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Indonesian gold mining plan 'risks fueling rights abuses'

Amnesty report accuses govt of riding roughshod over indigenous people in bid to open huge mine in Papua

Indonesian gold mining plan 'risks fueling rights abuses'

Papuans who fled their villages due to fighting near the Grasberg gold and copper mine gather at a makeshift shelter in Timika on March 9, 2020. An Indonesian soldier was killed in a shootout with rebels, prompting more than 1,000 civilians to flee. (Photo: AFP)

Published: March 22, 2022 08:22 AM GMT

Updated: March 22, 2022 09:29 AM GMT

Planned gold mining operations on a vast concession in Indonesia’s Papua province have the potential to fuel human rights abuses, according to a report by Amnesty International.

The 51-page report, “Gold Rush: Indonesia’s Mining Plans Risk Fueling Abuses in Papua,” released on March 21, said the government plans to develop mining activities in the Wabu Block area of Intan Jaya district. It would cover over 69,000 hectares of concession land — an area roughly the size of the country’s capital Jakarta.

The area, inhabited by indigenous people mostly belonging to the Moni tribe, is estimated to hold 8.1 million ounces of gold, which would make the area one of the five largest gold mines in the country, according to the Amnesty report.

The rights group, however, said the mine is also in an area where a decades-long armed conflict has raged between separatist rebels and security forces which has become more intense since 2019 after the Free Papua Movement killed three motorcycle taxi drivers accused of being spies.

The report said the government has significantly increased the presence of security forces in the district ever since, and there are now 17 security posts in the district capital of Sugapa. 

According to the report, this has led to unlawful killings, raids and beatings carried out by security forces.

“The increased number of security posts, which previously was only two, make indigenous people live in fear. As a result, many have left their homeland”

“Intan Jaya district has become a hotspot of conflict and repression in Papua province over the last three years. Violence and human rights violations continue to occur,” Usman Hamid, executive director of Amnesty International-Indonesia, said during the launch of the report livestreamed on the rights group’s YouTube channel.

“The increased number of security posts, which previously was only two, make indigenous people live in fear. As a result, many have left their homeland.”

He asserted that the government has the obligation to inform indigenous people about the gold mining plan, hold consultations with them and obtain their free consent. “But the government cannot do this if they are leaving and living in fear,” he said.

Amnesty called on President Joko Widodo, Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Minister Mahfud MD and other stakeholders to suspend the licensing process for the Wabu Block area.

“Carry out a consultation on the consultation with indigenous people’s representatives to ascertain whether a full and effective consultation on the mining proposal is feasible and desirable, and if so, how such consultation would be carried out,” the rights group said, adding that procedures must follow international human rights standards.

Yones Douw, a Papuan human rights activist, called the gold mining plan “a gateway to human rights violations.”

“Indigenous people do not know about this. They were not informed about it when a survey was conducted. It is like stealing from the landowners,” he said.

He claimed that at least 11 indigenous people from the district had been killed by security forces in the last two years. “If that is the situation, so what is actually going on there?” he asked.

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