MAC: Mines and Communities

Prime Minister explains stand on US lawsuit

Published by MAC on 2001-11-23

Prime Minister explains stand on US lawsuit


PRIME MINISTER Sir Mekere Morauta has told Parliament that the Government has a right to defend itself in the class action by Bougainville landowners against mining giant Rio Tinto in a United States District Court.

Answering questions by East Sepik Regional MP Sir Michael Somare on the Government's attempt to block the multi-million dollar lawsuit, Sir Mekere said what has happened here in PNG is being taken for a judgment in a foreign country and a foreign court. "Now, that is not right. It's not right at all," he said. "If Government has done wrong and companies have done wrong in this country, those court cases should be taken here under our laws, so the Government has a right to protest."

Central Regional MP Ted Diro raised a point of order saying Sir Mekere was misleading the House because depending on the nature of the agreement, two parties may agree which country's laws may apply in that particular arrangement.

Speaker Bernard Narokobi ruled the point of order inapplicable saying the Prime Minister is entitled to answer a question and express his views about the case as he is the leader of a sovereign State. It has been reported that the National Government is trying to block the multi-million-dollar case, which alleges genocide and environmental damage on Bougainville by Rio Tinto.

The Government has warned the United States that its relations with PNG could be "seriously undermined" if it allows the class action to go ahead there. Sir Michael questioned why the Government was stopping the case from going ahead when it was not even named as a defendant in the case and whether Rio Tinto's lawyers were involved in this process to further destabilise the good relations between the parties involved in the Bougainville peace process.

"Is this statement delivered to the US State Department yet another example of Rio Tinto's arrogant and mischievous behaviour which has polluted the environment and denied landowners compensation to which they are otherwise entitled?" he asked.

Sir Michael further questioned where Rio Tinto was during the entire crisis period, including the struggle for peace. He accused the Government of trying to deny its own citizens' rights to compensation for the destruction of their land, while at the same time succumbing to immense pressure from a corporate giant who does not live here and is not a citizen of PNG.

Sir Mekere said it was a very important issue which required a detailed answer later, but he added that whenever a decision is made in a foreign court on a party that operated here, it would affect the future of this nation. He said PNG cannot just stand here and get covered by a court in a foreign land for activities that happened here.

"This is a very important issue with huge implications for the private
sector and contracts in this country and we have to fight it. In any case, Papua New Guinea is a major shareholder in Bougainville Copper, it has to be affected down the line when the chain reaction begins," he said. "What right has the United States to make judgement on activities, rightly or wrongly, that happened in this country?"

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