MAC: Mines and Communities

Papua Tribe Files $32bn Lawsuit Against Freeport

Published by MAC on 2010-03-18
Source: Jakarta Globe

Papua Tribe Files $32bn Lawsuit Against Freeport

Jakarta Globe

8 March 2010

Papua's Amungme tribe on Monday lodged a new class-action lawsuit against US mining giant Freeport-McMoRan seeking $32.5 billion in material and non-material damages for the alleged illegal acquisition of its ancestral land.

The action, filed at the South Jakarta District Court, came after an initial lawsuit filed last August collapsed and a second attempt to sue the company received no response in October.

"Previously, our lawsuit covered illegal land acquisition, environmental damage and human rights violations. This time, we have broken down our lawsuit and will first focus on land acquisition," Titus Natkime, a lawyer for the tribe, told the Jakarta Globe. "Next month, we may file new cases of environmental damage and rights violations."

Monday's lawsuit was directed at the company's local unit, PT Freeport Indonesia, the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources and the Papua governor.

The tribe is demanding Freeport pay $2.5 billion in material damages and $30 billion in non-material damages for the 2.6 million hectares of land on which the mine is located in Timika, Mimika district, said another lawyer, Jhonson Panjaitan. The tribe claims the land was illegally acquired.

"The forcible acquisition [of land] beginning in 1969 was made without the approval of the Amungme tribe, which is the traditional owner of the land, and the government never asked for the tribe's permission in allowing the acquisition," Jhonson said at the court.

The lawsuit was lodged at the South Jakarta District Court because Freeport's representative office is located in the court's jurisdiction.

"We also reported this case to the National Human Rights Commission," Jhonson said.

The lawyers represent about 90 Amungme tribe members who live in the lowlands of a mountainous area in Mimika district, where Freeport operates its massive copper and gold mine.

Unlike last year's lawsuit, the latest suit does not name PT Indocopper Investama, previously a Bakrie group company that reportedly owns a 9.36 percent stake in Freeport Indonesia.

Freeport responded to Monday's court filing the same way it has to earlier legal actions against the company.

"Previous lawsuits against Freeport making similar baseless environmental and human rights claims have been dismissed in both Indonesian and United States courts due to the inability of the plaintiffs to present facts to support their allegations," Budiman Moerdijat, Freeport Indonesia's manager of corporate communications, told the Globe in an e-mail.

Budiman said that Freeport had abided by all the existing laws and government regulations on land ownership and had become a pioneer among multinational companies related to the issue.

He added that the company and the Amungme and Kamoro tribes had reached several agreements on land issues and that the company had sponsored various development programs to improve the prosperity of residents living near its mine.

The company has said that it established a land rights trust fund in 2001 for the Amungme and Kamoro tribes, to which it had contributed $27 million through 2008, with a plan to make contributions of $1 million annually.

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