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Papua New Guinea Government Passes Law to Protect Industries from Indigenous Law Suits

The Papua New Guinea legislature on May 28 amended sections of the country's Environment and Conservation Act to shield corporations from any responsibility for environmental damage caused by their operations, whether intentional or accidental. The law effectively strips Indigenous land owners of any rights to protect their land and makes it illegal for anyone to sue a corporation for the consquences of their actions. The action was prompted by a Chinese nickel mine being built in the highlands above Madang. Over its 20-year lifespan, the Ramu mine would dump more than 100 million tons of toxic waste into one of the richest marine environments on earth, and Indigenous Peoples who depend on the sea for their livelihood had recently won an injunction against the construction. That success apparently provided the impetus for legislators to amend the law. Under the new regulations, corporations cannot be held legally accountable for any damage, no matter how severe or intentional, and are only required to pay compensation before beginning their operation based on their own assessment of potential damage. If a corporation decides their project will cause no damage, they pay nothing up front and cannot be sued after the fact. Indigenous representatives in Papua New Guinea are outraged by the legislation. “Not only have they breached many sections of the constitution, they have managed to breach the international convention on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples in Independent Countries, ratified by parliament in 2000,” said Tiffany Nonnggor, a lawyer and human rights advocate, according to  IRINN. “This is the worst piece of legislation as far as human rights go that I have ever seen in a supposed Western democracy.”