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2 Apr 2020

Ben Doherty, The Guardian

Rio Tinto accused of violating human rights in Bougainville for not cleaning up Panguna mine

See all tags Allegations

1 April 2020

Anglo-Australian mining giant Rio Tinto is accused of being responsible for "multiple human rights violations" after its Panguna mine on the island of Bougainville left people with a dangerous legacy of poisoned water, polluted fields and a ruined river valley, according to a damning report from the Human Rights Law Centre.


For 17 years until 1989, the Panguna mine was one of the world's largest and richest copper and gold mines, run by Rio Tinto subsidiary Bougainville Copper Limited. [...]


The report alleges that many villages have been left without clean drinking water, which must be piped long distances or rely on rainwater tanks that frequently run dry. Many families have no option but to continue to use the polluted rivers for bathing and washing.

Those who live in the river valleys have reported serious, long-running health impacts, including sores and skin lesions, diarrhoea, respiratory problems and pregnancy complications.

[...] River crossings also become dangerous, with shifting sand channels and areas of quicksand. Locals reported children drowning or sustaining serious injuries trying to cross rivers.


A spokesman for Rio Tinto said: "BCL was compliant with applicable regulatory requirements up until the mine's operations were suspended in 1989."

Since abandoning the mine in 1990, Rio Tinto has not had access to the mine site because of the conflict and ongoing security concerns. The spokesman said it acknowledged concerns raised in the HRLC report but could not comment because it had not been able to see the mine.

"Indeed, the ongoing extremely challenging security situation was one of the reasons for the 2016 share transfer," he said. "We believe the best means of addressing any current issues is through the owners of the mine working directly with the people of Bougainville."