Protestors take Rio Tinto to task

May 10, 2006

Tony Dee, Melbourne

Supporters of self-determination for West Papua held a spirited, early morning rally outside mining corporation Rio Tinto's AGM on May 4. The action drew attention to the human rights abuses and environmental disasters linked to the Freeport mine in West Papua, 40% of which is owned by Rio Tinto.

Comedian Greg Fleet chaired the event, his droll humour attracting passers-by headed for work. Speakers included Bougainville activist Moses Havini, Techa Beaumont from the Minerals Policy Institute (MPI), West Papuan Herman Wangai and Greens senator Kerry Nettle.

Beaumont and Havini talked about Rio Tinto's record in the South Pacific, asking how a company is allowed to have two standards of conduct, one for its operations in Australia and one for its work overseas where it could ignore Indigenous land claims, abuse human rights and pollute the environment. Havini explained how Rio Tinto despoiled the environment and sparked off 10 years of political unrest that cost the lives of 20,000 people on Bougainville.

Wangai told the rally that he was speaking for the West Papuan people who had suffered a long time because the Indonesian government wanted the rich resources of West Papua, but had no need for its people. Nettle said the struggle in West Papua showed up how the Howard government's business interests overrode international commitments to human rights, and criticised Canberra's plans to remove the whole of Australia from its own migration zone to prevent West Papuan asylum seekers getting into the country.

A new, damning environmental report on the Freeport mine was also released on May 4. Based on information never before made public, the report by WALHI, Indonesia's largest environmental non-government organisation, exposes Freeport McMoRan's failure to comply with government orders to amend its polluting practices, despite years of official findings that the company is in breach of relevant regulations. The English version of the WALHI report is available from the MPI, phone 0409 318 406 or visit .

From Green Left Weekly, May 10, 2006.
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