Rio Tinto: US Court Reinstates Lawsuit Alleging It Committed Genocide and War Crimes in Papua New Guinea
Papuans protest against Freeport and Rio Tinto’s Grasberg mine outside of Freeport’s office in Jakarta.
By Robb M. Stewart
Published October 25, 2011
| Dow Jones Newswires
MELBOURNE -(Dow Jones)- Rio Tinto PLC (RIO) plans to defend itself against claims of genocide and war crimes revived this week by a U.S. federal appeals court related to violent clashes between the government of Papua New Guinea and residents of Bougainville island in the late 1980s.
The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a lower court dismissal of the two claims, and affirmed the dismal of claims of racial discrimination and crimes against humanity. The case has been remanded to the district court for further proceedings, the court said in a decision filed Tuesday in San Francisco.
“We intend to vigorously defend ourselves against these improper claims,” Karen Halbert, a Melbourne-based spokeswoman for Rio Tinto, said Wednesday, adding the company declined to comment further at this time.
The court ruled claims by current and former residents of Bougainville of genocide and war crimes fell within the limited federal jurisdiction of the Alien Tort Statute, which allows non-citizens to sue in the U.S. for violations of international law.
Rio was forced to close its Panguna copper mine on Bougainville in 1989 and evacuated the last of its personnel from the operation early the next year after an uprising against the mine amid accusations of environmental damage. Many people were killed in violent clashes with the Papua New Guinea military.
Landowners in a 2000 suit alleged Rio encouraged the government to end the uprising with military force and claim the company provided helicopters and vehicles.