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)
The First Environmental Tribunal in the Chile's northern city of Antofagasta on Dec. 26 ruled in favor of indigenous communities that had brought suit against Sociedad Quimica y Minera (SQM), the world's second-largest miner of lithium. The court found SQM's compliance plan for water preservation submitted to Chile's Environment Superintendency (SMA) was "insufficient," citing the "particular fragility" of the lithium-rich but extremely arid salt-flats where the company hopes to expand operations, the Salar de Atacama. Under the ruling, SQM must submit a new compliance plan, pay multi-million fines to the SMA for being out of compliance, or suspend operations. "We must protect sensitive ecosystems even more when they constitute the ancestral habitat of our native peoples whom the State of Chile is obliged to protect," the court's chief justice, Mauricio Oviedo, said in a statement. The case was brought by the local Council of Atacameño Pueblos, representing the impacted indigenous communities of Peine and Camar. (Jurist, Al Jazeera)
Families of young children from the Democratic Republic of Congo who have been injured or killed while mining cobalt launched a lawsuit against Apple, Google, Tesla, Dell and Microsoft on Dec. 15. Cobalt is used in batteries for the electronic devices that technology companies manufacture and is abundant in the Congo. The complaint, filed with the US District Court for the District of Columbia, details the dangerous conditions in which children are working, and makes comparisons with the conditions during the 16-19th century slave trade. The impoverished children are digging with rudimentary equipment and without adequate safety precautions for USD $2-3 a day.
In a referendum held over two weeks, the people of Bougainville, an archipelago in the South Pacific's Solomon Sea, voted overwhelmingly to seek independence from Papua New Guinea (PNG). The referendum was the centerpiece of the 2001 Bougainville Peace Agreement between the PNG government and Bougainville independence leaders to end a devastating decade-long war that claimed nearly 20,000 lives—nearly a tenth the territory's total population. Negotiations between PNG and Bougainville about the road forward will now begin and could continue for years, with the PNG parliament having the final say. Control of the territory's rich mineral resources has been a key issue in the conflict.
Chilean company Sociedad Quimica y Minera (SQM), under pressure from the government amid falling prices and rising protests, committed Nov. 28 to define by year's end the destination for lithium from its lease area at the Salar de Maricunga. SQM, one of the world's top producers, already has a larger lithium mine in production at another area of salt-flats, the Salar de Atacama—but operations there were suspended for several days late last month, as local campesinos blocked roads to the site as part of the general popular uprising in Chile. Leaders of the Consejo de Pueblos Atacameños, representing 18 indigenous communities, pledged to resist any expansion of lithium operations in the area, citing threats to local water sources. SQM has options to collaborate in development of the Maricunga lease with state mineral company Codelco, but announcement of a deal has been delayed amid depressed global lithium prices. This is partly attributed to a cut in government subsidies for purchasers of electric vehicles in China, a main destination for Chilean lithium. (Mundo Maritimo, Nov. 29; Reuters, Nov. 28; FT, Nov. 21; El Ciudadano, Chile, Oct. 27)