Rio Tinto: Human Rights Violations Panguna Copper Mine, PNG

Rio Tinto owns a 53.58% share in Bougainville Copper Limited which produced copper concentrate from its Panguna, Bougainville mine from 1972 until May of 1989 when the mine’s operations were suspended by a militant uprising.[1]

While in operation, the mine allegedly dumped billions of tons of toxic mine waste into surrounding land and waters, contaminating water sources and poisoning residents. Residents reported birth defects, illnesses, and slave-like working conditions. Controversy over the mine’s continued damage ultimately sparked an uprising which, although leading to the mine’s closure in 1988, also led to a ten-year secessionist war in Papua New Guinea that claimed 15,000 civilians. The PNG government attempted to seize the mine by lodging several military attacks between 1989 and 1990 on the Bougainville people. In 1990 Rio Tinto allegedly colluded with the PNG government to execute a blockade preventing medicine, clothing and other essential items from reaching the people of Bougainville. The blockade allegedly caused over 10,000 deaths between 1990 and 1997. In September 2000, a U.S. lawfirm filed suit against Rio Tinto for violating international laws and being complicit to war crimes, genocide, human rights abuses, cultural devastation, and environmental destruction.[2]

In October 2011, a U.S. federal appeals court revived the lawsuit faulting Rio Tinto for multiple human rights violations and thousands of deaths linked to the Panguna copper mine.[3]

In June 2013, the courts dismissed the case against Rio Tinto following a ruling in the April 2013 Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Shell case, which limited the reach of U.S. law in overseas human rights cases. [4]

[1] Bougainville Copper Limited (2012): “About the Company” (accessed 3 February 2014).

[2] Hagens Berman (2014): “Rio Tinto” (accessed 3 February 2014).

[3] ABC News (2011): “Rio Tinto accused over Bougainville ‘genocide’”, 26 October (accessed 09.09.2013).

[4] Business Humanrights (2013): “Case profile: Rio Tinto lawsuit (re Papua New Guinea)” (accessed 12.02.2014).