Grasberg mine: PT Freeport Indonesia must respect workers’ rights

Press release

New York/Jakarta/Paris, November 7, 2011 – Since September 15, thousands of workers have been on strike at Grasberg, in West Papua, the world’s largest gold mine. Grasberg is exploited by PT Freeport Indonesia (PTFI), a branch of the US-based company Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold. The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the Commission for the Disappeared and Victims of Violence (KontraS) call on PTFI and the Indonesian national authorities to refrain from further acts of reprisals against striking workers, including violence, and find through active dialogue a sustainable response to the workers’ legitimate demands.

While a US court ruled on November 1 that mining company Rio Tinto could be made accountable for serious human rights violations in Papua New Guinea during the 1980s, multinational mining companies continue to be associated with human rights abuses in the region. Workers at the Grasberg mine face severe repression by the Indonesian security forces, with the full blessing of PT Freeport Indonesia (PTFI).

According to article 144 of Indonesia’s law No 13/2003 on labor, workers on strike are protected from any termination of their employment. However, PTFI fired the striking workers and employed new personnel as their replacement. While the workers’ demands are focused on salary increase, they have been accused of separatism and jeopardizing “Indonesian national vital interests”. They have also been intimidated, in particular labor union’s leaders.

Soon after the strike began, the local Chief of Police in Mimika sub-province openly threatened to kill one of the leaders, whose house was then shot at by unidentified assailants. On September 30, the same Chief of Police informed the workers that the police was ready to take any necessary measure to dismiss the strike. On October 10, the local police indiscriminately shot at thousands of peaceful striking workers and local Papuans in Gorong-gorong bus station in Timika, which resulted in the death of two people and many other injuries. Until now, there has been no proper investigation into this incident.

“Freeport’s payment of support costs for government-provided security amounts to subsidizing gross abuses in the face of strong evidence that these security personnel lack respect for human rights and enjoy impunity for unlawful acts committed, “said Haris Azhar, Coordinator of KontraS. Recent investigations by human rights activists confirmed widespread allegations of corruption and bribery involving PTFI and local security forces. Documents provided by the local police show a serious lack of transparency in the way PTFI contribution to security forces’ expenses have been allocated and disbursed. “Such ill-practices need to be brought to an end and should be fully and independently investigated without delay and hindrance, including by the US authorities to ensure Freeport is in full compliance with applicable laws,” Mr. Azhar added.

“The situation in Grasberg once again reveals the serious abuses committed by both private businesses in the mining sector and national security forces when it comes to exploiting the natural resources in the land of marginalized, impoverished communities. It is vital that the PT Freeport Indonesia enter into a dialogue with the workers in good faith and with a view to resolve the disputes in a peaceful manner that also ensures full respect for their rights. More broadly, all actors in Papua must respect the human rights of all Papuans and ensure their meaningful participation in decision-making that affects their livelihood,” said Mrs. Souhayr Belhassen, FIDH president.

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