Independent assessment of former Bougainville mine due to open

Panguna mine in Bougainville

An independent environmental and human rights legacy impact assessment of Rio Tinto’s former Panguna mine in the autonomous Papua New Guinea region Bougainville is due to begin this week.

Last year, Rio Tinto publicly committed to fund the independent assessment in response to a human rights complaint brought by 156 local community members, represented by Australia’s Human Rights Law Centre.

The mine was forced to stop operating in 1989 by what became a ten-year long civil war.

The Bougainville government is very keen to see a resumption of mining there as it strives to develop its economy in its quest to achieve independence by 2027.

The human rights complaint alleges that the massive volume of mine waste pollution left behind by the Panguna mine is continuing to put people’s lives and livelihoods at risk.

Over a billion tonnes of waste tailings were released directly into the Jaba and Kawerong rivers during the operation of the Panguna mine between 1972 and 1989.

“This is an important step towards addressing insecurity and pain for the people in the impacted community areas,” said Bougainville MP Theonila Roka Matbob.

“Thus, we welcome the assessment into the impacts of the Panguna mine as soon as possible.”

Another to welcome the move is the Human Rights Law Centre.

“We welcome Rio Tinto’s commitment to this process. We really need Rio to continue its support and commit to funding the next steps,” said Keren Adams, the legal director at the Centre.

Tetra Tech Coffey, an independent global consulting company, will undertake the Legacy Impact Assessment.

The first phase of the work, which will examine acute impacts and risks posed by the mine to communities, is expected to take 18-20 months. It will identify mine-related impacts and what needs to be remedied.

Rio Tinto has not yet committed to funding the clean-up and remediation of the mine site that communities are calling for. Following the conclusion of the impact assessment, further discussions will be held between the company, community representatives and other stakeholders regarding the assessment’s recommendations and next steps.