Denver—Community leaders from Ghana, Indonesia, Peru, Romania, and the US this week called on Newmont Mining Corp., the world's largest gold producer, to reform its human rights and environmental practices at its global operations.
Speaking at the company's annual shareholders meeting here, the community representatives demanded that Newmont fully respect human rights; stop intimidating farmers and other critics of its operations; and stop dumping mining waste into the ocean. They also called on the company to cancel plans for new open-pit mines on densely populated farmland in Romania, in a Ghanaian forest reserve, and on a mountain in Peru that is a source of community drinking water.
"Although we come from five different continents, we share many similar experiences with Newmont's operations," said Daniel Owusu-Koranteng of Wassa Association of Communities Affected by Mining (WACAM) in Ghana. "We also share similar demands: We ask that the company stop polluting our oceans and fresh water with mining waste, stay out of our protected forests, and only mine with the informed consent of communities."
Newmont is facing multimillion-dollar lawsuits in Indonesia and Peru. Community protests in Peru nearly forced the closing of the company's most profitable mine, Yanacocha, in September 2004. In 2003, the World Bank declined to finance a proposed mine in Romania in which Newmont had recently invested—a mine that the European Parliament has said could cost Romania entry into the European Union.
The visiting leaders also criticized Newmont for intimidating its critics, including filing a defamation lawsuit against an Indonesian professor, Rignolda Djamaluddin, who spoke out publicly about Newmont's practice of dumping mine waste into Buyat Bay. "I am here because Dr. Rignolda cannot be here as a result of this lawsuit that is meant to intimidate us and stifle our voice," said Nur Hidayati of Indonesian Forum for the Environment (WALHI). "Our communities demand Newmont end its practice of dumping mine wastes into the ocean. This irresponsible practice poses high risks to the environment and the community—and it is not allowed in the United States, where Newmont is based."
Members of the international delegation described the hardships faced by hundreds of farmers in Rosia Montana, Romania, and villagers in the Ahafo region of Ghana, who are being displaced from their homes to make way for large industrial gold mines owned by Newmont and its partners.
"I have come from Romania to tell Newmont that the people of Rosia Montana will not be forced from our homes and our land," stated Stephanie Roth of Alburnus Maior, a community group of farmers and property owners in Rosia Montana. "Newmont has not obtained the community's consent to operate in Rosia Montana. It's time for them to cut their losses and leave the project."
"We have been trying to engage with Newmont for several years and have yet to see real change in their practices," said Father Marco Arana of Grufides, an environmental and social justice organization based in Cajamarca, Peru. "It took 30,000 people protesting in the streets of Cajamarca for them to finally recognize there were serious problems."
Newmont has had trouble with its operations much closer to home as well. In Nevada, the Western Shoshone people continue to defend their right to live on their own land in their traditional lifestyle. "Any damage to our land has a direct impact on our people, our home, and our cultural and spiritual way of life," said Kristi Begay, a member of the Western Shoshone Nation and a Wells Band Council chairwoman. "Although our elders are passing on, as the younger generation, we will continue this fight until our issues and concerns are resolved."
While each member of this international delegation has unique concerns, all representatives have common objectives as well. They are asking Newmont Mining to fully respect human rights, and refrain from intimidating community leaders or critics; to secure free and informed consent from affected communities before proceeding with any projects; to fully disclose information about the social and environmental impacts of its projects; to provide fair compensation for local communities affected by mining; and to respect communities' spiritual and cultural values.
The community leaders are also asking Newmont to stop dumping mining wastes in the ocean; to protect water resources from pollution and depletion; to prevent contamination of water and soil with sulfuric acid; to refrain from mining within protected areas and sites of spiritual significance; to guarantee funding, before starting a project, that will fully cover the costs of reclamation and mine closure; and to ensure that clean-up, land reclamation, land compensation, and health remediation activities are completed in communities near Newmont mines that have already closed.