Call to pressure Rio Tinto over destruction in Bougainville

The Catholic Church on Bougainville and local landowners have called on investors in Rio Tinto to force the company to address the legacy of environmental destruction they say was created by the Panguna mine.

No caption Photo: RNZ / Johnny Blades

The mine, which had been shut down for 30 years, sparked the destructive civil war on Bougainville, over the environmental and social damage.

Rio Tinto, which is holding its annual general meeting today, is no longer involved with Panguna, having walked away four years ago.

Australia's Human Rights Centre reported a landowner, John Ibouku, saying pollution from the mine was creating huge problems for people living nearby.

"Our rivers are filled with copper. Our children get sick from breathing the dust from the tailings waste. We have almost no land left on which to grow crops to feed ourselves. The company must take responsibility."

Another landowner, Bernardine Kiraa, said downstream communities were being flooded by waste from the mine.

"There is no control over the tailings waste so it moves downstream and causes the river to go everywhere."

Father Polycarp Kaviak said the mine left a disastrous legacy, environmentally, socially and spiritually.

He said the situation for communities living near the mine was highly dangerous due to the pollution of rivers and the enormous quantities of mine waste which continued to flood villages downstream.

Mr Kaviak said he believed Rio Tinto needed to take urgent action.

The Legal Director at the Human Rights Law Centre, Keren Adams, claimed Rio Tinto had a clear legal obligation to help clean up the mine site and shareholders should call on the company to take action.

Rio Tinto has consistently said it has no responsibility for the damage, saying when it operated in the 1970s and 1980s it worked under the relevant legislation of the time.

Source: Radio New Zealand

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