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Jabiluka: World heritage committee visits Kakadu

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

(November 13, 1998) From October 27 to 31, a high-level inspection team of the UN World Heritage Committee held a four-day mission to Kakadu National Park, in the northern territory of Australia. The delegation was to determine if Kakadu's world heritage values are endangered by efforts to open the Jabiluka uranium mine within it.

(502.4952) WISE Amsterdam - During its visit, the World Heritage Committee had to find out if the new Jabiluka uranium mine threatens the park's environmental and cultural values. If Kakadu National Park is put on the "World Heritage in Danger" list, this could force the Australian government to stop the opening procedures of this uranium mine. (We also wrote about that in WISE NC 495.4892: 'Jabiluka Blockade still going strong; Action in Antwerp')
In the past, the bureau had put two national parks on this list: Yellow Stone Park in the US and the Galapagos Islands. According to Wilderness Society campaigner and WHC lobbyist Alec Marr, this led to massive changes in government policy there. The Australian government, however, claimed the delegation's visit would be unnecessary because mining company ERA had a good record with its Ranger uranium mine, also surrounded by the National Park. Professor Francesco Francioni, chairperson of the committee, underlined an "in danger" listing as symbolic and in no way binding, but governments do not like it.

In the few days of its visit, the WHC delegation talked to the Aboriginal Traditional Owners of the Jabiluka mining land, environmental groups, scientists, heritage experts and conservationists. The delegates had been told by the Australian Academy of Sciences that Jabiluka would create major problems with water management, and that in all probability, there would be contamination of the wetland as a result of the Jabiluka project. They spoke to the Australian Academy of the Humanities which explained that the Malakunanja-II archaeological site, the most ancient in Australia, located on the Jabiluka mineral lease, was threatened by the mine. They had been at the site while ERA performed blasting operations, which had shocked them. They had been told by the Australian branch of ICOMOS that the Jabiluka project and other projects represent a threat to Kakadu's cultural heritage. They had heard a similar message from IUCN Australia.
They had heard Senator Hill, the Australian minister for the environment, say that the entire trip was a waste of time, and that he would ignore whatever they say. They had listened with attention and respect to the Traditional Owners. They had looked at sacred arts sites with the custodian of those sites, Yvonne Margarula, while she explained to them the importance of caring for her country. They had heard one of their own consultants and ex-staff, Peter Hitchcock, present a submission on behalf of all Australian environmental groups to the effect that there had been major problems with the entire assessment process for Jabiluka, that the Heritage values for which Kakadu is registered are to a great extent contained on the mineral leases themselves, not just the designated World Heritage area, and that the cumulative effect of the Jabiluka, Ranger and Koongarra uranium projects would effectively destroy the World Heritage values of the park. They had been awakened at night in the Crocodile Hotel in Jabiru by the steady swish of faxes from all over the world being pushed under their doors by the hotel's staff.

Over beer in Canberra, their director, Berndt von Droste, had confided that he was convinced as to the rightness of the facts and arguments presented to them, but needed to make his mind up whether or not an "in danger" listing was the thing that would do most to protect Kakadu. The mission had already commenced drafting its report. Professor Francesco Francioni said an announcement would be made in the near future.
The final decision would then be made at the World Heritage Bureau and the World Heritage Committee meetings in Kyoto, Japan, from November 27 to December 5. John Hallam from Friends of the Earth in Sydney is appraising the Committeeþs visit as following: "We understand that the mission has been shocked by what they have seen, and by what they have heard. What decision they will finally take is up to their good judgment, but the fact is that they have been shown quite convincing and solid arguments for listing Kakadu as World Heritage in Danger due to the threats from the Jabiluka as well as the projected Koongarra and the operating Ranger mine."

Hill criticizing Mirrar people
Senator Robert Hill is criticizing the actions of the Mirrar people, traditional owners of the Jabiluka mining land, in opposing the mine. He says that while the listing of the area as an endangered World Heritage site might affect the appeal of the area to tourists, the social and cultural issues are more significant. "The Mirrar people are about 30 of some 500 indigenous people in the region," he said. "Although theyþve consented to the mine on two separate occasions (not true!), now they say that they would prefer it not to go ahead, and that seems to be the issue the World Heritage Committee is wrestling with. The Mirrar people are also the traditional owners of the Ranger mine, so they have been gaining the material benefits, in terms of royalties and so forth, of Rangersþ last 18 years."

Mirrar`s spokesperson Jacqui Katona says the federal environment minister does not understand the facts about the Mirrar people's opposition to the project. "Senator Hill is showing a singular lack of knowledge about the issues," she said. "The Mirrar people had no choice but to give their agreement originally for Jabiluka to go ahead," she said. Pointing out that the Aboriginal people opposed the development of Ranger, and their right to say "no" was extinguished by the federal government, she added: "For Senator Hill to claim that Aboriginal people are in some way compromised by receiving income from Ranger uranium mine demonstrates his ignorance about these issues."

The 1982 Jabiluka agreement was in fact forced from Mirrar people by a combination of lies, bribery, and threats.

Source: emails from John Hallam Friends of the Earth Sydney, 27, 28, 31 October and 1, 4 November 1998
Contact: John Hallam, Friends of the Earth Sydney, Suite 15, 1st Floor, 104 Bathurst Street, Sydney, NSW 2000. Australia.
Tel: +61-2-9283-2006; Fax: +61-2-9283-2005



Jabiluka mining company cancels shareholders meeting

North Ltd., the largest shareholder of ERA, the mining company that is developing the Jabiluka mine, cancelled a special meeting of shareholders in Melbourne which was scheduled for November 2. The meeting was to brief Victorian shareholders on the companyþs annual meeting in Sydney a week before. But North Ltd. Chairman Micheal Deeley says concerns about protests and the safety of the shareholders led to the meeting being cancelled. "I guess I see it as a victory of intimidation over information" he said. "We held our Annual General Meeting in Sydney, and about 40 protesters had acquired one share each, and we took questions for well over an hour. But after the meeting many of our shareholders had expressed themselves frightened and intimidated by the unpleasant scenes that took place in the meeting, so it's with great regret that we took this decision."



There is still a lot of work to do

Between now and December there is still a lot of lobbying to be done to get Kakadu National Park on the "World Heritage in Danger" list. John Hallam writes: "Assuming that the WHC Mission recommends either that Kakadu be placed on the list of World Heritage in danger or says that it faces serious problems but fails to make a definite recommendation, leaving that decision for the bureau and the committee (which seem to be the most likely options right now), you can bet that the Australian government is going to leave no stone unturned in order to make sure that the WHC and Bureau do *NOT* recommend an "in danger" listing in November. Our task is to make sure they *DO* make such a recommendation, and to make sure that it gets passed by a 2/3 vote." The final decision is to be made at the World Heritage Bureau and the World Heritage Committee meetings in Kyoto, Japan, from November 27 to December 5, this year.

So keep writing letters to Francioni and von Droste in Paris, urging them to list Kakadu as "in danger". The fax number of the WHC in Paris is +33-1-456-85570.

If you are from a country represented in the WHC, such as the US, Japan, Italy, Ecuador, Benin, Morocco, France, Germany, Canada, Brazil, Greece, Hungary, Malta, Mexico, Niger, Republic of Korea or Thailand, you can also write to your country's environment minister asking him/her to instruct your country's WHC representative to vote for Kakadu to be placed on the "World Heritage in Danger" list.
Model letters are available at John Hallam or WISE Amsterdam.