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Tue Mar 31, 2020, 10:11 PM

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

New report alleges mine caused environmental devastation and ongoing health problems for communities

Ben Doherty

Tue 31 Mar 2020 16.00 EDT

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.

The HRLC says the mining company has an obligation to return to the island, which has just voted in favour of independence from Papua New Guinea, for reparations and reconciliation.

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. Mining ended at Panguna 31 years ago, after disputes over the mine’s profits and its environmental damage led to a decade-long civil war in Bougainville that killed up to 20,000 people. But the mine pit remains a huge scar in the landscape in the centre of Bougainville island and has left a deadly legacy for residents.

The HRLC report says: “Polluted water from the mine pit flows unabated into local rivers, turning the riverbed and surrounding rocks an unnatural blue. The Jaba-Kawerong river valley downstream of the mine resembles a moonscape, with vast mounds of grey tailings waste and rock stretching almost 40km downstream to the coast.”


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