Last Updated: Wednesday, 17 January 2018, 20:36 GMT

State of the World's Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2012 - Papua New Guinea

Publisher Minority Rights Group International
Publication Date 28 June 2012
Cite as Minority Rights Group International, State of the World's Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2012 - Papua New Guinea, 28 June 2012, available at: [accessed 17 January 2018]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

With more than 800 indigenous tribes and languages, Papua New Guinea has the most diverse indigenous population in the world. Papua New Guinea is also one of the poorest countries not only in Oceania, but in the world. The country faces some serious obstacles to development, with some of the worst health and education outcomes in the region, driven by high levels of poverty and a largely rural population, often living in remote locations.

Geologically, Papua New Guinea contains many natural resources, including copper, gold, oil and natural gas. The government hopes that greater exploitation of the mineral wealth of the country will provide an opportunity to increase wealth and result in significant social and economic change. For example, the PNG LNG (Papua New Guinea Liquefied Natural Gas) Project operated by ExxonMobil subsidiary Esso Highlands, is the country's largest gas development project and is predicted to double Papua New Guinea's gross domestic product.

Yet the case of the PNG LNG Project highlights the tensions generated by many such development projects in Papua New Guinea. For example, the land upon which the project will take place is registered as state land and has been leased by the government of Papua New Guinea to Esso Highlands. However, local communities have filed a legal claim, citing their customary land rights. Moreover, in 2011, after a local boy died due to toxic poisoning from a project site, landowners forced the temporary closure of the Hides gas conditioning plant. A landslide in early 2012 destroyed communities living below a quarry used by the PNG LNG Project and was believed to have killed at least 25 people; the Red Cross feared that the final figure could be closer to 60 fatalities. Locals are demanding a full investigation into the connection between the quarry and the landslide, as a preliminary report failed to even make mention of the mine. There are fears that the increasing tensions between indigenous local communities and the company could lead to civil unrest in the region.

Other large-scale mining projects in Papua New Guinea are also being contested by local communities. Communities at Krumbukari in Madang Province are opposed to the development of the Ramu nickel mine. Arguably one of the richest nickel deposits in the southern hemisphere, the project, which is being run by a company jointly owned by the Chinese state company China Metallurgical Group Corporation (MCC) and the Australian-based Highlands Pacific, will result in the dumping of over 100 million tonnes of slurry waste at sea – a practice banned in both China and Australia. In 2010, indigenous community leaders challenged the validity of the mine's environmental permit, which was issued by the government against the advice of its own experts. In December 2011, however, the Supreme Court dismissed the appeal, ruling that the company can proceed with its activities.

The Barrick Porgera mine continues to be the subject of ongoing tension, particularly regarding the severe environmental impact and human rights abuses associated with mining. Human Rights Watch (HRW) published a report in 2011 detailing serious violations, including gang rape, committed by security guards against members of the local community. The company, Barrick Gold, conducted an internal investigation, but HRW pointed out that it should have acted before being prompted to do so. In 2011 a 'Request for Review' of the project was filed by two community groups and Mining Watch Canada against Barrick Gold under the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Guidelines on Multinational Enterprises, alleging breaches of the guidelines regarding sustainable development, human rights and the environment. The Canadian OECD National Contact Point has jurisdiction over the matter as Barrick Gold is a Toronto-based gold mining company and owns 95 per cent of the Porgera mine through subsidiaries.

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