Fri, 29 Dec 2000

Force mining firms to solve disputes through talks: NGO

JAKARTA (JP): The government should issue a ruling that would force mining companies to resolve their conflicts with locals through negotiations and hence minimize risks of human rights abuses, a mining non-governmental organization said.

Chairman of the Mining Advocacy Network (JATAM) Chalid Muhammad said on Saturday that a "mandatory conflict resolution" ruling would reduce the likelihood of human rights abuses against locals by mining companies or the government.

"What we need is for all of us, the mining companies, the government and the locals, to sit down and discuss the problems until a solution is worked out," Chalid told The Jakarta Post over the phone.

Thus far, negotiations to resolve mining conflicts are based on the goodwill of the related parties.

But according to Chalid, the voluntary nature of current negotiations does not prevent mining companies from resorting to oppressive means against locals.

"The 'mandatory conflict resolution', should be issued under a government regulation," Chalid said.

Many foreign mining operations in Indonesia have become embroiled in disputes with locals over various issues such as land compensation, environmental destruction and human rights violations.

The government is currently drafting a mining bill that would replace the current Law No 11/1967 which would, among others things, give greater respect to the local people's aspirations.

However, JATAM said the draft was only a cosmetic improvement over the current mining law, as it still lacked concrete measures on how to resolve mining disputes.

Last week, the U.S. and the British governments initiated an agreement between seven oil and mining companies on a set of voluntary principles aimed at protecting mining operations while minimizing human rights abuses.

Among the signatories were giant mining companies Freeport MacMoran of America and the Australian Rio Tinto, both of which have operations in Indonesia.

But PT Freeport Indonesia's vice president Yuli Ismartono stressed that the company had only made a voluntary statement and that the public should not expect any immediate results from it.

"Careful, it's not an agreement, it's more of a joint declaration," Yuli told the Post in a telephone interview.

She said Freeport expected other mining companies to follow suit in the declaration.

According to her, the joint statement was part of practicing good corporate governance amid the complex security problems with locals.

Concrete policies on how to translate the declaration into practice would follow, Yuli said.

She added that Freeport was already requiring its employees to sign an agreement with the company to honor human rights.

"Employees are required to, among others, report any human rights abuses to the authorities," she explained.

However, Chalid expressed pessimism over the mining companies' recent joint declaration.

He said as long as the declaration was merely a tool to continue their mining operations in light of the insecurities, it would add little to improve current conditions.

Chalid said these mining companies already have a code of conduct to assure a sustainable relationship with the surrounding communities.

"Yet they violate their own code of conduct," he added.

According to him, Rio Tinto has what is called an antiharassment policy. But in practice, he said, sexual harassment allegations still abounded within the community where the company was operating.

Furthermore, he said, mining companies often resort to private security consultants to anticipate or even to crush uprisings against them.

"There are what is called 'international assessment groups', which act as security consultants to companies," he explained.

But these measures, he went on, did not address the source of the conflicts in the first place.

Chalid said the recent joint declaration would be progressive only if it also addressed unresolved human rights abuses inflicted by mining companies.

Honoring human rights, he added, also included protecting the cultural, economical and environmental heritage of the local people. (bkm)