Papua New Guinea's Indigenous Landowners
Stripped of Land Rights
09 June, 2010
Papua New Guinea's Indigenous Landowners Stripped of Land Rights as Chinese Communist Influence Grows
PNG government amends Environment Act with no debate to remove powers from landowners to challenge in court resource development projects on their customary land. Move reflects increased pressure by foreign developers, particularly Chinese government's mining agency, whose efforts to dump uncapped 100 million tons of mine waste on ocean floor in Madang Province has been thwarted by pressure exerted by successful legal efforts and campaigning.
June 8, 2010
Contact: Dr. Glen Barry, Asples Madang, firstname.lastname@example.org
(Madang, PNG) - Indigenous landowners have been stripped of ancestral and constitutionally-protected land rights by the government of Papua New Guinea (PNG). The fact that 97% of land has been under communal, customary land tenure has long been a source of pride, provided an important social safety net, and protected against resource corruption. Similar efforts pushed by the World Bank in the 1990s were met with national protests and over-turned. Ultimate power to irrevocably issue resource development environmental permits will now reside with the Department of Environment secretary, an office who's current and past occupants have long been known for flagrant corruption.
The government, through the Environment Minister, Benny Allan, made changes to sections of the Environment Act 2000 to prevent landowners and concerned Papua New Guineans from "interfering" with industrial resource development projects destroying oceans and rainforests - like the Chinese Ramu Nickel Mine in Madang and Exxon-Mobil Liquid Natural Gas project in the Southern Highlands. Without any warning or consultation, on May 27, 2010, the government of PNG introduced emergency legislation that dissolved the Constitutional rights of all landowners in PNG, including the right of Indigenous People to own land, challenge resource projects in court and receive any compensation for environmental damage. The bill was passed without being seen or debated by parliamentarians.
"Chinese communist techniques are corroding Papua New Guinea's democracy. Environment Act amendments reflect increasing Chinese communist control of the PNG government, and Prime Minister Michael Somare's move towards authoritarian rule. The amended act makes communities powerless third parties as their resources are stolen. The most vulnerable in PNG society are being stripped of customary as well as English common law rights, denying democratic freedom. With no means to protect their land, families and culture; this can only lead to more Bougainville type revolutionary conflict, as landowners are pushed over the cliff, become desperate, and have no legal recourse to remedy legitimate grievances." states Dr. Glen Barry, Asples Madang and Ecological Internet President.
The Act refers to recent court decisions concerning the Chinese-owned Ramu nickel mine in Madang Province. The mine has been met with a great deal of resistance by local indigenous landowners, local NGOs and Ecological Internet because of its submarine tailings disposal plan that would dump more than 100 million tons of tailings waste into Basamuk Bay. A secret report commissioned by the PNG government recently confirmed "mine waste will not lie dormant on the sea floor, as claimed by the Chinese State owned Ramu mine, but will be widely dispersed in the Vitiaz Strait, notably towards Madang and Karkar Island and across Astrolobe Bay." This is one of the world's last great tuna fisheries.
Sadly, with this new law in place, the largest Chinese mine outside of China is now free to dump into Madang's Basamuk Bay with impunity. They don't even have to worry about getting fined. The Act's amendments come after a petition against ocean waste dumping was presented to the Deputy Prime Minister and Environment Minister in Bongu Village, Madang Province on April 10th. In response, the corrupt regime chose to suppress the rights of landowners who are concerned about their lives and the environment. Without legal means to protect their land and seas from foreign resource invaders, there is already talk in Madang of "taking it up to the next level" and pursuing other means of resistance. It is highly unlikely the mine will ever commence as anger grows.