Are you investing in (or investigating) Rio Tinto? As Rio Tinto’s 2022 AGM approaches on 8 April, we’re bringing you investor briefings and news updates from friends and network members highlighting the issues faced by communities living with Rio Tinto mines as a neighbour. Click the country to see more.
Original text from hrlc.org.au
Devastating impacts of Rio Tinto’s former mine going under the microscope
As Rio Tinto shareholders gather in London this week for the company’s AGM, over in Bougainville, the initial steps on a comprehensive environmental and human rights assessment of the company’s former Panguna mine have commenced. The impact assessment is an important step towards addressing the severe and ongoing impacts of the mine.
Over a billion tonnes of waste tailings were released directly into the Jaba and Kawerong rivers during the operation of the Panguna mine in Bougainville between 1972 and 1989. Pollution from the mine continues to poison the rivers and cause environmental destruction, which is having devastating impacts on the lives of thousands of Bougainvillean people living downstream.
In July 2021, Rio Tinto publicly committed to fund an independent impact assessment of its former mine in response to a human rights complaint lodged by Bougainville communities with the Australian Government.
The Impact Assessment is being overseen by an Oversight Committee, comprising community members, landowners, government representatives, human rights lawyers and representatives from Rio Tinto and Bougainville Copper Limited. The Oversight Committee held its second meeting in March to progress the timeframes and processes for the impact assessment, the first phase of which is set to commence in the coming months. A tender process is currently underway to select an independent company to undertake the assessment.
At the first Oversight Committee meeting, Rio Tinto’s representative on the committee apologised on behalf of the company for not coming forward earlier to understand the impacts of the mine.
Traditional landowner and MP Theonila Roka Matbob, one of the lead complainants in the human rights complaint, said:
“It is so important that Clan leaders and landowners are now able to talk directly to Rio Tinto representatives and hear that Rio Tinto is committed to a proper impact assessment.
“Everyday our families have to navigate the pollution from the mine. Everyday we worry about collapsing levees, about rivers full of mine waste flooding and about whether the water we drink and wash with is making us sick. It is critical that the investigation is done without delay and that Rio Tinto supports the implementation of solutions to the huge problems we face.”
Human Rights Law Centre Legal Director and Committee member, Keren Adams said:
“Given the dangerous and volatile situation that communities around the mine are living in, we are encouraged by Rio Tinto’s commitment to properly investigate the mine’s impacts and its constructive engagement in the process so far.
“The impact assessment is only the first step – it will help identify solutions but ultimately we need Rio Tinto to commit to funding those solutions so that communities can live on their land in safety.”
Rio Tinto has not yet committed to funding the clean-up and remediation of the mine site. 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.
For further background on the impacts of the mine, see the Human Rights Law Centre’s After the Mine report.
Protecting Rautalampi’s exceptional nature and the rights of the local community
In the recent years, Rio Tinto has launched several exploration projects in Finland. One of them, located in Rautalampi, is especially controversial and has been widely criticised by numbers of people, from members of the local community to members of the Parliament.
Rautalampi is known for the Southern Konnevesi National Park and Rautalampi route, the largest free flowing Finnish inland waterway. Rio Tinto is trying to continue copper and nickel exploration in the area, despite the opposition of the local community who wishes to maintain the clean waters and diverse nature for the future generations.
Rautalampi waterway is one of the most valuable freshwater ecosystems in Finland. It consists of large lakes with excellent water quality and freeflowing rapids, inhabited by many rare freshwater-dependent species. The area also holds significant cultural value, with a wide-ranging cultural heritage including prehistoric rock paintings and burial sites.
Rio Tinto has repeatedly claimed that they listen and respect the local communities, but it seems that in reality they repeatedly continue to act against these claims. In Rautalampi, Rio Tinto applied for new exploration permits only one day after the municipal council had unanimously decided to not approve mining activities in the area.
Rio Tinto’s targeted exploration areas are located alongside the lakes of Rautalampi, bordering the Southern Konnevesi National Park. They also surround important groundwater areas for local water supply. Since mining of metals is widely recorded as causing acid-mine drainage and long-lasting damage to aquatic ecosystems, these are not suitable places to even consider mining activities. The risks are simply too high. This is why people from the local community and their supporters are asking Rio Tinto to simply drop this project.
News update – original posted to www.daam.mn/40325
Herders in Khanbogd soum, Umnugovi aimag, began a peaceful protest demanding that Oyu Tolgoi LLC, a mining company operating in the area, implement its agreement with herders. This is because Oyu Tolgoi has not done what it agreed to do, and local people are finding it difficult to continue herding in the area, and herders continue to suffer, leading to protests.
In addition, Khanbogd soum residents have not been hired in accordance with their agreements with herders and local governments, and have been discriminated against on the grounds that they are unskilled.
The strangest thing is that the local authorities, who are supposed to control the company’s irresponsible actions and act on behalf of the people, have all connected with Oyu Tolgoi LLC through their own businesses and have kept their mouths shut to protect the interests of the locals.
For example, Kh. Nekhit, the governor of Khanbogd soum, who had 12 kg of gold removed from his home and was being investigated by law enforcement, has been the director of JDCC LLC, a water supply construction contractor for the Oyu Tolgoi project, since 2011. In addition, Khanbogd Transport Logistics LLC, a subsidiary of Oyu Tolgoi LLC, has a contract to transport concentrate to China.
Khashbaatar, a representative of the Khanbogd soum’s Citizens’ Representative Khural, is the General Director of Uguumur Gaviluud LLC and has a contract with Oyu Tolgoi LLC to supply a “Worker, Specialist”.
Thus, the majority of Khanbogd soum CRH representatives and leaders are affiliated with Oyu Tolgoi LLC, which is a major conflict of interest.
Serbia Responds to Treaty Complaint that Contentious Lithium Mine is Now ‘Terminated’, but Advocates Remain Concerned
As a response to a huge wave of citizen organising and legal actions, including the appeal submitted by ET, ELC & ZJR, the Govt of Serbia has allegedly “terminated” the key document facilitating the development of Project Jadar. However, more than 2 months later, the status of some legal procedures is still unclear. At the same time, it is clear that the company is still active in the country. We transmit a statement that evaluates the situation from the perspective of the open Appeal to the Bern Convention. We also invite you to take action: sign and send a reminder letter to the CEO of Rio Tinto to abandon the project, remediate and leave (link to the letter).
BELGRADE, Serbia (March 25, 2022)—Yesterday, the Bern Convention Secretariat released Serbia’s government response to a Convention complaint challenging a massive proposed lithium mine in the Valley of Jadar. Advocates made the complaint under the Bern Convention, which protects wildlife and habitats in Europe. Serbia responded that the mine had been “terminated,” mooting the complaint. While advocates are pleased with the short-term win, they are also concerned that the project will be revived.
On 30 September 2021, Earth Thrive, in cooperation with the legal team of Earth Law Center and with local organisation Zaštitimo Jadar i Rađevinu, submitted a Complaint to the Secretariat of the Bern Convention about the alleged threat to flora and fauna species and protected sites due to the proposed construction of a lithium mine and processing facility in the Valley of Jadar and a planned tailings storage facility in Rađevina. The investor is Rio Sava, the Serbian subsidiary of Melbourne- and London-based Rio Tinto mining multinational.
In the complaint, the groups allege that Serbia has failed to take appropriate and necessary legislative and administrative measures to protect wild flora and fauna species (including those listed in Appendices I and II) and endangered natural habitats from widespread, severe impacts. Of particular concern is the possible impacts on 807 hectares of habitat and more than 68 species protected by the Convention between Tršić-Tronoša and the NATURA 2000/Emerald sites of Cer mountains and Donje Podrinje (RS023IBA).
As per procedure, before discussing the case with the Standing Committee, the Bern Secretariat asked the Ministry of Environmental Protection of Serbia to submit their comments. On March 24, 2022, the Bern Secretariat published the response from the Serbian Ministry, (originally received 27 January 2022).In the response, the Ministry reiterates the point that the Spatial Plan has been “terminated” by Decree. The Decree, they continue, also implies that authorities will repeal individual acts in support of the mine’s spatial plan. The Ministry also announced the “termination” of the Working Group for the implementation of the project and the revocation of its prior approval of a strategic environmental assessment of the Spatial Plan of the Special Purpose Area”.
However, advocates remain concerned about loose ends. According to the Ministry, the procedure to annul the Decision about the scope and and content of study of EIA “is ongoing” at the time of writing.
A section of Serbia’s Bern Convention complaint response from the Ministry of Mining and Energy seemed to leave open the possibility of future mining in this region.“No request for approval for the performance of mining works and construction of mining facilities…has been submitted…,” said the Ministry. However, please note that one case in which “procedure is ongoing,” it concerns Rio Sava’s “request for approval of the exploitation field in accordance with the Article 70 of the Law on Mining and Geological Exploration”. This type of approval means that eventually, “if all conditions are met” and “the necessary approvals” obtained, lead to exploitation of minerals.
Advocates are concerned about the possibility that the mining project’s termination is only temporary. “The statement from the Ministry of Mining and Energy shows that the proposed project has not been entirely annulled,” said the groups. “As multiple civil society organisations have pointed out, the project could potentially be reactivated. We invite further independent legal analysis and scrutiny on this point.”
Lastly, the response includes a letter and statement from the Institute for Nature Protection which recognises that “representatives of flora and fauna, as well as habitat types listed in Evidence C and E, are important elements of biodiversity in the Northwestern part of Serbia and Serbia in general.” The Institute claims they “had in mind this fact” when they issueds nature protection conditions as part of Strategic Environmental Impact Assessment elaboration of the Spatial Plan of the special purpose area, “for which a positive Opinion was then issued (019-3431 / dated 24.12.2019.)”.
Regardless of these limitations, it is undeniable that the project has suffered a serious setback, a win for defenders of the environment and local communities whose well-being would have suffered. “We salute everyone’s work on the ground and those active with the formal channels to stop this destructive project. “However, we are also aware that this is not a permanent solution, and we look forward to working with stakeholders to protect sensitive and biodiverse ecosystems within the Jadar Valley and beyond for generations to come.”
The Bern Standing Committee will decide on next steps related to the complaint. Advocates are monitoring the situation and will act accordingly to ensure a permanent protection of the bioregion. “This is the first international statement of this kind made by the relevant Serbian authorities, and as such they should respect and be held accountable for the claims made,” said the representatives of the organisation Earth Thrive.
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We encourage the civil society in Serbia to keep up the joint efforts of Nature and human rights protection, and we invite all colleagues to increase focus on protection of our unique and diverse Nature and its right to exist and live free from harm. In our view, this complaint is a concrete example of good practice where civil society can use a binding international convention – Council of Europe’s Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitat – a very powerful tool to ensure maximum protection of species and habitats that can be invoked in situations when Nature protection is not guaranteed or enforced by the Serbian government. There are many serious violations of flora, fauna and habitats in Serbia, and a lot of work needs to be invested to stop the harm and destruction.
You can access the full whole report from the Ministry of Environmental Protection of Serbia: https://rm.coe.int/files16-2022-lithium-mine-jadar-river-valley-serbia-gvt-report/1680a5ec05
Yes to Life, No to Mining in Jadar and Rađevina!