Albion Monitor /News
[Editor's note: The gold and copper mines on the Indonesian island of Irian Jaya have long been the subject of human rights controversy, as the Monitor first reported in a 1996 article, Christmas Greetings From Gold Mine of Death. The New Orleans-based mine owner, Freeport McMoRan, was also named as one of the ten worst corporations of 1996 by Multinational Monitor.

U.S. officials acknowledge that that Freeport has become the de facto government of Irian Jaya, where it maintains exploration rights to about seven million acres and operates the world's largest gold mine and the world's third largest copper mine. The brutal Suharto regime controls about 9 percent of PT Freeport Indonesia, the country's largest taxpayer.

The local people have demonstrated against the mine because its operations have caused flooding, re-routing of the rivers, and the destruction of the sago forests and Native hunting grounds. Other abuses include the 1995 deaths of four Amungme tribespeople, allegedly by Indonesian army units which have guarded the mine for more than 20 years. The army has also been linked to torture on behalf of the corporation.

In April 1996, the Amungme people filed a $6 billion class action lawsuit against Freeport in U.S. federal court in New Orleans. The lawsuit alleges human rights violations and environmental damages caused by Freeport's Indonesian operations.]

Indonesia Army Confiscates Natives Hunting Weapons, Tools

by Andreas Burdani

(IPS) JAKARTA -- When yet another wave of unrest occurred in August near Freeport McMoRan's giant mine in Indonesia's Irian Jaya province, military authorities ordered everyone to hand over their arrows, spears and knives.

To many, the handover of these tools -- used by native tribes to make a living -- might well symbolize how the lives of local communities have largely been turned over to commercial mining underway in many remote areas of this vast archipelago.

The U.S.-based Freeport mine is the second largest copper mine in the world and has the largest proven gold deposit.

Up to 40,000 indigenous folk including Amungme tribespeople, were dislocated when Freeport McMoRan built the mining town of Tembagapura for its workers. Since the company started operation in 1967, unrest and riots have been reported in protest of mining operations.

Amungme leader Tuwarek Karkime once said: "I am always angry at God and why He had to place these beautiful mountains here, because the Amungme people have received nothing from Freeport except problems."

Local women ended up entering into "contract marriages" with middle management staff, mostly from the Philippines and South Korea
But Freeport says it has met human needs of communities, ranging from health care, education and employment. In 1996, it announced a controversial $16 million fund targeted at various tribal groups around mining sites.

While hundreds of large and small mining firms operating in virtually all provinces have varying impacts, the heaviest toll often falls on indigenous people whose traditional areas sit on top of mineral wealth.

For many communities, the entry of mining operations changes traditional lifestyles into those of metal digging and wood clearance. Many are pushed to just outside the mining areas, which may be the homes of tribal enemies, making them communities without roots and even less hope.

"Their beliefs, their rituals, their world view suddenly ceased to have meaning, impotent in the face of the new, powerful and effective, rational culture," says Apong Herlina, director of the Jakarta Legal Aid Foundation (LBH).

As mining towns eclipse traditional societies, the social structures that once moored them give way to material values. "Tribal customs can no longer deal satisfyingly with new issues and problems, and the power of the once respected tribal elders to maintain peace and order are much eroded," she says.

And as the traditional way of life crumbles, women's lives are often the most disrupted, adds Herlina.

Though some tribal customs treat women as inferior, she says women have traditionally had clear, recognized and important functions in the family and community. But when mining transforms society, the men have more chance to provide for the family outside the old setting, while women lose their "usefulness."

"It is a process of women de-empowerment," Herlina says, adding that the women's activities are then limited to domestic chores which in the modern economy are not viewed as productive.

Studies in gold mining areas in East Kalimantan province, where many Australian companies operate, show women soon lose their economic productivity after indigenous folk are no longer allowed to mine anywhere near the firms' site.

Ifdhal Kasim, research coordinator of the Institute for Policy Research and Advocacy (ELSAM), said: "Many women then have to resort to a demeaning way of getting some income for themselves of their families."

An ELSAM study into operations of the Equatorial Mining Company of Australia in East Kalimantan revealed that many young local women ended up entering into "contract marriages" with foreign, middle management staff of mining firms, mostly from the Philippines and South Korea.

In a contract marriage, a man and a woman agree to be tied in marriage-like conditions for a period of time, say a year or two, or usually until the mining official is to return to his country. During that time, the woman is expected to play the role of a wife in return for a sum of money.

Likewise, mining operations often bring prostitution in tow, since they are a world, mostly, of men. "Inevitably, the arrival of these men without families encourages prostitution," Herlina observes.

Often, women are often left to fend for themselves and their children when old livelihoods are lost, their productivity cut or taken away, or the environment ravaged by commercial mining.

Fresh water and species of fish that is their primary source of food at risk
Abdon Nababan, executive director of Yayasan Telapak Indonesia, a West Java-based group, says that during the rainy season, the mud dumped onto hillsides by mine exploration flows into rivers that are the local people's main source of water and fish. Abdon's group is active in conservation efforts in Maluku in eastern Indonesia.

For Maluku islanders who depend on fish for protein, this is nothing short of disaster. During the rainy season, they have to go further uphill to get safe water -- a task mostly done by women.

"Mining activities affect the environment and any changes in the environment will first affect women and children," Abdon says.

The disruptive effects of mining there are also robbing people of fish resources they have sustainably used for a long time.

Maluku islanders depend very much on the "lompa" fish which usually enter the river from the sea to spawn for some six months.

During this time, islanders are forbidden by their elders to fish.

But during fishing season, they catch up to 30 tons of fish, which are dried and stocked for a year's supply.

With the river ecosystem disturbed by mining, the lompa come to the river for only a week, and now have all but disappeared, activists say. Adds Abdon: "The elders ask me if the pollution from the mining exploration activists caused this. I don't know yet, but what else could be the cause?"

Local leaders have protested the operations of two mines in the area before the National Human Rights Commission. "This happened after only two years of exploitation. God knows what will happen if they start full-scale exploitation," Abdon says.

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Albion Monitor March 23, 1998 (

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