Taiwan’s legislature passed a historic amendment to the Mining Act, introducing new rules for granting mining licenses and mandating that mining companies obtain consent from Indigenous communities before undertaking mining activities in their living areas.

More than 70% of Taiwan’s mines are located in Indigenous territories, according to legislator Saidhai Tahovecahe from the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). In line with the Indigenous Peoples Basic Law, which safeguards fundamental rights comparable to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, it’s only fair for businesses to consult and seek approval from Indigenous peoples beforehand, she said.

In 2021, Taipei’s Supreme Administrative Court nullified the Ministry of Economic Affairs’ 2018 approval to extend Asia Cement Corporation's mining rights in the living areas of Indigenous peoples in Hualien for an additional 20 years. Prior to the amendment, the Mining Act stipulated that the government would approve the extension of mining activities “in principle,” allowing companies to continue their operations until authorities called for a halt.

In other words, the rule allowed businesses to continue mining for decades without supervision after obtaining a license.

But in a statement, the judges recognized that “mining is a form of land development that typically affects Indigenous peoples and their traditional cultures,” and said “legislators have obligated the government to consult with and obtain approval from Indigenous peoples before extending mining rights.”

Lawmakers have been working with civic groups since 2017 to amend the Mining Act. NGOs and activists call the passage of the amendment a “key step” to reforming the mining sector.

Under the amended law, mining licenses will clearly define the approved amount of mineral extraction and the permissible mining depth in addition to the area of mining activities. To obtain a license, mine developers will need to conduct an environmental impact assessment and seek approval from nearby Indigenous communities, and they will have to reapply if any changes need to be made in the license. Mining operations will no longer be automatically approved by the economic ministry.

Lawmakers said that companies that haven’t obtained permission from Indigenous communities will be given one year to do so; otherwise, their mining rights could be revoked.

The new law also enhances the transparency of mining activities, requiring that all relevant documents be made publicly available.

DPP lawmaker Lin Shu-fen said that the amendment is the biggest reform to the mining industry in two decades. “It aims to balance the interests of the mining industry and local communities, seek environmental justice, and promote sustainable development of the environment,” she added.

Officials from the Ministry of Economic Affairs said that 76 applications for the extension of mining rights were suspended during the law amendment process. Mining companies will now have five years to fulfill the requirements of the amended law.

Local NGO Citizen of the Earth said that the reform has never been about knocking down the cement industry. “Our goal is to promote using resources without harming the environment or sacrificing the rights and interests of minority groups, and to change the law in favor of businesses instead of local communities.”

Some information for the story came from The News Lens Chinese edition.

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