Thousands of Indigenous people living along a tributary of Papua New Guinea’s Frieda River have filed a complaint to halt plans for Australian company PanAust’s proposed Frieda River Mine. If built, the gold and copper mine would be the largest mine in PNG, threatening the Sepik River and the entire Frieda River basin.
The construction phase involves discharging toxic material into the Frieda River as well as building what would be one of the largest dams in the world in a seismically active area.
“The Sepik region is home to nearly a half million people whose livelihoods depend on clean rivers and intact forests,” says Peter Bosip, Executive Director of the Centre for Environmental Law and Community Rights (CELCOR). ELAW Staff Scientist Dr. Mark Chernaik provided CELCOR an analysis of the project proposal, to help local NGOs sound the alarm about the massive potential harm from the short-sighted project.
Emmanuel Peni, coordinator of Project Sepik, says that this is the continuation of a long fight by the Sepik people. In 2020, Project Sepik, CELCOR, and other NGOs sent an urgent appeal to the UN, stating: “The Sepik River and its people will be destroyed if the Project is approved.”
In response to this appeal, 10 UN Special Rapporteurs (UNSRs) issued letters to the governments of PNG, Australia, Canada, and China, and to PanAust to flag concerns about the mine and its related infrastructure. PanAust is headquartered in Australia, but the company is a subsidiary of Guangdong Rising H.K. (Holding) Ltd., which is in turn a subsidiary of Guangdong Rising Assets Management Co. Ltd., a Chinese state-owned corporation.
The Sepik region may be the most culturally and linguistically diverse region in the world, with over 300 languages spoken in an area the size of France. It is also home to threatened bird species and has been under consideration as a UN World Heritage site and Ramsar Wetland of International Importance since 2006.
"The Sepik people do not just see a river but a being which defines a cultural identity and sustains the life of the people," says Emmanuel.
The human rights complaint filed with the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development last month requests that all further development be halted until the impacted communities give free, prior, and informed consent. So far, there has been no move to stop the project based on the concerns voiced by the Sepik people and echoed by the UNSRs.
We will keep you informed of our progress.
For more information, please see:
National Indigenous Times. December 10, 2021
Sepik River communities file human rights complaint against Australian business
Papua New Guinea Today. December 9, 2021
Thousands people Along PNG's Sepik River File Human Rights Complaint Against PanAust
The Guardian. October 7, 2020
Plan for largest mine in Papua New Guinea history 'appears to disregard human rights', UN says
Project Sepik. May 5, 2020
Letter to the UNSR on Toxic Wastes