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29 Sep 2020

Nick Toscano, Sydney Morning Herald

Papua New Guinea: Bougainville residents petition Australian government over environmental damage and human rights violations.

See all tags Allegations

Photo: Human Rights Law Centre

"Our rivers are poisoned': Residents raise Rio Tinto human rights claims", 29 September 2020

More than 150 Bougainville residents are petitioning the Australian government to investigate Rio Tinto over claims its failure to clean up millions of tonnes of waste from its former copper mine on the island has caused severe environmental damage and human rights violations.

The complaint, sent to the Anglo-Australian miner and the federal Treasury department this week, says the pollution left behind from Bougainville's Panguna mine that Rio Tinto ran for decades has poisoned local water sources and put the community's lives and livelihoods at risk...

Theonila Roka Matbob, a traditional landowner who has recently been elected to the Bougainville parliament, said residents were "living with the impacts of Panguna every day"... "Our rivers are poisoned with copper, our homes get filled with dust from the tailings mounds, our kids get sick from the pollution," she said...

The complaint, signed by 156 Bougainville residents, has been lodged with the Australian OECD Contact Point within the federal Treasury Department, which has the power to investigate complaints made against Australian companies operating overseas, issue findings on whether they were in breach of their obligations under the OECD guidelines and recommend actions.

Rio Tinto, which was forced to suspend operations at Panguna due to the civil war in 1989 and divested its interest in 2016, on Monday acknowledged the filing of the complaint by the Panguna communities and said it was "ready to enter into discussions" with them...

Rio Tinto's treatment of community stakeholders has been in the spotlight in recent months as it faces the ongoing fallout from its decision to blow up two 46,000-year-old Aboriginal rock shelters in Western Australia's Juukan Gorge...