2. Denial, Globe and Mail, Sept 27, 2001Published by MAC on 2001-05-01
By ALLAN ROBINSON, MINING REPORTER
Barrick Gold Corp. has been caught in the middle of an international human rights controversy, and denies allegations that peasant miners were buried alive at a Tanzanian mine site it now owns.
The Lawyers' Environmental Action Team of Tanzania alleges that up to 52 miners were killed in August, 1996, as a result of efforts to clear an estimated 2,000 artisanal miners from the site. The miners had dug their own pits and tunnels to extract gold.
At the time, the site was owned by Sutton Resources Ltd. of Vancouver, which Toronto-based Barrick acquired in 1999 for almost $500-million.
But the allegations have resurfaced, and LEAT is to air them today at a news conference in Ottawa along with videotapes purportedly showing "new evidence."
Barrick maintains that no one was killed at the $280-million (U.S.) Bulyanhulu gold mine, and cites police reports, government investigations and reports by independent agencies.
"It does not reflect well on [LEAT], or on the professional standards of attorneys who have pledged to protect Tanzania's environment and improve the quality of governance in Tanzania, to misrepresent the contents of the videotape," said Barrick counsel Patrick Garver.
Mr. Garver, also a Barrick executive vice-president, accused the group in an open letter of repeating the allegations "in reckless disregard of the facts."
Last night, the World Bank's Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency in Washington said the "new evidence" does not show any wrongdoing on the part of either the government or the companies involved. It said that the so-called new evidence "in the form of a videotape in Swahili with an interpretative statement that is at best misleading."
Barrick concurs, saying the videotapes tell a false story. It says that bodies depicted in the tapes "are demonstrably not of 'exhumed miners,' " as is being claimed by the Tanzanian lawyers' group. "In fact, the bodies are of people who died of other causes, and were filmed several kilometres away from where the pits were being closed," and at several different locations, the company said.
But human rights groups, in a media advisory yesterday, said they would present "damning new evidence" in the deaths of the Tanzanian miners.
The news conference scheduled for today (Ottawa, Sept 27, 2001) is sponsored by the Council of Canadians, Mining Watch Canada and the Halifax Initiative.
"We can't comment ahead of the press conference," said a spokeswoman for the Council of Canadians. "That defeats the purpose."
LEAT, in a letter to the World Bank on Aug. 23, said that because of the videotape and other photographs, an international commission should be established to investigate the events.
The issue is important to Barrick because much of the mine's bank financing carries political risk insurance, which is guaranteed by the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency and Canada's Export Development Corp. The insurance is conditional on the company not violating human rights.
"It's absolute garbage," Michael Kenyon said yesterday of the allegations being made. Mr. Kenyon was a director of Sutton at the time it began to explore and develop the mine in Tanzania. "It's just ridiculous."
Police reports at the time described the claims as "hearsay without any truth," according to Agence France-Presse. Local officials also investigated and found nothing, Barrick said.
Sutton described the evictions at the time as being done in a safe and systematic way without physical harm to the miners.
The eviction of the small-scale miners was monitored by police, government officials, tunnel inspectors and company officials, Barrick said. All pits were checked before being filled by bulldozers. The entire process was videotaped, Barrick said.
Subsequent police investigations also found no evidence to substantiate any reports of deaths or of missing people, Barrick said.
Investigations by the International Finance Corp. also failed to find evidence of wrongdoing, Barrick said.
Copyright © 2001 Globe Interactive, a division of Bell Globemedia Publishing Inc.