Russian President Vladimir Putin declared a state of emergency June 3 after 20,000 tons of diesel oil leaked into a river within the Arctic Circle. The spill went unreported for two days, which may have caused irreparable damage to the region. The spill was caused by the rupture of a fuel tank at a power plant on the Ambarnaya River near the Siberian city of Norilsk, Krasnoyarsk Krai. The plant is owned by Norilsk-Taymyr Energy Company, a subsidiary of Norilsk Nickel (Nornickel), which is the world's leading nickel and palladium producer. The company had reportedly spent two days trying to contain the spill, before alerting the government. The Russian Investigative Committee (SK) has launched a criminal case over the pollution and alleged negligence. The director of the power plant, Vyacheslav Starostin, has been taken into custody but has not yet been charged.
Indigenous leaders are warning that a combination of neglect, inadequate preparations, and a lack of lockdown measures is exposing remote and vulnerable communities in the Amazon to potentially devastating outbreaks of COVID-19. The nationwide death toll in Brazil has soared above 11,000 amid growing anger at President Jair Bolsonaro's dismissive response. The situation is particularly bad in the Amazon gateway city of Manaus, where the number of fatalities is feared to be many times the official 500 to 600. Peru and Ecuador also have large outbreaks and significant Amazonian indigenous populations.
Peru's right-wing opposition leader Keiko Fujimori, who had been jailed in January while corruption charges are pending against her, was released from pre-trial detention at Lima's Chorrillos prison on May 4, ostensibly on fears she could be exposed to the coronavirus. Fujimori will be under "restricted release," meaning she cannot leave Lima without prior authorization and must check in every 30 days with judicial authorities. Of course there has been no general discharge from Peru's dangerously overcrowded prisons, and one leading anti-corruption prosecutor in the Fujimori case, Rafael Vela, is protesting her release as "illegitimate." (Milenio, Japan Times, Diario Uno)
Agribusiness and resource companies embroiled in land disputes with rural communities in Indonesia appear to be using the lull in oversight during the COVID-19 outbreak to strengthen their claims to contested areas. Since the first confirmed cases of the disease were reported in the country on March 2, two local land defenders have been killed and four arrested in connection with disputes in Sumatra, Java and Borneo.
The office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has condemned the assassination of Mexican environmental activist Adán Vez Lira, who was shot April 8 while riding his motorcycle in the municipality of Actopan, Veracruz. Vez Lira worked with the Veracruz Assembly for Environmental Defense Initiatives (LAVIDA) to oppose mining operations that threaten local water sources. Gold and silver exploitation by the Canadian-based Almaden Minerals and Candelaria Mining are encroaching on the borders of La Mancha Ecological Reserve and contaminating springs and wells in the villages of Actopan and Alto Lucero.
Mining giant Rio Tinto is responsible for multiple human rights violations caused by pollution from its former mine on the Pacific island of Bougainville, the Human Rights Law Centre concludes in a new investigative report. For 45 years, the Panguna copper and gold mine on Bougainville, Papua New Guinea, was majority-owned by the British-Australian mining company, but in 2016 Rio Tinto divested from the mine, leaving behind more than a billion metric tons of mine waste. The report, After the Mine: Living with Rio Tinto’s Deadly Legacy, documents the devastating consequences of that action for the thousands of people living around the mine site. Based on visits to 38 villages, the report reveals communities living with contaminated water sources, land and crops flooded by toxic mud, and health problems ranging from skin diseases and respiratory ailments to pregnancy complications.
Amnesty International on Feb. 3 urged participants in an international mining conference in South Africa to address human rights violations. African Mining Indaba, a conference centered on promoting the industry on the continent, is set to run this week, but several civil organizations, including Amnesty, are holding their own conference for the eleventh time to bring attention to claims of rights violations in the mining industry in Africa. Amnesty director for East and Southern Africa Deprose Muchena said in statement: "From child labour in the Democratic Republic of Congo to squalid living conditions for workers at South Africa's Marikana mine, the mining industry is tainted with human rights abuses. Mining firms have often caused or contributed to human rights abuses in pursuit of profit while governments have been too weak in regulating them effectively."
Following a trial lasting years, a criminal court in Peru's Cuzco region on Jan. 30 finally absolved 10 campesinos from Chumbivilcas province of charges related to a 2011 protest against the ANABI mineral project, which they say threatens the headwaters of the Rio Yahuarmayo (also known as the Molino). The defendants—nine men and one woman—are followers of the Tupac Amaru Agrarian Federation of Cuzco (FARTAC). They had been charged with "disturbance," "deprivation of liberty," "aggravated property damage," and other offenses typically used against protesters in Peru. If convicted, they could have faced up to 30 years in prison. The ANABI gold and copper mine is in neighboring Apurímac region, but the minerals are transported through Chumbivilcas on unimproved roads, raising dust that contaminates local lands and waters. (Diario Uno, Jan. 30; Wayka, Jan. 20)