Rio Tinto Agrees To Investigate Damage At Bougainville’s “Civil War Mine” Rio Tinto Agrees To Investigate Damage At Bougainville’s “Civil War Mine”
Rio Tinto said on Wednesday that it had committed to look into the legacy of environmental degradation and human rights violations linked to a mine on the once-war-torn Pacific island of Bougainville.
The multinational said it had achieved a groundbreaking agreement to assess the consequences of the now-defunct Panguna mine, which was at the heart of Papua New Guinea’s devastating decade-long civil war in Bougainville.
For years, the mining behemoth has been accused of avoiding responsibility for cleaning up dangerous waste at the enormous copper and gold mine that has been abandoned.
Panguna was one of the major mines in the South Pacific between 1972 and 1989.
However, local outrage over environmental harm and profit distribution sparked a revolt that forced the company’s collapse.
The resulting civil war claimed the lives of up to 20,000 people, or around 10% of Bougainville’s population at the time.
Rio Tinto said it would now “identify and examine legacy implications” of Panguna after facing legal pressure and public and investor criticism for recently blowing up an ancient Aboriginal site in Australia.
“This is a critical first step in engaging with those affected by the Panguna mine’s legacy,” stated firm CEO Jakob Stausholm.
“We take this very seriously, and we are dedicated to discovering and reviewing any role we may have played in negative consequences.”
Rio Tinto will fund an independent “impact assessment” by foreign specialists as a starting step.
This report is likely to fuel calls for a fund to compensate victims and restore the damage that has already been done.
The cleanup expenditures are expected to be in the billions of dollars.
Theonila Roka Matbob, a local activist and government official, expressed her delight at the news.
“Today is such a significant day for the Bougainville communities. The Panguna mine has poisoned our rivers with copper for many years. “Pollution makes our children sick,” she explained.
“These issues must be investigated immediately so that remedies can be developed.”
The Human Rights Law Centre in Australia, which assisted in the legal action against Rio Tinto, called the news “a big step forward.”
“We will ensure that the assessment is followed up by Rio Tinto taking prompt action to remedy its tragic legacy on Bougainville,” the centre promised.
Bougainville recently voted overwhelmingly to gain independence from Papua New Guinea as part of a 2001 peace accord that concluded the civil war.
Although the island’s leaders have stated that full independence will be attained by 2027, MPs in Papua New Guinea’s parliament could derail that plan.