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Amungme against Freeport-McMoRan, Indonesia


Freeport became interested in West Papua in the 1950's and in 1965 negotiations between Freeport and Indonesia began one month after a military coup and widespread massacres brought General Suharto to power. Freeport was the first foreign corporation to sign a deal with Suharto's regime.

The 1967 agreement gave the company broad powers over the local population and resources, including the right to take, on a tax-free basis, land, timber, water, and other natural resources, and to resettle indigenous inhabitants while providing reasonable compensation only for dwellings find permanent improvements. Under the new Indonesian regime, the indigenous population had no rights of refusal or of informed consent, nor any right to adequate compensation. A sign of the times, no social or environmental impact assessment was done.

The two communities main communities impacted, the Amungme and Kamoro, numbered several thousand people, organized in clan-based village social and governance structures. With lands encompassing the areas tropical rainforest, coastal lowlands, and glacial mountains and river valleys, the Kamoro (lowlanders) and Amungme (highlanders) practiced a subsistence economy based on sustainable agriculture and forest products, fishing, and hunting; their cultures intimately entwined with the surrounding landscape. [1] Resistance to Freeport and other colonizers began immediately. This has taken the form of armed attacks against the mine and its workers. In 1977, the OPM blew up an important pipeline, shutting the mine down for several days.

The ecology of West Papua is one of the most biodiverse places on Earth, with up to 7% of all plant and animal species being found there. Freeport's mining operation in West Papua has destroyed this environment, which the Amungme and Kamoro hold sacred and subsist on. The mine has taken 120 meters off of the top of a sacred Amungme mountain. Freeport dumps millions of tons of silt-like tailings into the local river system, polluting it with metals and turning a miles-wide lowland river area into a dead, barren landscape. The river is now almost entirely devoid of any life. They pile toxic waste rock thousands of feet high at dumpsites in the surrounding area including at a sacred lake used by the Amungme. Filling valleys with mine waste that leaches copper, acid, and mercury into the ground, they have polluted springheads tribal people miles away use for drinking water. The rainwater run off from these toxic landfills has resulted in even more pollution. Local people have died when Freeport poisoned the water people drink, and the piles of waste have resulted in landslides. While landscape reclamation projects have begun at the mine, environmental groups and local inhabitants are concerned with the potential for copper contamination and acid mine drainage from the mine tailings into surrounding river systems, land surfaces, and groundwater.

In 1977 the rebel group Free Papua Movement attacked the mine. The group dynamited the main slurry pipe, which caused tens of millions of dollars in damage, and attacked the mine facilities. The Indonesian military reacted harshly, allegedly killing at least 800 people.

By the mid-1980s, the original mine had been largely depleted. Freeport explored for other deposits in the area. In 1988, Freeport identified reserves valued at $40 billion at Grasberg (Dutch, Grass Mountain), just 3 kilometres (1.9 miles) from the Ertsberg mine. The Grasberg Mine is the largest gold mine and the third largest copper mine in the world.

In 1996 Tom Beanal, a leader of the Amungme people of West Papua, filed suit against Freeport-McMoRan in US federal court.

The same year, Yosefa Alomang also filed suit against Freeport-McMoRan in Louisiana state court.

Beanal alleged that Freeport was complicit in human rights abuses committed against him and the Amungme people by security forces employed by Freeport; the human rights violations alleged were surveillance, mental torture, death threats and house arrest.

Beanal also alleged that Freeport's operations in West Papua caused severe degradation to the Amungme's environment and habitat.

Finally, Beanal alleged that Freeport's mining operations resulted in 'cultural genocide' by destroying the Amungmes habitat and religious symbols.

But justice was not served on the Amungme. By 2014, Freeport's target was to sell 2,118,525 tonnes of copper concentrate from its Grasberg mine in Indonesia this year. The concern was to build a smelter, to refine copper because of Indonesia's ban on concentrate exports, and also a higher export tax.

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Amungme against Freeport-McMoRan, Indonesia
State or province:West Papua
Accuracy of locationMEDIUM (Regional level)

Source of Conflict

Type of conflict. 1st level:Mineral Ores and Building Materials Extraction
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Mineral ore exploration
Tailings from mines
Mineral processing
Specific commodities:Gold

Project Details and Actors

Project details

Freeport began open-pit mining of the Grasberg ore body in 1990. Open-pit operations are expected to continue through 2015, at which time the Grasberg underground mining operations are scheduled to begin. Production is currently at the 3,295-to 4,285-m elevation level and totaled 49.0 million metric tons of ore in 2008 and 57.5 million metric tons of ore in 2007.

Everyday, the operation discharges 230,000 tonnes of tailings (waste rock) into the Aghawagon River below. Freeport estimates operations will continue until 2041.

Type of populationRural
Start of the conflict:01/01/1996
Company names or state enterprises:Freeport-McMoRan from United States of America
PT Freeport Indonesia from Indonesia
Rio Tinto (Rio Tinto ) from Australia - Entered in 1995 and owns 40% of the Grasberg mine
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Earthrights International, Cultural Survival

Conflict & Mobilization

IntensityHIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
Reaction stageIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups mobilizing:Indigenous groups or traditional communities
International ejos
Ethnically/racially discriminated groups
Forms of mobilization:Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Media based activism/alternative media


Environmental ImpactsVisible: Soil contamination, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality
Health ImpactsVisible: Violence related health impacts (homicides, rape, etc..), Deaths
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Displacement, Increase in violence and crime, Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment, Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Militarization and increased police presence, Social problems (alcoholism, prostitution, etc..), Specific impacts on women, Violations of human rights, Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place


Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Deaths, Assassinations, Murders
Court decision (failure for environmental justice)
Violent targeting of activists
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:The US district court dismissed the case in 1998 on the basis that the environmental and human rights abuses alleged by Beanal were not violations of the 'law of nations'. Beanal appealed this ruling, but the court of appeals affirmed the lower court's dismissal of the case in 1999. In the Louisiana state court case, Alomang alleged that Freeport had engaged in human rights and environmental violations through its corporate policies and conduct at its Grasberg mine in West Papua. She claimed relief under Louisiana state tort law. Alomang's case was dismissed by the state court in 2000 for failure to state an actionable claim against Freeport.

Sources & Materials

Related laws and legislationsĀ - Juridical texts related to the conflict

Alien Tort Statute (US)

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

Links provided by Business & Human Rights Resource Centre:

LinksĀ to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

(1) Cultural Survival

Faith Based Network - West Papua

Technical details about the Grasberg mine

Eco-action fact sheet

Sierra Club And Earthrights International

Cultural Survival

Brief Of Amici Curiae

Meta information

Contributor:Irene Pietropaoli
Last update03/05/2014