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Jeffrey Simpson, Akali Tange Association (ATA), a human rights organization in PNG

by David MartinezCorpWatch interviews
August 28th, 2006

more testimonies from PNG, including testimonies from principal land owners, women, and mine workers.

ATA is an organization that has been formed. ATA simply means, an abbreviation, it means Akali Tange Association. It is in our own dialect, Akali Tange  means human rights, or the owner of the people, the owner of the people who have been suffered or who have been dead. yes. ATA means that. ATA was formed to protect the indigenous community who have been suffered by the impact of the mining here in Porgera. we call ourselves, this organization...
It was founded in 2004. it was in 2004 and then ah ...so far three years, three years so far–it’s 2006 now. It is now, it is turning 2.5 years, the organization.

What kind of suffering was there, what are the conditions?
It was an on-going problem here in Porgera. There was a lot of shootings there has been done by the company, security forces of the company. There has been a lot of rapes that has been going on in the mine site, especially to the people, especially the illegal miners who are going there to do illegal mining. There is a lot of rapes done in there. A lot of injuries were also caused at the mine site when the securities chased the illegal miners. There were a lot of deaths as well. So far at least in ATA at least we have 39 people who have been deceased. We have more than 2000 people injured, More than 3-4000 people who are, who have been detained in the jail.

The Porgera jail, or a jail of the mine?
There is a confusion in there. There is a jail in the mine site and there is a lockup in the mine site. There is another lockup in the police station...okay, when the company detain any of those, catch any of those illegal miners they lock them up at the mine site locks ups. Later, they take them to the cell block there in the police station which just belongs to the state.

What kind of authority do they have?
I’m not pretty sure what kind of agreement there has been. What kind of contract or some kind of agreement there has been signed with the police department and the State. I’m not pretty sure but what has happened is that the indigenous people believe that when the mining company itself said the illegal miners are illegally looking for gold, the people themselves  in the community  believe they are illegally doing that job. So when the security sort of gets them and puts them in the lockups and do whatever they want to do, they just comply to what is happening. They don’t treat that they have any right to retaliate or take the matter into justice or something. That is what they do. Our organization is presently the ATA.  We proclaim that when the company says there are illegal mining activity happening in Porgera, the ATA says [there isn’t] illegal mining activity going on in Porgera because ATA believe that every community, every member of the community has the right to live. They have to survive; in order to survive they have to find something for a day. So. especially the mining community, if you look around the mining community you see that the villages are congested. They are all over the place. Mining is done everywhere, is sort of scattered. the villages are also around. If we take a walk around the mine site you will see that the village is located everywhere just around the mine site and the waste is flowing around the villages. You can find that the people sometimes they find it hard to travel to the outer village because of this waste that has been washed down there. It’s sort of dangerous. Some can sink into quicksands and all this. There is the problem that we have in Porgera.

What about the 2000 injuries?
These injuries have been caused by security personnel in the mine site. They sort of chase the illegal miners away from the mine site and some of them fall into deep pits and break their legs, arms, get injured. Most of them are shot directly by ...most of them are shot directly by the security forces. They shoot under the legs and even every part of their body. The unfortunate ones are dead; the fortunate ones can escape.

We saw two places with illegal mining, are there others?
Along the [rivers] people do illegal mining because people, the villages are congested, the villages are just nearby those sediments, those waste tailings.      [People are] going to and from those mined areas because some they look for gold, some they get in there to look for firewoods and the rest of the stuff...

And other sites?
Illegal pannings are done everywhere in the Porgera valley. We have illegal mining done down in the valleys, at the edge of the rivers, downstream. We also have illegal mining in and around the mining area.

What are ATA’s activities to combat this?
To combat this, ATA is doing especially...ATA is doing something that is supposed to be doing by the government and what’s supposed to be done by the other group representing us, known as the the Landowners Association. ATA is acting as an umbrella organization, which is doing covering every, fighting for the rights of every impacts, rights of every damages there has been done to the people. We are fighting for the rights of every people for those damages.  ATA from now, we have been filing several, we have been filing a civil suit against the state and the company which is Placer Dome and now is Barrick corporation. We have been filing a civil suit against them. But in the meantime, the government of PNG said we will not take the matter to court. You will not take the matter to court, we will take this as a national issue. We will send an inquiry team to come to Porgera and look at what has been done and then look for [something] to solve the problem.
That is what the state is. What we, ATA thought. ATA we tried to take the matter into court, we said justice will prevail, justice will say whether the company and the government is right in doing that, leaving the people suffer and getting the benefit out of their own land. Or it is wrong. so that is why...our intention was to take the matter to court itself. but the state said no, we’ll have to sort it out of court. That is the stand where the state is now.  We had to comply to the state.
...

Your chances of succeeding?
Well, I feel that even if the investigation team tries to do whatever it wants, the investigation team will still find out we are right, ATA are right because they actually came here and see what is reality. We have, everything is not hidden; it is obvious. Nothing is obscured. The investigation team, what the investigation team does will be for the betterment of the ATA and the people who are suffering, betterment of the indigenous people who are suffering because they’ve actually  what has been done: the impacts of the mining, the life of the community, their daily living, their standard of living, their welfare, especially their economy.

Jeffery on Alluvial Mining

The company call the people who trespass into the mining area to do gold mining, to find for gold especially at the mine site, around the waste area, they call them illegal miners. But our organization, ATA, the organization that protects those people, we call them alluvial miners. Company calls them illegal miners, but ATA calls them alluvial miners because we feel that we have the right to live in our own land. We have the right to do something to survive. We have the right to earn something. We have the right to live. So we feel that we own our land...because we have been doing gold economy. Gold was our economy in the past, and in the present...we are still in that now. We have no other... gold mining is the only thing that we do.

 

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