MAC: Mines and Communities

Papua New Guinea: HRW Confirms Serious Abuses at Barrick Gold Mine

Published by MAC on 2011-02-07
Source: Statement, Radio Australia (2011-02-01)

Papua New Guinea: Serious Abuses at Barrick Gold Mine

Systemic Failures Underscore Need for Canadian Government Regulation

Human Rights Watch Press Release

1 February 2011

Toronto - Private security personnel employed at a gold mine in Papua New Guinea have been implicated in alleged gang rapes and other violent abuses, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. The Porgera mine has produced billions of dollars of gold in its twenty years of operation, and is operated and 95 percent owned by Barrick Gold, a Canadian company that is the world's largest gold producer.

The 94-page report, "Gold's Costly Dividend: Human Rights Impacts of Papua New Guinea's Porgera Gold Mine," identifies systemic failures on the part of Toronto-based Barrick Gold that kept the company from recognizing the risk of abuses, and responding to allegations that abuses had occurred. The report examines the impact of Canada's failure to regulate the overseas activities of its companies and also calls on Barrick to address environmental and health concerns around the mine with greater transparency.

"We interviewed women who described brutal gang rapes by security guards at Barrick's mine," said Chris Albin-Lackey, senior business and human rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. "The company should have acted long before Human Rights Watch conducted its research and prompted them into action."

Human Rights Watch said that in response to its investigation, Barrick has taken meaningful steps to investigate past abuses and make it less likely for similar abuses to occur in future.

Most of the world's mining and exploration companies are based in Canada. But Canada's government has not exercised meaningful oversight or regulation of the overseas operations of Canadian companies, Human Rights Watch said. Bill C-300, a modest but important effort to impose greater government oversight, was defeated in Canada's House of Commons in October 2010. Barrick had lobbied vigorously against the measure.

"Canada's government is asleep at the wheel," Albin-Lackey said. "And if Barrick wants to hold itself out as a responsible corporate citizen, it should support meaningful government oversight and regulation of Canadian companies."

Papua New Guinea's sprawling Porgera gold mine has produced more than 16 million ounces of gold since opening in 1990 - an amount that would be worth more than US$20 billion at today's prices. In 2010, Barrick's worldwide operations were on track to produce more than 7.5 million ounces of gold, an amount worth more than $9.7 billion at current prices.

Papua New Guinea has an abundance of natural resources, but poor governance and corruption have prevented this wealth from benefitting ordinary citizens. The government has failed to bring economic opportunity or deliver basic government services to Porgera, and the region is mired in poverty and violence.

Barrick maintains a private security force of nearly 450 personnel at Porgera. The mine must cope with extraordinary security challenges, including violent raids by groups of illegal miners. But Human Rights Watch research documents opportunistic, violent abuses allegedly committed by some security force members that are in no way a reaction to these threats.

Every day, hundreds of people try to eke out a living by scouring the waste rock dumps around the mine for minute traces of gold. In contrast to the participants in violent raids that the mine confronts on a regular basis, these miners are for the most part engaged in an entirely nonviolent - albeit unauthorized - practice. They face arrest by company security officers if they are caught on the waste dumps.

Human Rights Watch investigated six alleged incidents of gang rape by company security personnel. In each case, women were allegedly raped after being captured by company security personnel on the waste dumps. The women interviewed by Human Rights Watch described scenes of extreme violence. One described being gang raped by six security personnel after one of her assailants kicked her in the face and shattered her teeth. Human Rights Watch also documented cases of people who alleged that they were beaten or otherwise mistreated by guards who apprehended them on the waste dumps.

None of the women interviewed by Human Rights Watch said they had reported the alleged rapes to the local authorities or to the company. Some said their assailants had told them they would be arrested if they tried to complain. Compounding matters, Barrick did not have any safe channels of communication that community members could use to report abuses.

Barrick has responded with appropriate vigor to the allegations brought forward by Human Rights Watch. The company opened a major internal investigation, facilitated a criminal investigation by the Papua New Guinea police, and made a commitment to take steps that could strengthen oversight and accountability for the security force at Porgera.

The alleged gang rapes appear to be part of a wider pattern, Human Rights Watch said. The company and police investigations that followed the Human Rights Watch disclosures have uncovered other cases of alleged sexual violence.

In a public statement, Barrick called the results of its internal investigation "disturbing" and announced the termination of several security personnel for involvement in, or failure to report, alleged incidents of sexual violence. Police arrested three current and former Porgera Joint Venture employees in January, 2011. Two were charged with rape and the third with inflicting grievous bodily harm.

A January 17 police statement predicted that more charges were likely to flow from their investigation and said that the arrests should serve as a warning that serious abuses will not be tolerated. That message is important but it will take work to convince many people to believe it, Human Rights Watch said.

Members of the Papua New Guinea police force are regularly implicated in incidents of torture and rape, and the force's abusive reputation makes the public reluctant to turn to it for help. If the government wants to combat impunity for rape and other serious crimes, it will have to start by ensuring that the police themselves are held accountable for their conduct, Human Rights Watch said.

Human Rights Watch's research also examines concerns about the health and environmental impacts of the Porgera mine. The mine dumps 16,000 tons of liquid waste into the nearby Porgera River every day. This controversial practice is out of line with current industry standards, and critics worry that it could pose health risks to communities far downstream.

Human Rights Watch called on Barrick to publish several specific sources of relevant data to allow for independent evaluation of the company's claims. The company has now agreed to make public its annual environmental reports for the first time. This is a good first step, Human Rights Watch said.

Human Rights Watch also called for the Papua New Guinea government and international donors to facilitate a public health survey of possible mercury poisoning around Porgera. Impoverished small-scale and illegal miners in the area regularly process gold ore by combining it with mercury and then burning the combined materials over an open flame. This is an extremely dangerous practice and one that local medical professionals believe may have given rise to an untreated epidemic of mercury poisoning in local communities.

To read "Gold's Costly Dividend: Human Rights Impacts of Papua New Guinea's Porgera Gold Mine," please visit: http://www.hrw.org/node/95776

To watch a multimedia feature that accompanies this report, please visit: http://www.hrw.org/en/features/png-golds-costly-dividend

To preview b-roll and stills available for distribution, please visit: http://www.hrwnews.org/distribute/png_020111/preview.html


Human Rights Report Confirms Rapes by Security Guards at Barrick Mine in Papua New Guinea

Miningwatch Canada

1 February 2011

Ottawa - A report released today by Human Rights Watch confirms allegations of gang rapes and other human rights abuses by security guards of Barrick Gold's Porgera Joint Venture (PJV) mine in Papua New Guinea (PNG). This important report represents but the latest attempt to raise public awareness about these long standing abuses at the mine. Until now, Barrick and the personnel of the PJV mine have responded to numerous credible attempts to alert the company to the abuses of its security personnel with denial and, frequently, by attempting to discredit those who raised the issues.

"We already alerted Barrick in 2005 to serial killings being perpetrated by PJV's security guards before Barrick took over the mine from Placer Dome" says Jethro Tulin of Akali Tange Association, a local human rights group. "We sent Vince Borg and Grey Wilkinson of Barrick Gold a letter and deposited our report called ‘The Killing Fields of Porgera Joint Venture' in the office in Port Moresby so that Barrick would know what was going on." Pressure by members of Akali Tange Association and Canadian media attention, among others, contributed to an investigation by the PNG government of the alleged killings in 2006, but that report has never been released.

Since 2007, Jethro Tulin has been travelling to Canada yearly to speak in front of Barrick's board of directors and shareholders at the company's annual general meeting. At these meetings Mr. Tulin has consistently raised the alleged killings and rapes by the mine's security guards, only to hear Barrick's directors assure shareholders that these allegations are false. Mr. Tulin has been accompanied in Canada by Mr. Mark Ekepa, the chairman of the Porgera Landowners Association for landowners living within the mine's lease area. Mr Ekepa too has repeatedly challenged the local mine management and Barrick Gold to acknowledge abuses perpetrated by the mine's security forces and take action on behalf of victims. Both men have met with senior Barrick executives in Toronto on two occasions.

In response to a letter in May 2008 from Mr. Ekepa to Barrick's then-President and CEO Greg Wilkins, the Porgera mine manager responded to Mr. Ekepa saying, "we found your public allegations of our employees ‘gang raping' Porgera Land Owners' women to be most distasteful, to say the least, as you know these allegations to be untrue."

"I have done what I could for many years to raise the abuses by the mine's security forces with Barrick Gold executives, shareholders, and Canadian civil servants and members of parliament and my own government officials," says Mark Ekepa, "As recently as June 5th 2010 I wrote to the mine manager about the rapes of three young girls by PJV engaged members of mobile squads."

While Barrick denounced allegations by local Porgeran leaders, the company also declined to investigate the activities of its security forces, even in the face of a three year investigation into the alleged killings and rapes by senior researchers from human rights institutions at Harvard and New York Universities. These researchers testified about their findings before a Canadian parliamentary committee in 2009 and 2010, and filed a substantial report in 2009.

"Barrick has chosen for many years to ignore the urgent warnings the company has received in both written and verbal form about serious human rights problems associated with its security forces at the Porgera mine," says Catherine Coumans of MiningWatch Canada. "This new report by Human Rights Watch appears to have finally moved Barrick to take some actions that may prevent abuses in the future. We hope that Barrick is now also prepared to consider reparations for people who have been harmed by its security guards and will be more open to dealing with other environmental and human rights concerns at the Porgera mine."

Coumans further notes, "The Canadian government has also ignored information it has received about the human rights and environmental concerns at Barrick's operations in PNG. Porgerans have met with civil servants of CIDA, Foreign Affairs, and Trade a number of times starting in 2007 and raised these issues directly with them. Nonetheless, in 2010 CIDA provided $158,241 for a Barrick reforestation project in Peru, with more payments to come. With the defeat of Bill C-300 the Canadian government can continue to ignore complaints about human rights abuses and reward tax payer dollars to projects at the mine sites of Canadian companies against whom serious accusations have been made."

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For more information contact:
Catherine Coumans, MiningWatch Canada
Jethro Tulin, Akali Tange Associaiton, Papua New Guinea
Mark Ekepa, Porgera Landowners Association, Papua New Guinea

For a copy of the Human Rights Watch report see: http://www.hrw.org/node/95776
For a copy of the Harvard and New York University report see: http://www.business-humanrights.org/Documents/CanadaParliamentarytestimonyreBarrickPJV/


Abuse allegations over PNG gold mine

By Jeff Waters, Senior Correspondent

Radio Australia

2 February 2011

We live in an age where big mining firms are able to act with impunity across the developing world.

Barely a month passes without new allegations levelled at rich multi-national firms, exploiting the people and the environments of countries in desperate need of foreign funds.

However the latest round of accusations, included in a new report from the New York-based Human Rights Watch organisation, take the "rape of the third world" scenario to a new and disturbing level.

The report - Gold's Costly Dividend: Human Rights Impacts of Papua New Guinea's Porgera Gold Mine - accuses private security guards of the systemic pack rape of vulnerable women, as well as other violent abuses.

The violent attacks have been occurring on and around the vast mine-waste dumps, where destitute families gather every day to illegally fossick and pan for gold in the often toxic slurry.

In an interview with Human Rights Watch, one anonymous victim said security guards employed by the mine's owner, Canada's Barrick Gold, leapt from a car and chased her.

"They caught me," she said, "They held me and raped me and they kicked my mouth and my teeth broke...eleven of them were broken"

Another anonymous victim told a similar story.

"I fell down and the security came and caught me," she said, "they asked me: "Do you want to go to jail or go home?"

"I said I wanted to go home [but] they said: "Then you will pay a big fine," and then the security guards raped me."

The Deputy Asia Director for Human Rights Watch, Elaine Pearson, says the report uncovered a pattern of brutal abuses.

"We've particularly documented a number of cases of brutal gang rapes of women," she told me, "the women tend to be caught illegally trespassing on the mine, and they've been brutally raped by the security guards and in many cases they haven't even reported the cases to the authorities because of fear of retribution."

"When we shared our investigation with Barrick, they did their own investigation and they found additional cases, so we certainly think that this is a broader pattern - these abuses are happening in an isolated area where security guards can basically act with impunity and act as they please without fear of any retribution."

"In the past, when other organisations have raised these [types of] issues with Barrick the response has been quite hostile and dismissive," Elaine Pearson said.

"We've encountered a more positive response; they've engaged with us on a number of the issues and promised to ensure that the recommendations are followed through to ensure that the security forces are held accountable, but I think they shouldn't have actually waited until Human Rights Watch came to them alleging these human rights abuses," she said.

Both investigations, by Barrick and by Human Rights Watch, have resulted in the arrests.

So far, three men who have been charged with rape and other assaults.

But it will be interesting to see just how far the response goes, given the activist's concerns about police involvement.

"Part of the reason these abuses happen is because there isn't adequate policing in the area," Elaine Pearson said.

"What we do know is, in fact, that police can often be part of the problem."

"To deal with the violence in the area the police have deployed some mobile squads, but we do know that actually these squads have also been involved in abuses such as forced evictions of local villagers and at least one additional incidence of rape," she said.
Environmental concern

Environmentalists have also, for very many years, held grave concerns for the environment around the mine, for (according to Human Rights Watch's report) discharging six million tons of liquid tailings into the nearby Porgera River each year.

But there's an even more immediate threat to human health associated with this mine.

The poverty-stricken family members who traverse the mine's waste dumps collect small rocks which they take back to their homes.

There, they crush the rocks and the mix the resulting dust with mercury - poured from a little vile, or from hand to human hand - which combines with any gold present.

Often with children nearby, the mercury is then boiled over an open fire.

It evaporates, leaving behind any gold present, but in the process, deadly fumes are released.

Local doctors report an increasing number of mercury-related poisoning, and say several people have died.

Human Rights Watch says Australia should help address the problem, by helping with funds to conduct a survey on poisoning in the area.

According to Barrick's website both it, and the Porgera Joint Venture Company (which includes the PNG regional government as a fractional shareholder of the mine): "are committed to upholding the human rights and dignity of people living near the Porgera mine, a community which continues to face severe law and order challenges."

Although the site doesn't yet seem to address the Human Rights Watch allegations directly, it does outline a large array of benefits, including training, regional development and environmental schemes, that it employs at the site so as to offer a helping hand to local residents.

In the wake of other, recent, allegations, Barrick also helped finance a larger police presence in the remote area.

In a letter it wrote at the time to PNG authorities, the company said: "The [Porgera Joint Venture] understands that the police personnel assigned to the area shall, in discharging their responsibilities, comply with all applicable laws and regulations of Papua New Guinea and relevant international legal instruments regarding the use of force, including the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights, the UN Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials, and the UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials."

But when security forces are given power over impoverished villagers living deep in a remote forest, United Nations codes of conduct and concerns about human rights can be easily forgotten, as wealthy multi-nationals continue to try to rip gold from the ground so as to satiate the growing demands of global consumers.

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