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Response to the Minister for Environment, Conservation and Climate Change MP, Mr. Wera Mori’s Statement regarding Ten United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteurs Letter to the Government of PNG on the Frieda River Copper and Gold Mine in the Sepik Region of Papua New Guinea.

On behalf of the Plants and animals of Sepik River, The Sepik River, the people of Sepik River and Environment and Climate Justice advocators of PNG and the world, the Project Sepik, a local Sepik NGO in Wewak request that Mr. Mori is his Ministerial role reflect more and respond constructively, seeking solutions and providing answers on his response to the UN and everyone regarding his statement on Radio Australia on the 30th of September, 2020 to the UN Special Rapporteurs Letter to the Government of PNG on the Frieda River Copper and Gold Mine in the Sepik Region of Papua New Guinea.

Mr. Wera Mori in his response to the Ten Special Rapporteurs from UN to the PNG Government regarding the Frieda Mine Project said, “Do not forget that Papua New Guinea is a sovereign state and we cannot be dictated to by opinions of people from other countries. As an independent state, the government has the prerogative to make decisions in the best interest of the country”.

While it is important for the country’s international standing and reputation, that Mr. Mori has responded in what was a brief statement to the letters, it is embarrassing to observe the shallow argument and evasive nature of his comments. Politicians must understand how the larger world works.   The response is harmful to the relationship and respect from an international perspective, from International donors and financiers of large scale Ethical and Sustainable Development Intervention in PNG. Minister Mori who was only concerned about maintaining Papua New Guinea’s integrity and sovereignty as an independent state failed to address the content of the letters; he instead made the statement of non-interference in the internal affairs of the country, directly telling UN experts to keep their noses out of the Human Rights issues in the country. His counterpart from Australia who received the same letter responded with a detailed response in a professional manner addressing the content of letters.

The response by the Mr. Mori can be seen as ignorance of the issues that were raised, Mori must not forget that these letters came from the United Nations and the United Nations Human Rights Council of which Papua New Guinea is a signatory. Papua New Guinea as a signatory to such international conventions has obligations to uphold human rights. 

The letters from UN are not to undermine the country’s sovereignty or to dictate the PNG Government on how it should handle its affairs as the Minister claimed, but to raise the concerns of issues regarding the human rights violations in the country that the government needs to look into and address.

“I grew up with the river, drank it, ate fish and sago from it and it’s brought me to where I am now. I am worried about my future generations, and if the mine were to go ahead, what will they have left?”

– Vernon Gawi, University student, The Guardian

PNG as a Member of UN has ratified 6 of the core human rights treaties; the third highest number in the Pacific behind New Zealand and Australia. Two of these include the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), upon which the Ten UN Special Rapporteurs were based on. These human rights are also enshrined in Papua New Guinea’s Constitution, which has been called one of the few unique constitutions around the world that contains almost all the rights and freedoms that are enshrined the United Nations Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948. While Economic, social and cultural rights are not included in the constitution, they are provided for in the National Goals and Directive Principles. Papua New Guinea as a UN Member has made Voluntary Pledges and Commitments to Human Rights which include the Pledge to uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights.

The Minister’s statement comes as a slap to the Constitution of the Independent state of Papua New Guinea, the International Treaties signed and also towards the country’s progress in achieving the Global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which includes the SDG 3, 6, 10, 11, 13, 14, and 15. 

Papua New Guinea also ratified 6 and accepted 7 International Environmental Treaties, some of which include the Ramsar Convention, Convention on Biological Diversity, United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, Paris Agreement and the Vienna Convention.

Given PNG’s status as a Member country of United Nations and a signatory to the International Conventions and Treaties, it has an obligation to uphold these issues of concerns that were raised by the UN Investigators.

Mori also stated that, “As an independent state, the government has the prerogative to make decisions in the best interest of the country”, Project Sepik is however concerned with that statement and are questioning on whose best interest exactly will the government make decisions, the Government and the investors or the people of Sepik, Papua New Guinea and the Environment?

This statement is somewhat concerning coming from the Minister who in his capacity as Minister for Environment has largely ignored the 2019 Ramu Nico Basamuk Bay Spillage. PNG Government has no proven track record of putting the interest of the people first nor does it have the people’s best interest at heart.

The people of Sepik have made their stance known that they are all against the mine, their call was heeded by the United Nations who sent out the Ten Special Rapporteurs. The UN did not send out the letters on its own, they were supporting the call made by the people of Sepik to ban the proposed Frieda Gold and Copper mine which will destroy the Sepik River and their livelihood.

 Special Rapporteurs are independent experts appointed by the U.N. Human Rights Council (formerly the U.N. Commission on Human Rights) with the mandate to monitor, advise and publicly report on human rights situations in specific countries (country mandates) and on human rights violations worldwide (thematic mandates). The thematic mandates cover a wide range of issues relating to civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights, among many others. The functions of Special Rapporteurs include responding to individual complaints, conducting studies, providing advice on technical cooperation and undertaking country visits to assess specific human rights situations.

Ten UN Special Rapporteurs, along with the UN Working Group on Human Rights and Transnational Corporations, wrote to the PNG Government to raise the concerns about the proposed Frieda River mine and the risk of failure of its proposed tailings dam.

 The letter, which was recently released, raised ‘serious concerns’ about the human rights impacts of the project, including the rights to life, health, bodily integrity, water and food, and the right to free, prior and informed consent. The letter also raised concerns that the people of the Sepik River ‘will be forced to bear the costs of the Project in perpetuity.’

“It is our innate role to guard the River from exploitation and destruction by outsiders. Our future is in peril from this proposed Mine and therefore, we gather together as Guardians of the River to stand firm as one. We have the ultimate support from our ancestors who live with us in many forms.”

– Supreme Sukindimi Declaration

References:

Wasuka, E. (2020, September 30). UN human rights experts write to governments over PNG’s Frieda Mine. Pacific Beat. https://www.abc.net.au/radio-australia/programs/pacificbeat/un-human-rights-experts-raise-concerns-over-frieda-mine/

Human rights in Papua New Guinea. Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_rights_in_Papua_New_Guinea

FAQs: United Nations Special Rapporteurs. American Civil Liberties Union. https://www.aclu.org/other/faqs-united-nations-special-rapporteurs

JOINT LETTER FROM THE UNITED NATIONS. Save The Sepik. https://savethesepik.org/letter-from-ten-un-special-rapporteurs/

Access information on Multilateral Environmental Agreements. InforMEA. https://www.informea.org/en/node/172/parties

United Nations Raises Human Rights Concerns Over Proposed PNG Mine. Environmental Defenders Office. https://www.edo.org.au/2020/09/29/united-nations-raises-human-rights-concerns-over-proposed-png-mine/

Kep, Y. (2019, November 15). Mori, Spill Is Not Harmful. Post Courier. https://postcourier.com.pg/mori-spill-is-not-harmful/

“The Upper Sepik is the heart of one of the least modified landscapes in the Asia Pacific. A major river runs free without dams, weirs or industrial developments. A band of unbroken rainforest extends for hundreds of kilometres. There are few places left on earth in this condition… There are few places in Melanesia where cultural heritage is as diverse, dramatically displayed or proudly protected.”

– Government of Papua New Guinea submission to UNESCO, tentatively listing the Upper Sepik River Basin for World Heritage Status in 2006.

SAVE THE SEPIK CAMPAIGN

LIFE ON THE SEPIK

The Sepik region is one of the most culturally and biodiverse areas on the planet

FRIEDA RIVER MINE

Frieda River mine project - one of the largest known copper and gold deposits in the world

WORLD HERITAGE

Nominating the Sepik regions rich cultural heritage for World Heritage listing

TAKE ACTION

Take Action and Solidarity to call for the Rejection of the Frieda River mine

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