8 Aug 2006

US court reopens Panguna case against Rio Tinto

2:33 pm on 8 August 2006

A US appeals court has reinstated a human rights claim brought by Bougainvilleans in Papua New Guinea against the international mining company, Rio Tinto.

This follows after US State Department had argued the case could interfere with the peace process on Bougainville.

The ruling remands the case to US District Court in San Francisco, and says Rio Tinto could be held liable for actions by the PNG government if the company's involvement is proven.

The suit was filed in 2000 and seeks to represent Bougainvilleans exposed to toxins resulting from the Panguna copper mine, people who lost property due to environmental contamination, and people injured or killed during the Bougainville conflict between 1989 and 1999.

The suit claims that London-based Rio Tinto conspired with the government of Papua New Guinea to quell civil resistance to an environmentally devastating copper mining operation, actions that led to the deaths of thousands.

The complaint alleges that Rio Tinto provided transport for the troops and played a role in instituting a military blockade of the island that lasted for almost 10 years.