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Australia Inquiry Recommends Rio Tinto Negotiate Restitution for Juukan Gorge Destruction

By Rhiannon Hoyle

 

SYDNEY--An inquiry by Australian lawmakers into the destruction of two ancient rock shelters that cost Rio Tinto PLC's chief executive his job has recommended that the miner negotiate a restitution package with indigenous landowners.

The inquiry has also recommended that Rio Tinto rebuild the caves at Juukan Gorge that were destroyed on May 24 and commit to a permanent moratorium on mining in the area that protects it from other mining companies.

Rio Tinto, the world's second-largest miner by market value, said in September that Chief Executive Jean-Sebastien Jacques would leave after more than four years in the role, bowing to pressure from investors for its senior leaders to be held accountable for the destruction of the caves. Two other executives, including Chris Salisbury, the head of its iron-ore division, also stood down.

The rock shelters in Australia's minerals-rich Pilbara region, destroyed as Rio Tinto expanded its iron-ore mining operations, were culturally significant. The shelters contained a trove of artifacts that indicated they had been occupied by humans more than 46,000 years ago.

Inquiry committee chair Warren Entsch said the inquiry will continue into next year because of the large volume of information it received.

The inquiry's recommendations extended to the broader mining industry, seeking that companies remove gag clauses from land-use agreements that have stopped Aboriginal groups from speaking out against mining operations.

The inquiry also highlighted serious failings of legislation designed to protect indigenous heritage.

Rio Tinto, which didn't break any laws when blowing up the site, has apologized for the destruction of the caves and acknowledged that its actions had damaged trust between the company and the traditional owners of land, the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura people, or PKKP.

 

Write to Rhiannon Hoyle at rhiannon.hoyle@wsj.com

 

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

December 09, 2020 02:51 ET (07:51 GMT)

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