Indigenous Kanaks Take On Inco in New Caledonia

Jamie Kneen

National Program Co-Lead

On June 8th, 2006, magistrate Jean-Paul Briseul of the Administrative Court of Nouméa in New Caledonia called on his fellow magistrates to declare Goro-Nickel SA’s licence to operate the Goro mine illegal. On June 15th, the Administrative Court revoked Inco’s 2004 mining licence. The arguments laid out by Briseul are a testimony to the hard work of the indigenous Kanak organization Rhéébù Nùù to make a case for their right to be meaningfully consulted and their right to a healthy environment in the face of Inco’s proposed nickel mine at the southern tip of New Caledonia.

Briseul argued that the permit-granting authorities of the Southern Province had not responded appropriately to the following transgressions by Goro Nickel:

  • violating the rights of affected peoples to be fully informed about the proposed project in a culturally appropriate manner;
  • providing an inadequate and flawed Environmental Impact Assessment; not applying the precautionary principle in adopting standards for the projects emissions; and
  • not preparing a social and cultural impact assessment, especially in the light of the fact that the project will impact on indigenous peoples.

Briseul argued that these concerns are particularly serious given the lack of environmental legislation in New Caledonia, which is a French “overseas territory”.

Rhéébù Nùù was established in 2001 to represent the rights of the local Kanak communities that will be affected by Inco’s Goro project. But Rhéébù Nùù has quickly come to represent a much wider constituency of Kanaks from all parts of New Caledonia who are struggling for recognition of their indigenous rights in the French colony.

MiningWatch Canada has worked closely with the leadership of Rhéébù Nùù since 2001, as well as with members of the Kanak Customary Senate. We have hosted Kanak delegations who have come to Canada to meet with Inco in Toronto to try to explain their concerns and requirements, and to meet with indigenous leaders in Canada in order to learn about indigenous rights struggles in Canada and the use of negotiated Impact and Benefit Agreements to settle issues related to resource extraction on indigenous land in Canada. Kanak leaders from Rhéébù Nùù and the Customary Senate also attended Inco’s Annual General Meeting in 2004 to voice their concerns.

In April of this year, MiningWatch’s Catherine Coumans was able to travel to New Caledonia with Australian colleagues. At the time of her arrival in New Caledonia, Rhéébù Nùù was blockading the Goro site where all work had stopped since the blockade started on March 30th. The hotel in the capital of Nouméa was full of Filipino construction workers that had arrived just days before the blockade started and were stranded, waiting to see what their fate would be.

On April 22nd, just days after the blockade was brutally broken up by French military police, Catherine attended a large demonstration in support of Rhéébù Nùù in the New Caledonian capital Nouméa. Later that day she was able to visit the Goro site and witness first hand the burned plastic water pipes that had supplied the construction site, as well as the burned pipeline that was under construction to bring large amounts of process water in from Yaté Lake kilometres away. The proposed use of large amounts of water from Yate Lake is one of the concerns expressed by Rhéébù Nùù, as is another proposed pipeline that will carry wastewater from the mine into the sea.

It became very clear on this unofficial site visit that Inco will not be able to successfully run this operation without community consent. In a subsequent meeting with Rhéébù Nùù leader Raphaël Mapou, who was still in hiding from authorities at the time, Catherine learned that Rhéébù Nùù’s struggle extends beyond the confines of the Goro project. It is in essence a struggle for recognition of indigenous Kanak rights in New Caledonia.

While Inco’s mining permit has been revoked, it still has its construction permit allowing construction on the facility to continue.

NEW CALEDONIA: Serious Setback for Giant Nickel Mining Project

Pacific Magazine, June 15, 2006

(Oceania Flash) Canadian mining giant Inco’s nickel project in the South of New Caledonia has suffered a significant setback on Wednesday, when a court in Nouméa ruled to void local company Goro-Nickel to operate on the mineral massif.

The exploitation permit had been granted in October 2004 by local authorities of New Caledonia’s Southern Province. However, it was challenged by a group of concerned citizens and environmentalists who argued serious environment impact studies had not been performed.

Wednesday’s ruling however does not put into question the construction of the Goro-Nickel nickel project (for a capital investment estimated at 1.88 billion US dollars). Construction resumed on the site last year, but it has since encountered staunch opposition from indigenous concern and environmental group “Rheebu Nuu”.

The group, on April 2, moved to sabotage some ten million US dollars worth of equipment on the construction site. The site was subsequently occupied for several weeks before French police stepped in to “liberate” it.

Last week, an estimated 2,500 people took to the streets of the capital Nouméa in support of a march to protest against the environmental impacts of the Goro-Nickel project which, organisers said, had not yet been properly assessed.

They say they do not oppose the project per se, but demand that a proper environmental study be carried out.

Other indigenous groups, including a so-called CAUGERN (indigenous council for natural resources management in Kanaky-New Caledonia, Conseil autochtone pour la gestion des ressources naturelles en Kanaky-Calédonie), are also hinting at indigenous royalties claims for the traditional land owners.

Reacting to the court decision on Wednesday, Rheebu Nuu’s secretary general Raphaël Mapou said he was “elated” and that the ruling was a strong signal for the respect of environment and of indigenous peoples’ rights.

Meanwhile, after the Goro-related unrest in April, the French High Commission and the Southern Province of New Caledonia have called on all stakeholders to take part in a series of roundtables to discuss environment and development issues and ways to address them.

Meanwhile, New Caledonia is this week celebrating “environment week” as part of the global initiative.

Organisers of local festivities have decided to choose this year the following theme: “Tomorrow, our island: a desert?”

New Caledonia mine protesters score court victory

Radio Australia, June 15, 2006, 11:26:08

Protesters in New Caledonia have secured a legal victory in their struggle against what is planned to be one of the world’s biggest nickel mines.

An administrative court has cancelled Goro Nickel’s licence to mine at the still unfinished site because of what it called insufficient study of the environmental impact.

The AFP news agency says the ruling has no immediate impact on the facility, as the mine is not yet operational and its construction licence remains valid.

However, AFP says it marks a victory for the indigenous Kanak Rheebu Nuu movement fighting to block it.

The court found a previous study had not sufficiently proven that samples used represented the level of toxins which would be produced when the mine is operational.

Another analysis is already under way on the impact of the site.

Rheebu Nuu has repeatedly complained that the site will harm the environment and say they should get royalties from the mine.