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Sepik River communities file human rights complaint against Australian business

Rachael Knowles -

On Thursday, Papua New Guinea's Sepik River communities filed a human rights complaint against Australian company, PanAust Limited.

The complaint, signed by 2,638 people from 64 villages along the Sepik River in PNG, alleges that the Brisbane-based business' subsidary Frieda River Limited failed to secure consent for the Frieda River Mine.

The complaint notes that without proper consent, the project would violate Indigenous Peoples rights to provide Free, Prior and Informed consent.

If built, the mine would be the largest mine in PNG, and one of the largest internationally.

The complaint was filed to the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Australian National Contact Point and argues that the mine poses a serious threat to the health of communities living along the river.

It includes the proposal to build a dam, which would sit on one of the most seismically active regions in the globe and could see environmental destruction and chemical contamination of the river, food and water sources and sacred sites if built incorrectly.

It could also see loss of human life.

The complaint was filed on behalf of communities affected by local organisation Project Sepik Inc and Australian NGO Jubilee Australia Research Centre and request a halt to all further developments until consent it provided.

"The communities have been resisting ever since plans were made to build a mine," Emmanuel Peni, Coordinator of Project Sepik Inc, said.

"The Melanesian governance of the land and water through the Supreme Sukundimi Declaration declared a total ban on the mine. United Nations Special Rapporteurs are also asking questions.

"PanAust must listen to and respect the views of the Sepik River communities."

Executive Director of Jubilee Australia Research Centre Dr Luke Fletcher said the complaint has been brought to the Australian Government as the communities "have not had the chance to exercise their right to Free, Prior and Informed Consent".

"Those communities have the right to have their voices heard and to decide what happens on their land," he said.

"The Sepik River communities have clearly voiced their concerns about this mine, but so far, those concerns have fallen on deaf ears."

The complaint has been developed through extensive consultation with 51 Haus Tambarans, otherwise known as 'spirit houses', in April and May of this year.

These spirit houses, which sit along the river, are important centres of spiritual, cultural and administrative governance.

In October, the Project Sepik team travelled to each community along the river to gather signatures supporting the complaint.

"The attendance of the people was exceptional; the support was great," said Florence Tangit, leader of the team that travelled to the Upper Sepik River.

"I was excited to work with the Chiefs of the Haus Tambarans to inform the people and collect their signatures for the complaint letter to OECD National Contact Point."

By Rachael Knowles

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