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Campaign Update – Papua New Guinea: Supreme Court Permits Ocean Dumping of Mine Waste

In a vote of 2 to 1, Papua New Guinea’s Supreme Court ruled that the Chinese owners of the Ramu nickel mine may dump toxic waste from their mine and refinery directly into the Bismarck Sea at Basamuk. The plaintiffs in the case were Rai Coast landowners Louis Medaing and 1083 others, representing thousands of Indigenous families whose livelihoods depend on the health of the marine ecosystem.

Scientists offered many potential scenarios that worried the coastal families, warning that the Chinese company MCC cannot prove that the dumping practice will not harm the fishery. The two justices who wrote the 5-page majority opinion rejected the plaintiff’s assertion that the dumping will constitute a “nuisance” and therefore is prohibited by law. The justices said that only something that has already occurred can be called a “nuisance,” and thereby dismissed the charge, in spite of the scientific testimony warning of potential “catastrophic” future damages. Questions have been raised about the justices’ possible conflicts of interest. The dissenting judge, the only woman on the panel, wrote in her 33-page opinion, “Should this government of the day take such a high risk and should a responsible Court allow this to happen? Of course not.”  The ruling and the dissenting opinion can be read in PDF here.

The Rai Coast people and the scientists, lawyers, and NGOs that supported their lawsuit, including Cultural Survival, feel that this ruling is a miscarriage of justice.  In an article from The Little Green Palai, one of the plaintiffs, Terry Kunning, says, “This ruling makes a very sad Christmas story for us. We fought to save some of the last remaining pristine waters in Papua New Guinea and this is what they give us.”

Efforts are already underway to put together a professional team to monitor the coastal waters for pollution stemming from the dumping. Another idea is to lobby other national governments in the Coral Triangle region, urging them to ban the practice of ocean dumping, as China itself has done.

Meanwhile, Terry Kunning expressed his Christmas wish: “It is our hope that some leaders will someday see the full quality of life that their environments offer and not be blinded by the dollar signs. It is our hope that our leaders will stand up for their people one day.”