May 13, 2021


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Rio Tinto President Resigns Following Damage to Aboriginal Site in Australia | Indigenous rights news

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The Anglo-Australian mining giant sparked an uproar last year by blowing up the 46,000-year-old rock shelters at Juukan Gorge.

The chairman of the Anglo-Australian mining giant, Rio Tinto, has announced he will step down after the company sparked a public outcry by destroying a former Aboriginal site in Western Australia to extract $ 135 million in iron ore .

Rio blew up the 46,000-year-old rock shelters at Juukan Gorge last May, sparking a public backlash and investor revolt that led to the resignation of the company’s CEO and two top executives last September.

The caves were one of the earliest known places inhabited by the indigenous peoples of Australia and contained some of the oldest Aboriginal artifacts ever found in the country.

Rio Tinto chairman Simon Thompson said the destruction had “overshadowed” the company’s successes in 2020 – in which it paid investors a record dividend thanks to soaring iron ore prices.

“As president, I am responsible for the failures that led to this tragic event,” he said in a statement.

Thompson said he would not seek re-election at the company’s annual general meetings in 2022, allowing for a transition period until a replacement is appointed.

He called the destruction “a source of personal sadness and deep regret, in addition to being a blatant violation of our values ​​as a company.”

The company’s non-executive director, Michael L’Estrange, will also be stepping down from the board after this year’s meetings.

‘Never again’

Thompson and L’Estrange were pressured to leave after what was seen as mismanagement by the board of directors of an investigation into the destruction that found no one responsible.

Thompson was criticized even more last month after Puutu elders Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura (PKKP) accused him of breaking a personal promise.

The Juukan Gorge site was considered sacred by the PKKP of Western Australia.

Although Rio Tinto had permission from the state government to detonate the area, the PKKP said it had warned that the placement of certain explosives would destroy two heritage rock shelters.

A parliamentary inquiry into the destruction recommended the mining company pay restitution, rebuild the destroyed site and commit to a permanent moratorium on mining in the area.

The Juukan Gorge site was considered sacred by the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura peoples of Western Australia. [File: Christian Sprogoe/Rio Tinto handout photo]

“We will never again be able to allow the destruction, devastation and vandalism of cultural sites as happened with the Juukan Gorge – never again,” said Warren Entsch, chairman of the investigation committee, during the publication. of an interim report in December.

Although the full parliamentary inquiry report is not expected until the second half of this year, the panel stressed that Rio Tinto must proceed with the reconstruction and rehabilitation at its own expense.

All artefacts taken from destroyed sites should also be returned and all agreements made with traditional owners of holy places should be reviewed.

The Australasian Center for Corporate Responsibility (ACCR), an activist group with stakes in Rio Tinto, also pointed out that while company officials understood the historical significance of the Aboriginal site, it still decided to ” blow them up anyway ”.

“What kind of person comes to this decision? What sort of business puts them and keeps them in charge? What type of CEO refuses to take responsibility for the actions of his senior management? ACCR director Brynn O’Brien was quoted by reports.

Rio Tinto is estimated to have a valuation of $ 123 billion. The company also faces multiple allegations of corruption and environmental destruction in other parts of the world, including China, Papua New Guinea and the United States.

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