EARTHWORKS

US Court: Communities can sue Rio Tinto for genocide and war crimes

Nick Magel's avatar
By Nick Magel

October 26, 2011

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Bougainville rebels guard the Panguna mine site in 1996.

Yesterday, communities in Papua New Guinea (PNG) received big news from the US Appeals Court. The court released a decision that will allow PNG communities to sue mining giant Rio Tinto for genocide and war crimes becasue of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals' decision to reverse a lower courts dismissal, that was in favor of Rio Tinto.

This development comes only months after the company had publicly expressed intent to reopen the controversial mine.

The accusations stem from a prolonged massacre from 1988 to 1997 where, accouding to Reuters, at least 10,000 Bougainville residents were killed. The killings were sparked in response to the conflicts that ensued after a Rio Tinto copper mine was sabotaged to stop the persistent toxic pollution communities were exposed to. (An interesting article from the region in 1990 by writer Alastair McIntosh can be found HERE)

War crimes and genocide are two huge claims from Bougainville communities, claims that cannot be understated.

Writing for the 9th Circuit, Judge Schroeder said:

The complaint's allegation that Rio Tinto's "worldwide modus operandi" was to treat indigenous non-Caucasians as "expendable" justified restoring the genocide claim to the case. She also said the allegation that Rio Tinto acted for its own private ends in inducing Papua New Guinea's military to murder civilians justified restoring the war crimes claim.

The mere idea that a multi-national corporation could be associated these charges is indicative of the level of corporate and government corruption, human rights abuses, and labor crimes present at the Bougainville operation. Troubling trends, particularly in light of the stated intention to reopen the mine in the near future.

We’ll be following this case closely, as will the entire mining industry, as it heads back to the US District Court in Los Angeles.

Business and Human Rights Resource Center has comprehensive collection of information regarding the decades long battle that can be found HERE.

Tagged with: rio tinto, papua new guinea, lawsuit, international, human rights, genocide, bougainville

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