Rio Tinto and Bougainville community residents reach agreement to assess legacy impacts of Panguna mine
On 21 July 2021, Rio Tinto and Bougainville community members, represented by the Human Rights Law Centre (HRLC), announced they had reached an agreement to identify and assess legacy impacts of the former Panguna copper mine in Bougainville. This follows several months of constructive discussions facilitated by the Australian National Contact Point (AusNCP).
A joint committee of stakeholders has been formed to oversee a detailed independent assessment of the Panguna mine to identify and better understand actual and potential environmental and human rights impacts of the mine which ceased operating in 1989.
This joint committee, the Panguna Mine Legacy Impact Assessment Committee (Committee), has been established by the Autonomous Bougainville Government (ABG) and the parties to the AusNCP process (Rio Tinto, the HRLC and the community members the HRLC represents). It is chaired by an independent facilitator with representatives from the Independent State of Papua New Guinea (PNG), ASX-listed Bougainville Copper Limited (BCL), as well as landowner and community representatives. The Committee held its first meeting on 30 November 2021.
This is an important first step towards engaging with those impacted by the legacy of the Panguna mine.
Complaint made by the Human Rights Law Centre to the Australian National Contact Point (AusNCP)
In September 2020, the Human Rights Law Centre (HRLC), representing 156 residents of villages in the vicinity of the Panguna mine, filed a complaint with the AusNCP against Rio Tinto. The complaint alleges that Rio Tinto is accountable for significant breaches of the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises (OECD Guidelines) relating to past and ongoing environmental and human rights impacts allegedly arising from the Panguna mine. The complaint also alleges that, notwithstanding its divestment, Rio Tinto is accountable for remediating these ongoing impacts as it has an ongoing obligation to provide for or cooperate in remediation where it identifies it has caused or contributed to harm. The complainants are seeking commitments from Rio Tinto to:
- Engage with Panguna mine-affected communities to help find solutions and undertake formal reconciliation as per Bougainvillean custom;
- Fund an independent environmental and human rights impact assessment of the mine by a team of qualified local and international experts to map impacts and to develop recommendations (Impact Assessment); and
- Contribute to a substantial, independently managed fund, to help address the harms allegedly caused by the mine and assist long-term rehabilitation efforts.
The AusNCP accepted the complaint and Rio Tinto, HRLC and community representatives have been engaging productively through the ‘good offices’ of the AusNCP since November 2020.
Panguna Mine Legacy Impact Assessment Committee releases Preparatory Phase Report
The Panguna Mine Preparatory Phase report was a desktop review commissioned by Rio Tinto and the Human Rights Law Centre on behalf of the Panguna Mine Impact Assessment Committee (Committee) to inform priority areas for the upcoming environmental, social and human rights Impact Assessment. The report identified risks of potential failure of the levee at the former Main/Pump station, and potential flooding events along the Kawerong and Jaba river that have been prioritised for further investigation.
Community representatives in Bougainville have been advised of these preliminary findings and the work being undertaken to better understand the risks and mitigations. The Autonomous Bougainville Government (ABG) has contracted Tetra Tech Coffey, who completed the Preparatory Phase report, to complete an on-the-ground assessment. Rio Tinto is supporting the ABG in gathering further data and is funding the assessment.
The Committee has met regularly since its formation in November 2021. The tender process to select a third party to conduct the Impact Assessment is underway and The Committee is expected to select a vendor in September. The Impact Assessment is due to commence on the ground this year and will provide all parties with a clearer understanding of the impacts, so that together we can consider the right way forward.