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Faith-based group urges mining firm to address rights abuses

Paramilitaries employed by Xstrata for security are killing indigenous people, it says

Faith-based group urges mining firm to address rights abuses

One of the entrances to Xstrata's mine in Mindanao (Photo by Mark Navales)

Joe Torres, Manila

May 31, 2013

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Ecumenical and human rights groups in the United States have called on London-listed mining company Xstrata, the fourth-largest copper producer in the world, to look into documented human rights violations and abuses at one of its mines in the Philippines.

The Ecumenical Advocacy Network on the Philippines, a US-based alliance of social justice and human rights organizations and networks, urged Xstrata to end the use of paramilitaries as security men, end rights violations, and "uphold the highest environmental standards and respect for human rights."

The network made the call in a letter delivered on Wednesday to the mining company’s executives in Switzerland and the United Kingdom.

Xstrata operates the Sagittarius Mines' Tampakan Copper-Gold Project in General Santos City in Mindanao, one of the largest mining operations in Southeast Asia that spans 9,500 hectares in four provinces.

The area is also home to five tribal communities.

The project has met resistance from the indigenous tribes who claim they have been harassed, threatened, and even murdered for their opposition to the mine.

Xstrata received "conditional approval" to operate the mine only in February despite a local law prohibiting open pit mining and the objections of the tribal communities.

Timothy J. McGloin, who heads the ecumenical network, said the negative consequences of large mining operations in the country have been well documented.

In September 2012, Human Rights Watch issued a statement to the UN Human Rights Council Universal Periodic Review of the Philippines regarding rights violations allegedly being inflicted on indigenous people, who say they are being targeted by paramilitary units under the control of the military.  

McGloin said the concerns expressed by Human Rights Watch apply to the Tampakan Copper-Gold Project.

A congressional inquiry in February discovered the existence of a Memorandum of Agreement signed by the military, SMI Xstrata and officials from the towns of Kiblawan, Tampakan and Columbio to protect mine using paramilitary forces.

Cristina Palabay, secretary-general of rights group Karapatan, said recent military operations in the area against those opposed to the Xstrata mine "violated the tribal communities' right to their ancestral lands."

The US Department of State’s Human Rights Report for 2012 noted that "there has been a noticeable" increase in attacks directed at tribal communities.

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