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Indonesian islanders win legal triumph over Canadian-backed mining company | News | Eco-Enterprise

Residents of a remote island in eastern Indonesia have won a lawsuit against a company planning to mine gold on their island, after facing an earlier court challenge dismissed for a technical detail.

In the latest decision, issued on May 22 and made public only recently, a court in Manado, North Sulawesi province, ruled that the environmental permit issued to PT Tambang Mas Sangihe (TMS) for the mine project on the Sangihe Island was invalid and ordered local authorities to revoke the license.

The judges concluded that the issuance of the permit had not followed proper procedures and that the environmental impact analysis that had been carried out was inadequate.

Muhammad Jamil of the Mining Advocacy Network (Jatam), one of the Sangihe villagers’ lawyers, said the court verdict means that TMS no longer has a legal basis to operate and must cease operations.

It also means that the mining contract issued by the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources to TMS is invalid, as it is based on the environmental permit, said Deny Karwur, an environmental law expert from the University. Sam Ratulangi from Manado.

“If the environmental permit is canceled, it means that other regulations that follow and are based on the environmental permit, such as the ministerial order [on the mining contract for TMS]are also automatically canceled under the law,” he told local media.

TMS, however, insists its mining contract is still valid and says it will remain in business.

We use water for cooking and drinking. If the water is polluted with heavy metals, our lives and the future of our children will be destroyed.

Wulandari Anjeli Manossoh, resident, Sangihe Island

This is not the case, says the court. In addition to ordering the revocation of the license, the judges also ordered that there be no mining activity on the land until the license is canceled or until the respondent in the lawsuit, which in this case is the local government investment agency, has exhausted all avenues of appeal. call.

Raynaldo Sembiring, executive director of the Indonesian Center for Environmental Law (ICEL), said the ruling and the judges’ reasoning behind it showed the court had considered the potential environmental impact. of mining as well as the lack of public participation in the permitting process.

“Now we must monitor the execution of this decision, whether the defendants appeal or not,” he said in a press release.

Without an immediate revocation by authorities, mining operations could theoretically continue for years, as TMS could still use the environmental permit as the basis of its operation pending revocation, according to ICEL.

Mining concession straddling villages

The case involves the operations of TMS, a joint venture between publicly listed Canadian miner Baru Gold Corp. (formerly East Asia Minerals) and three Indonesian companies: Sungai Belayan Sejati, Sangihe Prima Mineral and Sangihe Pramata Mineral. The Sangihe Gold Corporation, a subsidiary of Baru Gold, owns 70% of the shares of TMS.

The mine site – at 42,000 hectares (104,000 acres), an area more than half the size of New York City – covers the southern half of Sangihe Island, straddling 80 villages .

Sangihe villagers say they fear the mine will cause massive destruction once it starts operating. These concerns prompted 56 villagers to file a complaint against the investment agency of the province of North Sulawesi, where the island is located and which issued the environmental permit.

“We as women [and] housewives use the water for cooking and drinking,” Wulandari Anjeli Manossoh, one of the complainants, told local media. “Whether [the water] is polluted with heavy metals, our lives and the future of our children will be destroyed.

In addition to the lawsuit in Manado, the villagers of Sangihe had also filed a separate complaint with the Jakarta State Administrative Court, naming the Ministry of Mines as a defendant, and in which they requested the revocation of the mining contract.

The new contract renewed the company’s previous contract, issued in 2007 and limited to prospecting. The new contract, issued in 2021, allowed TMS to mine gold for the next 33 years, until January 2054.

In its April 20 ruling, the Jakarta State Administrative Court dismissed the lawsuit, saying it lacked jurisdiction to decide the case, which it characterized as a civil rather than a civil case. state administration.

According to TMS, this means the company still has a legal basis to operate the island.

“As long as TMS’s mining license is not revoked by the Jakarta State Administrative Court, it means that TMS is still operating legally,” company spokeswoman Cesylia Saroinsong told reporters. local media.

Questionable environmental impact analysis

The North Sulawesi provincial government said it would appeal the Manado court’s decision on the environmental permit, arguing that it issued the permit after extensive studies.

But in their ruling, judges in Manado said the mine’s environmental impact analysis, a process known locally as Amdal, had not been carried out according to proper procedures. For one thing, they noted, the number of villagers who participated in the Amdal process and approved of the mining activity was not proportional to the number of villagers who would be affected by the mine.

The judges also found that there had been no process to appoint representatives of the villagers as members of the commission that assesses Amdal. The Amdal framework was also not approved by local authorities, and there was no evidence of a public announcement that TMS had applied for an environmental permit, which companies are required to do in the part of the application process.

“The environmental permit was drafted and issued without following the correct procedures,” said Anjeli, one of the complainants. “People weren’t involved. So they [TMS] already had permits.

In addition to failing to follow due process, the judges also questioned the quality of the Amdal document itself. The only potentially negative impact discussed in the analysis was the use of cyanide in mining on air quality. During the trial, expert witnesses testified that there were more potential environmental impacts that the Amdal should have covered, including damage to coastal ecosystems, mangroves and coral reefs.

The court also found that there was no evidence showing that a laboratory analysis had been carried out on the impact of the use of chemicals as part of the impact analysis.

All of these findings raised enough doubts about whether the environmental impact of the mine could really be controlled, ICEL said.

“This is why the judges took the precautionary principle in environmental protection by ordering a preventive measure in the form of the annulment of the object of the lawsuit. [TMS’s environmental permit]“, said the ICEL.

Now that the Manado court has handed down its verdict, the villagers are demanding that the decision be implemented and that TMS’s environmental permit be immediately revoked, said Jan Takasihaeng, an activist with the anti-mining movement Save Sangihe Island.

“We ask law enforcement to uphold the law. The company whose license was revoked by the court must cease operations,” he told local media. “Don’t let things go the other way, where [the company operation] is protected by law enforcement. If law enforcement does not act according to the law, the people will take matters into their own hands. »

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