MAC/20: Mines and Communities

Rio Tinto case revived, as new Bougainville government takes charge

Published by MAC on 2009-01-13

A US court has agreed to re-open a case, lodged several years ago against Rio Tinto, accusing the company of complicity in human rights abuses by the operation of its Panguna copper-gold mine until 1989, and in the horrendous civil war that followed.

Representatives of US the law firm, Hagens Berman, representing Panguna landowners, were expected to arrive in Bougainville last weekend to meet with the new provincial government's president, James Tanis.

Tanis is himself a former commander of the Bougainville Revolutionary Army, initially formed to fight against the mine in 1988.

Last week, at his inauguration ceremony, Tanis apparently lent support to those Panguna landowners seeking to keep the mine closed.


US legal team to visit PNG

By Gorethy Kenneth

Postcourier (PNG)

7th January 2009

AN American legal team fighting for Bougainville people in a major compensation case against Bougainville Copper Ltd (Rio Tinto) will come to Papua New Guinea to see the Prime Minister Sir Michael Somare and President James Tanis.

The visit comes after the peoples' case against BCL (Rio Tinto) was revived by a decision in an American court before Christmas.

The case resulted in a judge reversing a previous decision in favour of BCL (Rio Tinto) and sending the 20-year-old case back to the District Court in California for a fresh hearing.
Lawyer representing the Bougainville landowners, Brent Walton of Hagens Berman law firm, confirmed from his Seattle office last night that the team will be in Port Moresby this Sunday.
He said they will meet with Sir Michael and other leaders before heading for Bougainville to have an audience with newly-elected President Tanis, the landowners, Me'ekamui and other clients.

The United States District Court for the Central District of California, presiding district judge Margaret Morrow ruled in favour of BCL (Rio Tinto) in August 2007.

On October 11, 2007 counsel representing the Bougainville landowners, (Hagens Berman) Steve Berman, Brent Walton and Nick Styant-Browne (from Seattle) and in Washington, Paul Luvera and Joel Cunningham and Paul Bubu Stocker, argued and submitted in the Court of Appeals.

Mr Walton said last night that on December 16 last year, the court ruled in their favour, awarding a fresh hearing but could not detail the date of the hearing at the district court.

"The trial court sustained the claims but nevertheless dismissed the action believing that adjudication might interfere with foreign relations. Today, the court of appeals has said the case was wrongly dismissed," Mr Walton said. "We'll be in Port Moresby on January 11. We plan to explain it to our clients, President Tanis, leaders, people, clients, the public and answer questions. We want to be able to answer their questions too so we will also talk to the PM, president Tanis, landowners, clients, Me'ekamui, ministers and others to prove our case."

He said the local law firm in Port Moresby, Narokobi lawyers was assisting them to prepare the arrangements.

Meanwhile the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in California before a full bench ruled: "We remand to the district court for the limited purpose to determine in the first instance whether to impose an exhaustion requirement on plaintiffs. Remand for proceedings consistent with this opinion."


Mining not only option: Tanis

The National (PNG)

12th January 2009

BOUGAINVILLE's future does not depend on mining alone, Autonomous Region of Bougainville president James Tanis said at his swearing-in ceremony in Arawa last week.

Mr Tanis said Bougainville needed a broad-based economy such as agriculture and smallholder development opportunities.

He said mining had always been a divisive issue for Bougainville and was at the very heart of the decade-long crisis.

"I would like to make it clear to the people of Bougainville that I will try to deal with the mining issue carefully," Mr Tanis said.

He said he supported the move by Panguna landowners to close the mine, and encouraged the landowners to reconcile and reunite.

"Your problems are Bougainville's problem and the rest of Bougainville must play a role in ending the conflict," Mr Tanis said.

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