Governing resource conflict in Bougainville - accountability for the past and the future

Research theme: Security and Political Engagement
Duration: March 2014 to May 2015

Research team

  • Professor Adrian Little, Arts, UoM

  • Dr Rain Liivoja, Law, UoM

  • Dr Jodi York, B&E, UoM

  • Dr Kris Lasslett, Faculty of Social Science, University of Ulster/ International State Crime Initiative, Kings College London

Project summary

Rio Tinto's Panguna mine has played a critical role in Bougainville's recent history, with conflict over its operation and impact underpinning the region's decade long civil war. The mine also lies at the heart of debates over the region's political and economic future, as discussion surrounding the mine's proposed re-opening gains momentum. The processes of public engagement through which Bougainvilleans attempt to manage the legacies of the conflict, and determine the country's future, are difficult and controversial, as processes of consultation and negotiation surrounding the mine are complicated by the shadow of unresolved grievances, and contested lines of responsibility between government and company parties. These challenges are compounded by the deep but often neglected links between dynamics of reconciliation, justice and peacebuilding,and processes of post-conflict economic development.

This project analyses the political processes through which social conflict surrounding the Panguna mine in Bougainville is being managed. It investigates how the legitimacy of existing decision making processes surrounding the mine is impacted by processes of accountability for past wrongs, and by confused lines of power, responsibility and accountability between government and corporate decision makers at local, national and international levels. This analysis aims not only to deepen understanding of distinctive challenges of political engagement and governance in the Bougainville context, but also to generate broader theoretical and comparative insights into the social and institutional dynamics of contemporary resource conflict.