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Theonila recognised for holding Rio to account

Theonila Matbob - "Our work will continue until Rio Tinto has fully dealt with the disaster it left behind”

| Human Rights Law Centre

SYDNEY – Bougainville’s education minister Theonila Roka Matbob MP has won an important award for her outstanding work to hold Rio Tinto to account for the devastating effects of its mining in the island’s Panguna region.

Theonila, a traditional landowner and community leader from Makosi, downstream from the mine, received the Gwynne Skinner Human Rights Award.

She was one of 156 Bougainvilleans who last year filed a human rights complaint against the Rio Tinto.

The group was represented by the Human Rights Law Centre and its complaint received global media attention.

In July Rio Tinto publicly committed to fund an independent human rights and environmental impact assessment of the mine.

“I’m deeply honoured to receive this award on behalf of myself and my people,” Theonila said. “We have been living with the disastrous impacts of Panguna for many years and the situation is getting worse.

“Our communities live surrounded by the vast mounds of waste leftover from the mine, which continue to poison our rivers with copper.

“Kids get sick from the pollution. The farms and villages of communities downstream are being flooded with mine waste. Many people lack basic access to clean water.

“Now, after many years of struggle, at last we have an agreement with Rio Tinto to fund a proper investigation of these urgent problems to develop solutions.

“I would like to express my thanks to all those who have supported us to reach this point. But now is not the time to rest. Our work will continue until Rio Tinto has fully dealt with the disaster it left behind.”

Theonila previously worked with the Human Rights Law Centre to document the stories of communities affected by the mine. This work led to the publication of a report, After The Mine.

“For the past few years, Theonila has worked tirelessly to bring these issues to the world’s attention and compel Rio Tinto to take responsibility for the devastating consequences left by its operations at Panguna,” said Human Rights Law Centre legal director, Keren Adams.

“It is in large part thanks to her leadership and advocacy that the company has now taken the first important step towards addressing this legacy.

“At the same time as doing all this, she ran for parliament and was elected one of Bougainville’s youngest and only female MPs and subsequently became education minister.

“She is an inspirational human rights defender and a thoroughly deserving winner of the award.”

The award is named for Gwynne Skinner who was a law professor at Willamette University in the United States.

Prof Skinner spent her career working at the forefront of efforts to develop greater accountability by companies for their human rights impacts.

The award was created by the International Corporate Accountability Roundtable to honour her legacy and recognise the work of individuals and organisations that have made significant contribution to corporate accountability.


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Lindsay F Bond

If only it was the waste of which Theonila bears witness.

Days will come when accountability will encompass gases in and gases out, with less of guesses.

Would that it come sooner of oral/aural impacts from politicians.

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