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19 Nov 2019

Interview: Lucielle Paru, human rights activist in Papua New Guinea working with the Central Province Pressure Group.

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BHRRC: What is your role as a Business & Human Rights activist in Papua New Guinea?

With the Central Province Pressure Group, it’s issues that deal with the environmental impacts of extractive mining, and government policies that affect our landowners and communities within Central Province.

BHRRC: What is the nature of the business and human rights issues you are involved with?

The Central Province Pressure Group focuses on the issue of deep-sea mining—and the company, Nautilus Minerals, that came in to proceed with deep-sea mining in the New Guinea Island Waters. The base where Nautilus Minerals put in machinery was the Central Province. They were doing the testing of the machines in Port Moresby, in Fairfax Harbour. Thanks to the deep-sea mining campaign, involving a number of organisations, Nautilus has been stopped. The issue now is that the licence still remains.

In the context of the license, the major outstanding issue is free prior informed consent. You can't just go and test in waters. There is a biological centre on Manubada Island devoted to preserving mangroves. PNG has 38 out of the 45 species of mangroves in the world. And we have all this extractive mining testing their machinery in our waters and destroying all the mangroves that have been preserved. What's the meaning of developing something if you're going to destroy it? I thought the meaning of preservation was that you want to keep it. There is no respect for our elders and our people. Nautilus left behind damage. And we are not happy about that.

BHRRC: What were the company consultation and due diligence processes like and were they adequate?

There wasn't any real free prior informed consent in the beginning and there wasn't any awareness until people started talking. Then Nautilus decided to send out people. Our people remain dependent on the sea. The company said the areas to be mined are right out in the deep sea. But when you look at the mapping, they come really close to land areas. And our fishermen go further out into the deep-sea areas. It raised many concerns.

With the government approving such things without the consent of the people most affected by them, it creates a lot of concern as to who are you representing—the people, or the interests of investors? It is a big question, and many of our people don't understand. We're not civically educated. It's one thing that hasn't been done in this country properly, to allow us to understand where our rights currently are. And they need to know. With the massive amount of extractive industry that's taking place in our country, with our oil and gas reserves - it is going to affect a lot of people.

What's the meaning of developing something if you're going to destroy it? I thought the meaning of preservation means that you're going to keep it.

BHRRC: Why were local people in PNG concerned about seabed mining happening in their country?

They’re taking away our lifestyle and our livelihood, which is based in the sea. If your land and sea is taken away, what do you depend on after that? If you're going to take somebody's land and sea away; they will have no option for surviving. If you can't give us the job opportunity, don't take the land and sea away. You have to allow the people to progress properly and give us the ability to sustain ourselves. It's not a big ask, but the level of corruption in this country does not allow us to even have the basic services from hospitals, to proper schooling. The standards are very low. We should be investing more in agriculture which is something that we are already doing with our land. And it gives us the opportunity to grow from there.

PNG doesn't have its own mining acts. The acts we do have are all basically Queensland Mining Act laws, which we've adopted, and they are confusing. We believe the laws support investors. They have benefitted a lot from Papua New Guinea, from before independence until today. The same is true of Bouganville and continuing issues like the Porgera Joint Venture. We know we're politically independent, but we're not economically independent. Nautilus Minerals found it very easy to walk inside and start up.

BHRRC: What do seabed mining testings involve and what impact did they have for the local people in areas where testing has occurred?

Coral ended up on the shore. Sand from the sea floor that was being dug up ended up on the surface. Going out fishing became a problem because of the clouded water. And then you've got the ships going and coming and the oil that's been left on the surface.

BHRRC: What challenges have you faced in your work, how are you seeking to overcome them?

I started off with my own village people. When we were all discussing and strategising ways to get people to be more aware, we said we have to do human rights education. I attended a UN systems and documentation training seminar and am now giving people relevant information.  Local people can read relevant legal documents and have them explained; we've got a lawyer in our team who goes out and tries his best to explain in our language. I’m formulating workshops one on one with people so that they can understand where and how they can fight, and then bring everybody together as one.

We found that whether somebody in the village understanding depends on whether you speak to them in English or not. Most of our people have been brought up in such a way that you just listen; you're not supposed to respond, you're not supposed to ask questions. So that's what our people have been doing. What I've been doing now in the workshops is sitting one on one with people to ask them: okay, are you confused about anything? you say, anything you want me to explain here? And going through that has allowed them now to be more informed. This is giving them an opportunity to make a better decision for themselves and about their future for their communities.

The companies can leave locals with false understandings. One of the companies held a meeting with all the local landowners in Pidgin, but people along the Papuan coastline don't understand Pidgin. People were told in Pidgin, you're going to get a house and a car and educational assistance, meaning that economic growth would bring education, housing and jobs and you'd be able to purchase a vehicle. When you translate that into Pidgin, it becomes, I'm going to give you a house, I'm going to give you a car. People got impatient and asked, when are you going to give me my house?

It was good to actually show people in the villages the photographs of the mining machines and what was proposed to be done with the coral and the deep-sea ocean floor.

‘Our sea is our life, life is blood, and blood is land. That’s what we stand for. The survival of humanity depends on how we treat the land.'

BHRRC: What positive goals are you trying to achieve now in terms of seabed mining corporations operating in PNG?

Every investor who comes in has to understand that you're coming into a country that has 850 different nations. We all have different languages; you cannot apply the same everywhere. People have been taking advantage of these differences for many years. You need to sit, one on one, with people to make them fully understand.

BHRRC: What can be done by those reading this interview; is there any way in which the international community can help?

I'm hoping that the international community can help us build our awareness, to make sure that people are aware of their human rights, their land rights, and help us understand the constitution – to understand what it means when we’re talking about development. That would be much appreciated.