I must bring your attention to this site. I have not previously come across it, and write about it so that you too can access it, if like me you have not yet had the pleasure. One may not always agree with the mind-set that underlies the many documents on this site, but one cannot deny that the authors have thought long and hard about their topic and write with skill and devotion. I refer to the site Mining, Environment and Development, billed as the location of documents on mining and sustainable development from the United Nations and other organizations.

I went straight to the topic that fascinates me most, namely International Law and mining. Here you will find that old stand-by, the International Cyanide Management Code for the Gold Mining Industry, the Kimberley Process Certification System for Rough Diamonds, and a new one to me, Mining, Environment and Development. It subject: international law and mining. I have always been fascinated by the concept and practice of international law. At the end of this piece, I repeat something I wrote more than a year ago, within a few weeks of joining InfoMine; it sets out the reasons for my fascination with the topic. But first, here is a summation of the volume Mining, Environment and Development:

“Because environmental regulation is here to stay and bound to become more widely adopted, more stringent and better enforced, the winners in the division of share in the metals markets will not be those firms that avoid environmental control (only later to be forced to internalize the high cost of having done so), but will be those firms that were ahead of the game, those that played a role in changing the industry’s production parameters, and those that used their innovative capabilities to the competitive advantage.”

Here is a repeat of a piece I wrote over a year ago:

My professor of jurisprudence questioned whether so-called international law was indeed law; it is not duly promulgated by any accepted regulatory body and there is nobody with the courts or police to enforce it and punish transgressors. My professor of International Law of course claimed that international law is valid law in that it is a body of agreed conduct based on fundamental principles of moral and ethical conduct.

I know of no mining company that “obeys” international law in the same way as it obeys national and local laws. But I do know of those shining examples where the miner acts in accordance with the moral and ethical principles that are set out by Marcos Orellana in his paper on Indigenous Peoples, Mining, and International Law. Apart from the thorny issue of “who is indigenous?”, he makes a persuasive case that contemporary international law is evolving towards a recognition that indigenous peoples have the right to own, develop, control and use the lands and territories, including the total environment of the lands, air, waters, coastal seas, sea-ice, for a and fauna and other resources which they have traditionally owned or otherwise occupied and used.

I worked for many years with the Navaho and Hopi in Arizona and New Mexico to remediate uranium mill tailings piles that were legacy from the atomic bomb development time. We were not influenced by any notion of international law but were able to concentrate on meeting a simple national law that mandated a remediated pile stable for at least one thousand years. My project colleagues from these two nations stood solidly behind this long design life.

But I was much disconcerted when I went to Spain to help close a uranium pile and they laughed at me for thinking 1,000 years a long time; for as my host pointed out, a Spaniard had been emperor of Rome at least two thousand years before, the bridge we were standing on was 1,600 years old, and the family in the 1,200 year old castle were still considered strange by the village for the count who built the castle threw his first wife from the tower the day after it was completed. The indigenous Spanish villagers demanded a much longer design life than the Hopi or Navaho.