Rio Tinto retained majority ownership of the mine until 2016, when it divested from the operation and allegedly left Bougainville without cleaning up a considerable amount of mining waste. Follow SBS News to join in the conversation and never miss the latest live updates. In 2016 Rio divested from the mine, passing on its shares to the Papua New Guinea and Bougainville governments, in a move locals say allowed the miner to entirely avoid the costs of clean-up. Ms. Adams, the lawyer, said that while she was encouraged by Rio Tinto’s statement, there was still a long way to go before the vast and sometimes fatal problems caused by mining’s legacy on the island could be addressed. The company ran the mine for 45 years and divested it in 2016, leaving thousands of people who live downstream in the Jaba-Kawerong River valley to deal with the consequences. We urgently need Rio Tinto to do what’s right and deal with the disaster they have left behind,” Matbob said. Today 156 Bougainville community members have filed a complaint with the Australian Government against Rio Tinto for environmental and human rights violations caused by its former mine on Bougainville in Papua New Guinea. Panguna was among the largest copper mines in the world, but it was closed in 1989, after protests by workers escalated into a brutal civil conflict. Operations of the mine at Panguna and sharing of its revenues had been perhaps the major sticking point between Bougainville and PNG government. Bougainville’s significant economic problems could pressure the government into re-opening the Panguna Mine, which closed in 1989 during the fighting — at the time, it was the world’s largest open-cut mine. Residents of the Papua New Guinea region have accused the mining giant of environmental and human rights violations and asked for an investigation. Ask Amazon Alexa for the latest SBS News or listen to SBS Radio. A large number of nearby communities, Ms. Adams added, “don’t have access to safe, clean nearby water sources.” She said Rio Tinto desperately needed to conduct a risk assessment, and to contribute substantially to an independent fund to assist in the cleanup and managing of ongoing health problems in the community. Anglo-Australian mining company Rio Tinto is once again facing a backlash after it reportedly "side-stepped" its responsibility after failing to clean up toxic waste from a closed mine on the autonomous Papua New Guinea island of Bougainville. A recently released report by an Australian human human rights group recalls the social, economic, and ecological disaster caused by the exploitation of the mine in the surrounding communities. Updated. Pollution of the Panguna mine in Bougainville: Rio Tinto targeted by a complaint in AustraliaSydney (AFP) Anglo-Australian giant Rio Tinto is accused of shirking its responsibilities in cleaning up toxic waste from the gigantic Panguna mine, on the Papua island of Bougainville, in a complaint filed Tuesday in Australia. An abandoned Rio Tinto mine in the Bougainville region of Papua New Guinea has caused flooding as well as pollution, according to the Human Rights … “We live with the impacts of Panguna every day. Panguna is a copper and gold mine that Anglo-Australian multinational Rio Tinto exploited, through its subsidiary Bougainville Copper Limited (BCL), from 1972 to 1989. Sign up now for the latest news from Australia and around the world direct to your inbox. In 2016 Rio divested from the mine, passing on its shares to the Papua New Guinea and Bougainville governments, in a move locals say allowed the miner to entirely avoid the costs of clean-up. The ensuing civil war left up to 20,000 people dead and led to a peace agreement opening the way for possible Bougainville independence. In a statement released on Tuesday, Rio Tinto said it was “aware of the deterioration of mining infrastructure at the site and surrounding areas, and claims of resulting adverse environmental and social, including human rights, impacts.”. We urgently need Rio Tinto to do what’s right and deal with the disaster they have left behind.”. The limited mine employment opportunities were resented, but the far more limited mine revenue share received, not only by mine lease landowners but also by Bougainville as a whole, was of even greater concern for multiple groups involved in the origins of the conflict. Thirty years later, the effects of the mine are still being felt. The mine at Panguna had been perhaps the most major sticking point between Bougainville and the mainland. The group of Bougainville residents have asked Rio Tinto to fund an independent environmental and human rights impact assessment of the mine and support a program to help address any issues and assist long-term rehabilitation efforts. The complaint alleges the Anglo-Australian company failed to mitigate the risks posed by billions of tons of mining waste that have turned riverbeds blue and caused health problems for more than 12,000 people living downstream. “We’ll have to wait and see what meaningful action they propose,” she said. The mine’s abandoned piles of tailings have also caused rivers to flood, destroying sacred sites. (Image from archives via Bougainville Copper Limited) The complaint will be filed with the Department of Treasury’s Australian OECD National Contact Point, which has the power to investigate complaints made against Australian companies operating overseas. Activists proclaimed the independence of Bougainville (Republic of North Solomons) shortly before Papua New Guinea in 1975 but failed to achieve recognition. The moratorium is a dramatic turnaround in policy from the Autonomous Bougainville Government, which determined landowners felt BCL didn't deserve a social licence to run the mine. Our rivers are poisoned with copper…our kids get sick from the pollution,” Ms Matlob said. In 2000, residents of Bougainville filed suit against Rio Tinto in U.S. federal court, arguing that the company had mistreated Black workers, had been complicit in war crimes and had damaged the environment. " The Bougainville Government is holding a crucial mining warden's hearing at the abandoned copper mine which sparked a decade-long armed insurgency against the Papua New Guinea Government. Reconciling these views is not as easy a task as they range from [the late Francis] Ona’s two decades old claim for 10 billion kinas to various other forms of compensation to Mungta’s admonition that reopening of the Panguna mine would be a disaster for Bougainville. Rio Tinto is facing accusations it side-stepped responsibility to clean up poisonous waste from a closed mine on Papua New Guineas Bougainville island in a complaint filed Tuesday in Australia. Please select the editions you would like to sign up to. Bougainville’s recent history is littered with a number of failed enterprises including attempts to reopen the Panguna mine. Developed and majority-owned by Rio Tinto, disputes over the distribution of profits led to a decade-long civil war that claimed the lives of nearly 15,000 people. “We live with the impacts of Panguna every day,” said Theonila Roka Matbob, a member of the Bougainville Parliament, pictured at the closed Panguna mine pit last year. 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