Minister’s response to UN on Frieda mine ‘undignified and evasive’

Poject Sepik Awareness on the Frieda Copper and Gold Mine, Upper Sepik River Village, 2018

First published on ACT NOW! Blog

By Duncan Gabi/ Project Sepik

Response to the Minister for Environment, Conservation and Climate Change MP, Mr. Wera Mori’s Statement regarding Ten United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteurs Letter to the Government of Papua New Guinea on the Frieda River Copper and Gold Mine in the Sepik Region of Papua New Guinea.

On behalf of the plants and animals of Sepik River, The Sepik River, the people of Sepik River and Environment and Climate Justice advocates of PNG and the world, the Project Sepik, a local NGO in Wewak request that Mr. Mori in his Ministerial role reflect more and respond constructively, seeking solutions and providing answers rather than standing by his statement on Radio Australia on the 30 September, 2020 in response to the United Nations Special Rapporteurs Letter to the Government of PNG on the proposed Frieda River Copper and Gold Mine in the Sepik Region of Papua New Guinea.

Mr. Wera Mori warned the ten Special Rapporteurs, “do not forget that Papua New Guinea is a sovereign state and we cannot be dictated to by opinions of people from other countries. As an independent state, the government has the prerogative to make decisions in the best interest of the country”.

While it is important for the country’s international standing and reputation, that Mr. Mori has responded to the United Nations, it is embarrassing to observe his shallow arguments and the evasive nature of his comments.  Politicians must understand how the larger world works.  The Minister’s response is harmful to PNGs international relationships and the respect we enjoy from international donors and financiers. Minister Mori’s concern about maintaining Papua New Guinea’s integrity and sovereignty as an independent state fails to address the content of the letters; instead he directly told the UN experts to keep their noses out of the Human Rights issues in the country. His counterpart from Australia who received the same letter responded with a detailed response in a professional manner addressing the content of letters.

The response by Mr. Mori can be seen as ignorant of the issues that were raised. Mori must not forget that these letters came from the United Nations of which PNG is a member and the United Nations Human Rights Council to which Papua New Guinea is a signatory, meaning his government has an obligations to uphold human rights. 

Wewak 2018, Middle Sepik Soccer Tournament. Competitors on their way to Korogu from Wewak Town. Photo: Project Sepik

The letter from the UN is not designed to undermine our country’s sovereignty or to dictate to the PNG Government on how it should handle its affairs as the Minister claimed, but to raise the concerns on issues regarding human rights violations in the country that the government needs to look into and address.

PNG as a member of UN has ratified six of the core human rights treaties. These include the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), upon which the ten UN Special Rapporteurs based their observation. These same human rights are also enshrined in Papua New Guinea’s Constitution and in the National Goals and Directive Principles.

Papua New Guinea has also made voluntary pledges and commitments which include the pledge to uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights. PNG has also ratified International Environmental Treaties, including the Ramsar Convention, Convention on Biological Diversity, United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, Paris Agreement and the Vienna Convention.

Mori also stated that, “as an independent state, the government has the prerogative to make decisions in the best interest of the country.”

Project Sepik is however concerned and are questioning in whose best interest exactly will the government make decisions regarding the proposed Frieda mine, the Government and the investors or the people of Sepik, Papua New Guinea and the environment?

This statement is also concerning coming from the Minister for Environment who has largely ignored the 2019 Ramu Nico Basamuk Bay Spillage. The PNG Government has no proven track record of putting the interest of the people first nor does it have the people’s best interest at heart.

The people of Sepik have made their stance known that they are all against the mine, their call was heeded by the United Nations who sent out the ten Special Rapporteurs. They did not send out the letter all on their own , they were supporting the call made by the people of Sepik to ban the proposed Frieda Gold and Copper mine which will destroy the Sepik River and their livelihood.

Special Rapporteurs are independent experts appointed by the UN Human Rights Council with the mandate to monitor, advise and publicly report on human rights situations in specific countries  and on human rights violations worldwide. The functions of Special Rapporteurs include responding to individual complaints, conducting studies, providing advice on technical cooperation and undertaking country visits to assess specific human rights situations.

Ten UN Special Rapporteurs, along with the UN Working Group on Human Rights and Transnational Corporations, wrote to the PNG Government to raise the concerns about the proposed Frieda River mine and the risk of failure of its proposed tailings dam.

The letter raised ‘serious concerns’ about the human rights impacts of the project, including the rights to life, health, bodily integrity, water and food, and the right to free, prior and informed consent. The letter also raised concerns that the people of the Sepik River ‘will be forced to bear the costs of the Project in perpetuity.’

Sumgilbar people in PNG triumph over foreign sand mining company

A sandy beach on the North coast of Madang

First Published in Independent Australia


A mining company’s withdrawal from mining sands in Papua New Guinea is a testament to local activism and solidarity, writes Duncan Gabi.

NIUGINI SANDS LIMITED, a Singaporean mining company withdrew its application for an exploration license (EL) to explore and mine 38 kilometres of unique beautiful black sands on the shoreline of Sumgilbar in the Madang province of Papua New Guinea (PNG). 

On 26 February 2021, the Acting Mining Tenement Registrar at the Mineral Resources Authority (MRA), Patrick Monouluk, accepted the withdrawal letter from Niugini Sands Limited for an EL.

Mr Monouluk stated in his letter to Mr Wenceslaus Magun, an environmentalist leading the campaign:

‘Pursuant to their request I have today officially withdrew the application from our Register of Mine Tenements dated 26th February at 12.10 noon, the matter now remains closed for all purposes.’ 

 Sand mining entered the spotlight in PNG in the middle of 2020 when the company applied to explore and mine sand. The people lacked an understanding of the uses, income, and negative environmental and social impacts of sand mining. 

Luckily, an environmental group in the area called MAKATA carried out educational awareness to the people of Sumglibar on the environment and social impacts of the project. The proposed exploration and sand mining posed an imminent threat to the coastal shoreline, the nesting grounds of endangered turtle species called leatherback and the livelihood of the people.  

 MRA and Niugini Sands did not carry out education and awareness programs with the people on the impacts or benefits of the project. Their consultations were carried out with a few ward councillors and only two per cent of the Sumgilbar population who were to be directly affected.

Therefore, an interim injunction was filed at the Madang National Court by former Chief Justice of PNG, Sir Arnold Amet, who was part of the campaign. The injunction was to order MRA to listen to the peoples’ request and conduct more hearings. MRA had earlier rejected the request by the people and had proceeded to submit their reports to the mining advisory council. MRA claimed that they have met all necessary requirements.

This was a violation of human rights of the communities who were denied their right to information and fair hearing under Sections 57, 51 and 59 of PNG’s Constitution

 At the time of the withdrawal of their application for the EL, the company director, Marcus Ong, said: 

“Bad publicity was pivotal in their decision.”

He added that information showed the Madang sands were of poor quality, according to Radio New Zealand. Mr Magun responded that the people will not accept the company’s justification for exiting.

Mr Magun added that the company did not consider the views of the people and the negative impacts of the project. Foreign corporations push this narrative when Indigenous peoples reject their activities. 

The unsubstantiated claim of poor sand quality was considered misleading because the company was yet to have carried out exploration to determine the quality. It was interesting in that prior to the resistance, the company was adamant to explore and mine.

 Niugini Sands stated on its Facebook page that:

‘It is easy for one to put down and criticise a project simply because it brings about a change which is undesirable in their personal view. We should not always look to oppose the change but rather embrace it.’  

The people used scientific facts and their lived experiences to hold to account their own Government and the company. Not all changes should be embraced, not the kind of change proposed by Niugini Sands.  

 Niugini Sands also stated:

While we recognise that nature, which is something God gave to his people, is to be conserved, it may not be fair for the people of Sumgilbar to be deprived of a better life just because of some comments made by environmentalists, activists or NGOs who do not even reside in that area. Such actions are deemed to be very selfish towards their own fellow countrymen.

Papua New Guineans must not believe that what foreigners think is necessarily the best for them. While the company recognised that God gave nature to be conserved, conservation is not at the top of the company’s priorities. 

Companies also should not define what Indigenous people see, feel and value. On many occasions, Papua New Guineans have seen and heard of these lies by such foreign interests. 

The exit by Niugini Sands from PNG is a remarkable and heartfelt win. This should encourage other groups to join the fight against many such destructive and exploitative, so-called economic development activities in PNG. Mr Magun has been very vocal on this issue since the “get go”.

He stood firm to allow the people of Madang, Sir Amet and others to stand alongside him to ensure the fight was taken to the national level. This shows that such a collective concern and sustained activism against foreign corporations who were there to plunder their homes cannot be underestimated.

The battle is far from over. In an interview with Radio New Zealand, Mr Magun said there was an insatiable demand for sand around the world. It is a concern that PNG has no relevant laws to govern the sustainable development of sand. Wenceslaus continued that the Government must develop and have stricter monitoring and enforcement in place should it welcome this industry.

Papua New Guineans must harness the strength of their culture and their Melanesian roots which acknowledges all life forms that dwell with them in their time and spaces. Papua New Guineans are best at sustainable development and conservation. 

The victory of the people of Sumgilbar will inspire those in Sepik, Morobe and across PNG to carry on their challenges to protect their rivers, seas, mountains, rainforests and cultures. The lessons are great, the stories of bravery and solidarity only cements more battles across PNG.

Duncan Gabi is an environmental activist and campaigner for “Save the Sepik” campaign in PNG.


LET’S TURN UPNG INTO A REAL UNIVERSITY

By Dr. Joseph Ketan

The University of Papua New Guinea is easily the leading tertiary institution in this country in terms of the considerable number of graduates it has produced in the last 50 years. UPNG graduates have consistently dominated the public service, the biggest employer in the country, for many years. Some great Pacific Islanders, like the prominent lawyer and former Pacific Fisheries boss Transform Aqorau, have also benefited from education at UPNG. Professor Ted Wolfers, Professor John Lynch, and Dr Bruce Yeates are among the expatriates who have obtained their PhDs from UPNG.

Significantly, the integrity of the academic programs at UPNG is on par with similar programs offered by other universities around the world, which means that a good Honours degree in the sciences or the social sciences would get you into a postgraduate program at a recognized university in the UK, US, Australia or NZ. A UPNG degree can also get you a teaching job in any university or employment in any organization in the world.

All universities compete for excellence in order to attract students and dollars. Reputation is what counts. The reputation of a university depends, principally, on quality output in research, publication, and teaching. The first two depend on the recruitment and retention of good academics. The third is dependent on both the quality of lecturers and the aptitude of students.

Most lecturers at UPNG conduct fieldwork at least once a year to update their own knowledge in order to teach effectively. Nearly half of them make an attempt to publish papers. Only a handful has published books. The situation at PAU, UOG and DWU is not good. Apart from producing teaching modules, lecturers at these minor universities do not publish and, therefore, cannot be taken seriously as academics, even though many of them have promoted themselves to professorial levels.

Generally, lecturers at all universities do a good job in teaching. They do well in the preparation and delivery of programs, assessment of students. A distinct lack of a reading culture in high schools and universities, however, prevents students (and teachers) from realizing their full potential.

In the 1970s and 1980s, with only four national high schools, the two national universities (UPNG and UNITECH) received the cream of the national education system. Students who came through the national high school system benefited significantly from a superior public education system, based on core subjects with a clear emphasis on literacy and numeracy skills. Most of the teachers in those days were expatriates from English speaking countries (the UK, Australia, NZ, and Canada).

The top-up system and the now discredited OBE system have produced a mixture of good and bad students. The cream of the education system might still be rising, but it is now coming through with impurities. Clearly, there are many second-rate students entering universities with fantastic grades that do not match their academic capabilities. An aptitude test might be needed to weed out the riff raffs. Our dysfunctional education system has been churning out thousands of mediocre students with woeful language skills annually. Plagiarism is now a widespread problem. In essays, smart phones and the internet are being used by students to copy the work of other people, often word for word, paragraph by paragraph, without acknowledging the source. Library research, reading, and writing skills seem to have been replaced by the copy-and-paste method of passing courses at universities these days. Among the good students are the lazy, deceitful, and corrupt ones getting out of universities and into the workforce – with their devious habits!

Crime and violence on campuses is a worrying sign. Sexual harassment of female students, theft of property, and other criminal behavior at universities indicate that we now have criminals masquerading as students. After graduating from university, some of these criminals will enter the workforce – with their felonious habits!

Despite the apparent problems at our national universities and colleges, UPNG has the greatest potential to become a genuinely premier university in the Asia Pacific Region. In the words of long-term UPNG lecturer, Dr Linus Digim’Rina, UPNG is the place to launch a rocket. I think I know what my friend from Kiriwina meant. UPNG has the core academic prerequisites for excellence. It has a tradition of academic distinction. With a bit of strategic planning, visionary leadership and good governance, we can turn this place into a great university.

The conditions are right. Key people in government, the public service, and in financial organizations are graduates of the University of Papua New Guinea. Government officers at the Department of National Planning and bankers dealing with project proposals were trained at UPNG. The UPNG Council is headed by Mr Robert Igara, a distinguished public servant, and a decent man who is widely respected for his exceptional intellectual capacity. The Vice Chancellor, Professor Frank Griffin, is a man of high integrity, with a reputation for academic excellence. They form a formidable team. Together, Mr Igara and Professor Griffin can turn UPNG around. They need all the support they can get from within UPNG as well as from outside. There are some outstanding academics and competent admin staff at UPNG. All decent men and women at UPNG must now work with the UPNG Council and Administration to convert this sadly struggling institution into a real world class university. Let’s convert potential into reality!

Prime Minister James Marape obtained a MBA from UPNG. This institution is his as much as it is ours. I think this prime minister will not ignore the plight of the university. He will come to the rescue of UPNG if Mr Igara and Professor Griffin were to put a proposal to his government. Such a proposal should contain a plan for the future of this university. The proposal should contain (a) short-term, (b) medium-term and (c) long-term plans, with itemized costing, for infrastructure development, staff recruitment and training, and academic program strengthening.

Issues that require immediate attention include: security (both emotional and physical) for staff and students, as well as for visitors; living conditions of staff and students; the quality of food for students; and better employment conditions for staff (better pay rates under a single salary structure for national and expatriate staff).

In the medium and long term, the objective of the UPNG Council and Administration ought to be on viability and strengthening of academic programs. Some thought should be given to the idea of converting the UPNG land adjacent to Morata into real estate to make money. UPNG could build apartments and office complex, supermarkets, bookshops, conference centres, recreation centres, motels, guest houses, restaurants, beer gardens, pubs, gymnasiums, and other social and recreational facilities for students, staff and for the public.

The quality of the academic programs can be strengthened by a careful recruitment program. The best candidates to recruit are, first, world recognized academics to provide leadership and to lift the game and, second, academics who have just completed their PhD programs. Both categories of academics tend to read widely and are well-versed with the key debates in the literature in their respective disciplines. This recruitment drive ought to be accompanied by a retrenchment program aimed at getting rid of the old and broken furniture at UPNG. There are lecturers and professors at UPNG who have yet to publish books in their fields. They should be sent packing forthwith.

Jointly run programs and partnerships between local and international universities is the way to go in future. UPNG has a good partnership with the Australian National University in research and teaching. This partnership has yielded good results in the past and must therefore be continued across disciplinary fields.

The current behvaioural problems at UPNG are the cumulative result of societal decay, failing national educational system, poor governance and corruption of state institutions at all levels. We have allowed our universities to become corrupted by thugs and their children with money, so we need to work hard to get rid of corrupt thugs in our institutions. We have neglected our education system, which is collapsing, along with the national health system. We have reached crisis point in both health and education.

We still have many good students at UPNG. It is the few who are giving our premier university a bad name.

Let’s work with Mr Igara and his team to restore order to that university. It is the only genuinely reputable one we have in the country. The others (PAU, DWU and UOG) are still growing. All suffer from teething problems, but we need to have confidence in the future of our universities.

Tug boats and Pontoons: Destruction on the Sepik River.

Many people living along the Sepik river have raised concerns about the serious destructions to Sepik river. The river and the people are being affected by the movement of tug boats and pontoons on the river but yet their calls fall on deaf ears. 

The logging operations are in West Sepik. However, the companies use the Sepik river to transport their logs. Us8ng the Sepik river is the fastest and most efficient way to ferry logs. Tug boats and pontoons belonging to logging companies frequently use the river to ferry logs from the headwaters of Sepik river down to the sea.  But little do they know and understand that their actions are affecting the people and their livelihood.

The continuous movement of the boats, according to locals has caused problems on the river.The build-up in sedimentation, river bank erosion, river pollution from oil spills and disturbance of the fishing grounds were some of the serious concerns raised.

An elder from Avatip village, Middle Sepik said, ‘the logging is in West Sepik, why are the logs being brought down our river? we’re being affected by these boats. We do not want them on our river’. The same sentiment was echoed in the 24 villages in Upper and Middle Sepik river we visited. There is resentment towards the logging companies who are using the river and destroying it.

I interviewed a couple of people who shared their concerns on the use of the river by logging companies and how it was affecting them. From those interviews, I put together a video to help put their voices out there for the government to see. The video interviews were captured with my mobile phone during Project Sepik’s re-education patrol to Middle and Upper Sepik River in December 2020.

View the video below!

Universal Periodic Review- Papua New Guinea 2021

Civil Societies in PNG Submit Joint Report to the United Nations.

The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) commenced in 2006. It involves a review of the human rights records of all 193 UN Member States, every five years. The UPR is a State-driven process, under the auspices of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UN HRC). It provides the opportunity for each State under review to announce the actions they have taken to improve its human rights record and for the fellow States to make recommendations to the country under review to foster the implementation of its human rights obligations on its territory (UPR- OHCHR).

Following PNG’s second UPR in May 2016, 161 recommendations have been addressed to Papua New Guinea (PNG), which accepted only 101 recommendations. To implement them, the country established a multi-sectoral agency working committee with the mandate to oversee and coordinate sectoral implementation. However, there has been slow progress in the implementation of these recommendations .

PNG will once again be reviewed for the third time under the UPR mechanism in October/November 2021 at its 39th Session by member states for its commitment in improving human rights.

The International Catholic Centre of Geneva (CCIG), together with its partners Edmund Rice International (ERI), the Marist International Solidarity Foundation (FMSI) and the Dominicans for Justice and Peace, organized a three-day workshop, ahead of the UN UPR of PNG. The capacity building workshop took place on the 15th to 17th February 2021, at Emmaus Conference Center inside Don Bosco Technical College in Port Moresby.

The workshop was aimed at enhancing the participation of representatives of the local civil society in the UPR of PNG, by training them on the functioning of the UPR and the advocacy opportunities around this process. CCIG with its partners formed a Steering Committee based in PNG to lead the UPR Process. A total of 25 participants from various national associations involved in the defense of human rights across the country were invited to participate in the third cycle of UPR.

The participants were organized into groups to discuss on some key issues in PNG. They formed working groups on four thematic areas: 1) women’s rights, 2) children’s rights, 3) rights of people with disabilities and 4) environmental issues.

The working group on women’s rights discussed the issue of ‘Equal participation in Parliament, politics and decision making, Gender-based violence (GBV) and Sorcery accusation-related violence (SARV)’. The working group on children’s rights discussed the ‘Right to education, Right to health, Juvenile justice and Violence against children’. The working group on rights of people with disabilities discussed ‘Children with disabilities, Violence against persons with disabilities and Participation in public affairs’. The working group on environmental issues discussed ‘Mining and Logging’.

The civil societies contributed to the review by monitoring the implementation of the government’s international commitments. They then drafted several recommendations and submitted a consolidated human rights report to the UN.

The next step in the UPR process will be advocacy and lobbying to local and international authorities.


The UPR Joint Report on PNG can be downloaded below in PDF format and shared broadly among NGOs and Government Departments.

References:

Universal Periodic Review, OHCHR. https://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/UPR/Pages/PGIndex.aspx

International Catholic Centre of Geneva, CCIG. https://www.ccig-iccg.org/

Resilient Communities: Kembiam, Sepik River

The Sepik river has hundreds of lakes (Raun wara) at least
300-500 meters from the main river. These lakes are connected to the river by smalls waterways (Baret), which allows people to access the lakes from the main river.And where there is no waterway, the people dig their own to allow canoes to travel inland.


The picture shows a baret dug by the people Kembiam village in Kambu LLG who dwell some 3-4 miles (1 hour walk) inland of the Sepik river. The canal or waterway was made so that the people from Korogu village, on the banks of Sepik river can travel inland with their canoes to sell and trade.
This shows how resilient the people are; in the absence of government services, they make their own way to receive services from their river family.
The passage is about 2 meters wide and 2-3 meters deep, enough for a dug out canoe with a 40 horse power motor engine to pass through.

Further upstream is the central trading location. Korogu being on the Sepik river has no land for gardening, no buai and coconuts. It can only bring fish from the river. The Yamuk people inland have good land for buai, sago, etc.
So for generations, there has been trade relations between the two tribes (Barter system), the ones on the river and the ones inland.
The aim of the trade system is to foster and maintain the relationship that has existed for generations, and also to supply each others needs/wants.
The Yamuk people are mother to the Korogu as they supply saksak, buai and garden food.
The Korogu people are son to the Yamuk as they provide fish for the people inland.

At the market, they start off the market by buying and selling using modern money, and everything there is below 50 toea
Once the buying and selling is done, they start trading.
I have learned about barter trading in school but this was the first time I witnessed it, in Sepik river.