano determined that the Chinese private corporation Junefield/Ecuagoldmining South America had failed to consult with the communities as required by Ecuador’s Constitution and by the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).

Judge Serrano deemed the mining activity illegal and ordered the corporation to immediately suspend all its activities. Within two weeks, local communities accompanied police forces and local government officials in monitoring that the court order was respected.

The company appealed, and pressure was on the rise for the following hearing. The Chinese corporation privately offered $18 million to community leaders. Ecuador’s President, the Minister of Mines and the Minister of the Environment visited the province to pressure the local courts and indigenous communities to accept the mining activity. They defended “sustainable” mining as a form of development.

Affected communities consolidated their resistance, monitoring the access to the mine to impede mine workers to enter their territories, building support from neighboring communities, and informing the international community of the legal stakes.

On July 23, 2018, the court met again to either ratify or revert the decision to suspend mining activities in Rio Blanco. The court listened to all sides along with some expert testimonies; but there were discrepancies among the judges who postponed their verdict for another week.

Molleturo’s lasting vigilance for their waters

The Rio Blanco mine is located in the Molleturo-Mollepongo region, above ten thousand feet in the Andes. The mining license encompasses approximately six thousand hectares of paramos, lakes, and primary forests that nourish eight important rivers. This area replenishes the water system of the Cajas National Park, one of the largest and most complex water systems of Ecuador, which covers over a million hectares and holds immense water reserves.

The area is recognized as a natural biosphere reserve by UNESCO. These mountains have long been the home of Kañari-Kichwa indigenous communities. There are 12 archeological sites in the Molleturo area alone: the most famous one is the Paredones archeological site, located right by the mine.

The area is also a vital supply of water. These paramos provide water to 72 communities in Molleturo, freshwater to towns in the southern coast of Ecuador and to the city of Cuenca, the country’s third largest city which praises the quality of its drinking water.

The Rio Blanco mine is expected to be active for seven years, removing about 800 tons of rock per day and using cyanide to extract gold and silver. This entails an estimate of one thousand liters of water per hour that would be contaminated with deadly toxic waste, including arsenic, before being thrown back into rivers and soil.

Local indigenous communities were never consulted prior to the development of the project that would benefit from a recent Ecuadorean law incentivizing foreign investment. Nor did they give their consent to the licensing of their territories to the Junefield corporation. They reject the mine because it would contaminate their waters.

Women are at the forefront of the resistance that began almost two decades ago, when the mining license was first issued. Molleturo communities have been arguing in defense of water more or less actively over the last decade and a half but stepped it up when the mine started its activity in May 2018. Protests exploded, and a group burned out the miner’s living quarters.

Nobody was hurt in the explosion, but the police intervened, heavily armed, to militarize the area. The next day, protesters called in the president of Ecuador’s Confederation of Kichwa People Peoples for help, Yaku Perez Guartambel, but workers from the mine kidnapped him for eight hours, threatening to kill him. Tensions boiled to new heights.

Prior consultation as a fundamental indigenous human right

The Judge ordered the suspension on the mine–invoking constitutional and international indigenous rights to prior consultation.

Rosa, a delegate from the Andean Network of Indigenous Organizations (CAOI), discusses the territorial dimension of self-determination to community members gathered in the páramos of the Cajas mountain range. Photo: Manuela Picq

Since 1989, Art. 6 of the International Labor Organization Convention 169 safeguards indigenous rights to prior consultation on projects taking place on indigenous territories. Art. 18 of UNDRIP establishes indigenous rights to participate in decision making relating to their territories, and Art. 19 establishes that states must consult “in good faith” to obtain indigenous “prior, free, and informed consent: about legislative of administrative measures impacting their communities. In 2016, Art. 25 of the American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples reiterated these principles in the context of the Organization of American States.

Prior consultation is not a simple law; it constitutes a fundamental human right of indigenous peoples because their existence is intimately tied to their territories. Their culture, lifeways, and community structures are woven into territorial autonomy.

An Amicus Curiae from a Chinese environmental lawyer

About half a dozen amicus curiaes were presented to Cuenca’s court supporting the communities right to prior consultation, from a range of organizations including the Environmental Defense Law Center, Ecuador’s Ecumenic Commission of Human Rights (CEDHU) and the Ecuadorian group Critical Geographies. Amicus were presented by scholars from Ecuadorean and American universities, including Universidad Internacional del Ecuador, Universidad de Cuenca, Universidad San Francisco de Quito, American University, and Coastal Carolina University.

Environmental lawyer Jingjing Zhang, from Beijing, submitted an amicus in which she provided an overview of relevant Chinese laws and regulations. She testified to the court on July 23, 2018, explaining that China ratified the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in 2007, thus supporting prior consultation and consent for any project on their territories. She reminded the words of the Chinese delegate at the 13th Session of the UN Permanent forum on Indigenous Issues (2014): “ the international community is duty bound to fully meet the legitimate requests of indigenous peoples, to promote and protect their basic human rights and freedoms, to safeguard the natural environment and resources on which their survival depends” and China “firmly supports the promotion and protection of the basic human rights and fundamental freedoms of all indigenous peoples around the world. ”

She explained to the court that China has regulations establishing that enterprises may not violate international treaties ratified by the Chinese government and that they are bound by the laws and environmental regulations of the host country. She stated that The Communist Party of China (CPC), State Council, and various government agencies have issued policy guidelines that encourage Chinese companies to focus on ecological environmental protection in their foreign investments. In her view, the Chinese government has deep concerns on the law-abiding and environmental performance of Chinese companies operating overseas.

Her amicus concluded that China’s Environmental Protection Law, Environmental Impact Assessment Law, and the Government Information Disclosure Regulation have strict provisions on the public participation rights of citizens. These regulations are based on the same principles and contain similar provisions to the Ecuadorian norms on the rights of indigenous peoples to prior consultation.

One step forward or two sets back?

The court sentence to suspend the mine marked a milestone of hope to Indigenous peoples and nature defenders. Yet the old tactics of legal warfare are still in use. Within a week of the court sentence, over 20 nature defenders were criminalized, eight of them charged with the crime of sabotage.

The private corporation Junefield/Ecuagoldmining South America did not have to do engage in public debate, Ecuador’s government is taking the lead. It was the Ministry of the Interior who accused indigenous peoples to defend the interests of the Chinese corporation. “The state proves that it is the best lawyer of mining companies,” says Yaku Perez Guartambel.

Will the criminalization of nature defenders continue? For now, judges are holding off a final verdict, and as the clock ticks political and economic pressures thicken. Molleturo leader Fausto Castro says that communities want their right to life back, and that they seek a peaceful solution to this mining conflict. It is indeed an achievement that serious confrontations were avoided, but this may not last forever. Yesterday, when the Judge staved off sentence as hundreds of nature defenders awaited outside the courtroom, many expressed their fears: “if the court reverts its sentence to benefit the State, it is a declaration of war.”

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