UN human rights experts write to governments over PNG's Frieda Mine
A group of independent human rights experts, appointed by the United Nations, have written to the governments of Papua New Guinea, Australia, China and Canada over claims that a massive proposed copper and gold mine in PNG, is threatening the human rights of the local community.
The Frieda Mine project – which is being run by the Australian based, Chinese Company, PanAust, plans to build a large open pit mine and hydroelectric dam, over 16,000 hectares on the Frieda River in PNG’s Sepik region.
But the project has faced opposition from villagers, the provincial government and a network of community groups, and the company’s environmental impact assessment study is being reviewed by PNG’s Conservation and Environmental Protection Agency, before an environmental permit can be granted.
Ten UN Special Rapporteurs in their letters said the project’s environmental impact study doesn’t adequately address the risk of tailings dam failure; raised concerns about a lack of community consultation and consent; and the lack of public plans on the relocation of up to 1300 villagers.
Mary Larlor, UN Special Rapporteur on Situation of Human Rights Defenders told the ABC the environment impact study needs to be improved so communities could understand the project’s intentions.
“They’re they’re very technical, they’re deliberately, you know, abstruse, they don’t give the right information, they say things like a third party you have to do your own risk assessment,” she said.
As for those who received the letters – PanAust which now has 100 per cent ownership of the Frieda River Project, as well as its former joint venture partner Highlands Pacific – haven’t responded to the UN.
The Australian government in its response said it supports community programmes that ensure more women are involved in project negotiations.
It also said it supports human rights principles but “the Australian Government does not accept that it owes human rights obligations extraterritorially with regards to individuals outside of its effective control.”
There’s been no response yet from China, while a letter from the Canadian government said it expects Canadian companies working overseas to respect human rights and operate lawfully.
PNG’s Environment Minister Wera Mori said government was well aware of the concerns raised and was confident it could be dealt with internally.
“Do not forget that Papua New Guinea is a sovereign state and we can not be dictated to by opinions of people from other countries,” he said.
Peter Bosip from the Centre for Environmental Law and Community Rights represents villagers and community groups who have been campaigning against the project.
“We feel the government needs to pay much attention to that letter because Papua New Guinea is one of the countries obliged to, under the Human Rights instrument which PNG is a signatory,” he said.
Mr Bosip and his clients delivered their own letter to PNG’s conservation authority on Friday, urging it to halt or shutdown the project because of the concerns raised by UN Special Rapporteurs.