14 April 2011
LONDON -Chalid Muhammad, one of Indonesia’s leading Green activists, attended the Annual Shareholders Meeting of the Rio Tito mining corporation, held in London today (April 14 2011).
Chalid had flown from Jakarta especially to present the concerns of communities living around the Kelian gold mine, which the UK mining giant had owned and operated for over a decade until its closure in 2003.
Citing evidence he had recently collected from residents in Tutung, the village to which inhabitants of the mining area had been involuntarily moved by police, Chalid reminded shareholders of the egregious human rights abuses – including rape and other assaults – which local people had suffered .
He pointed out that, though many claims had been settled, others were still outstanding; specifically those of a family who had occupied land, taken for resettlement of other villagers, but had never been admitted to the compensation process.
Chalid described Tutung as having the aspect of “a ghost town”, with many residents having left the area. Many shops had closed. Promises of a sustainable livelihood, made by Rio Tinto, had simply not been fulfilled, and those left “had difficulty in maintaining the land, because Rio Tinto / KEM has never given them the necessary legal documents”.
Mr Muhammad – one of the most experienced investigators of conditions at Kelian, from the outset of operations – went on to convey the fears, now felt by hundreds of villagers, that one or more of the pits that Rio Tinto says it has made secure, might fail.
He said that the Namuk tailings dam had already overflowed on two occasions in 2009 and 2010, and asked what provisions the UK company had made, to prevent a worse event happening in future.
In response, Rio Tinto’s Chief Executive Officer, Tom Albanese, acknowledged that there had been human rights abuses in the early years of the mine’s operation. Mr Albanese also claimed to be in continuing communication with several NGOs in dealing with compensation issues.
In response, Chalid Muhammad, presented a letter to Jan Du Plessis, Rio Tinto’s chairman, from Tutung’s head, H Mochammad Ali, which outlined the community’s ongoing grievances.
A British shareholder told shareholders that he had also inspected the Kelian site last year, and asked whether the company would guarantee that, after it finally quit the area in 2013, to maintain the Namuq tailings dam “in pertuity”, considering the long term danger of a collapse.
Mr Albanese responded that this would be a concern of the Indonesian authorities, with whom Rio Tinto continued to be in discussions. However he did say that he would raise this matter during future talks.
Lasampala and Grasberg
As a native of Sulawesi, Chalid Muhammad also expressed deep concerns at the possible of widespread damage from Rio Tinto’s prospective nickel mine at Lasampala.
He asked about the nature of the agreement the company has recently announced, which places responsibility for initial work at the site on Sherritt International, the Canadian nickel producer.
“If there’s environmental pollution or human rights abuses arising from this work, will Rio Tinto claim it’s not responsible – just as it has done since it invested as a 40% partner with Freeport in West Papua?” asked Mr Muhammad.
To which Mr. Albanese made no response.