(Ottawa) Today some of the 18 protestors who are alleged to have participated in a blockade that shut down Inco’s Goro nickel mine in New Caledonia from March 29 to April 18 face arraignment in the capital Noumea. Two indigenous Kanak leaders, Raphaël Mapou and André Vama, remain in hiding.
The question political authorities of this Pacific island territory of France must ask themselves is how legal and penal measures, primarily against indigenous Kanaks, will serve to resolve the long standing and fundamental environmental and indigenous rights issues associated with the Goro project.
While INCO continues to maintain that the unrest over its project involves only localized indigenous communities, demonstrations in Noumea, solidarity blockades throughout the country and positions expressed by the Customary Senate of the land provide evidence that in fact Kanaks from all three provinces of New Caledonia support the fundamental indigenous rights issues at the root of the conflict. Additionally, environmental and human rights groups made up of many non-Kanaks have rallied in support of the Kanak opposition to the mine, as has at least one union, USTKE.
MiningWatch Canada’s Catherine Coumans has just returned from New Caledonia where she spoke at length to Raphaël Mapou. “This struggle is about our right as Kanak peoples to protect the environment we rely on like Yaté Lake and the sea and to protect our traditional land,” said Mapou. “It is also about our indigenous rights to be consulted about such a major development project on our land and to determine if and how it may proceed. That is why there was the United Nations flag at the blockades.”
“Having visited the Goro site shortly after the blockades were cleared by French military police and spoken to members of the affected communities, as well as to Raphaël Mapou, it is very clear to me that Inco will not be able to mine this site successfully unless and until it can resolve the long standing issues that have been raised repeatedly by Kanak organizations such as Rhéébù Nùù and the Sénat Coutumier, both in New Caledonia and in visits to Canada,” said Coumans.
Rhéébù Nùù has called over many years for a halt to the ongoing construction of the Goro mine in order to engage with Inco in structured negotiations about all aspects of the proposed project: environmental, social, and economic. Rhéébù Nùù has frequently pointed to the formal negotiation process that Inco engaged in with the indigenous Innu of Labrador in Canada, which led to a legally binding agreement before the start of construction at its Voisey’s Bay project. They hold this process up as a model for Goro.
Environmental Review of Goro’s EIA May Lead to Withdrawal of 2004 Mining Authorization
Two major recent spills of silt from the Goro mine have threatened a marine area, the Merlet Marine Reserve, that is not only a critical fishing ground for nearby Kanak communities, but is also designated to be proposed as a World Heritage Site in 2007.
“On April 24th I met with the management of the Goro Nickel project, together with Techa Beaumont of Australia’s Mineral Policy Institute,” said Coumans. “At that time CEO Ron Renton admitted to a major landslide a few weeks earlier that deposited a significant amount of silt into the sea. He made a strong statement saying that the problem had been fixed and it would not happen again. But the very next day another major slippage occurred at the Goro mine site releasing silt into the Kie River that flows into the Merlet Marine Reserve.”
These events, coming before the mine is even completed and in production, support environmentalist and Kanak contentions that the mine is being rushed into production and that environmental concerns at a high-rainfall, mountainous site perched above the sea are not being taken seriously.
Further evidence of long-standing and widespread concern over the environmental management of the site is the fact that Inco’s 2002 EIA is currently undergoing yet another independent review. (See miningwatch.ca for background information on past Goro EIA reviews.) The latest review is being undertaken by French scientists from CEREGES. While some of the environmental concerns of Rhéébù Nùù are being considered in this review, such as a proposed pipeline to dump mine effluent into the sea, others, such as the impact of water extraction from Yaté Lake, are not included.
Most recent reports out of Noumea indicate that the Southern Province authorities may withdraw Goro Nickel’s 2004 mine authorizations based on the interim report tabled by CEREGES in Noumea last week. Goro Nickel may be required to prepare a new EIA.
“It is clear to me that these serious social and environmental issues cannot be resolved while the primary Kanak leaders that government authorities and Goro Nickel need to be talking to are being pursued legally,” says Coumans. “It is time to exchange the court room for the negotiation table.”
For more information contact:
- Catherine Coumans, MiningWatch Canada: 613-569-3439 or 613-256-8331, catherine(at)miningwatch.ca
- Jacques Boengkih, Kanaky Development Agency: 687 919 119