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Statement on Strike at McMoran’s Freeport Mining Operation

Press Release – West Papua Media Alerts

October 21, 2011 – The West Papua Advocacy Team and East Timor and Indonesia Action Network (ETAN) are deeply concerned by the escalating violence in the area of U.S.-based Freeport McMoran’s massive gold and copper mining operation located in the Timika-Tembagapura …October 21, 2011 – The West Papua Advocacy Team and East Timor and Indonesia Action Network (ETAN) are deeply concerned by the escalating violence in the area of U.S.-based Freeport McMoran’s massive gold and copper mining operation located in the Timika-Tembagapura area of West Papua. Workers have been on strike since September 15 seeking higher wages on par with those that Freeport pays workers at its mines elsewhere. Freeport’s response has been to stonewall, reject worker demands, and hire scab workers.

Violence has particularly escalated over the past month: A worker was killed and others were injured by police at a large demonstration when police fired live ammunition into the crowd of protesting workers. An attack on a vehicle carrying police and Freeport personnel led to two deaths and injury to two others. Perpetrators have not been caught. In the past, similar assaults against security and Freeport personnel have been attributed to conflicts among police, military and Freeport security personnel who have long feuded over the division of spoils from extortion practices that target Freeport, as well as conflict over freelance gold-mining efforts by local people.

The growing tensions, which are at their highest levels in the area since military-organized riots in 1998, come against a backdrop of decades of human rights abuse by police and military units acting in service of Freeport’s interests, the forced evacuation of villages to facilitate Freeport operations, and ongoing pollution of the local environment. Freeport’s disposal of tailings has destroyed vast stretches of forest and an entire river system (the Ajkwa). The company’s human rights and environmental practices have long been criticized by major institutional investors, including the Norwegian Ministry of Finance, which publicly divested all Freeport stock holdings from the country’s Government Pension Fund – Global.

The U.S. government has been a staunch defender of Freeport since its arrival in the area in 1967, as a result of the probably illegal granting of mining rights to Freeport by the Suharto dictatorship when Indonesia, acting under UN mandate, was only the administering power of the territory. The U.S. Embassy in Jakarta has conspired with Freeport management to defeat legal challenges as well as media and Congressional inquiries into human rights violations and other illegal acts carried out by security forces under Freeport pay and direction. In 2002, it conspired with Freeport and with the Indonesian government to limit and delay an investigation of an attack that cost the lives of three teachers, including two from the U.S.

The current crisis warrants a more enlightened U.S. government approach. Worker rights, as well as other fundamental human rights, are clearly at issue. The U.S. government should publicly emphasize its commitment to respect for worker rights in the context of the ongoing labour dispute. It should urge Freeport to negotiate in good faith with its workers. It is urgent that the U.S. government press the Indonesian government to forego the use of violence in addressing the current tensions in the area of the mining operation. The U.S. government also should investigate Freeport operations, especially actions taken by security forces at Freeport’s behest to date. Finally, it is high time that the U.S. Congress undertake, including through committee hearings, a review of Freeport operations which have for decades undermined respect for the United States in Indonesia and West Papua.

See also:

http://etan.org/issues/wpapua/default.htm

West Papua Report
http://etanaction.blogspot.com/2011/08/empty-promises-whitewash-freeports.html

Empty promises whitewash Freeport’s rights, responsibility record
http://etan.org/news/2009/07timika.htm

WPAT: Impunity at the Freeport Gold & Copper Mine: Will Indonesian Security Forces Get Away with It Again?
http://etan.org/news/2008/09freeport.htm

Statement on the operations of the Freeport McMoran Mine in West Papua, to the U.S. Senate hearing on Extracting Natural Resources: Corporate Responsibility and the Rule of Law

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