Case 5 of 6 [i]
The Porgera Joint Venture (PJV) gold mine is located in Porgera, Enga Province, in the highlands of Papua New Guinea (PNG). In 2006, Canadian mining company, Barrick Gold Corp. (Barrick) owned 75% of the joint venture, which it also operated. In 2007, Barrick increased its control over the PJV mine by moving to a 95% interest in the project.[ii] The company trades on the New York and Toronto Stock Exchanges.
- Since 1990, this mine has been alleged to have long-standing and well-documented[iii] environmental impacts on surface water related to the uncontained disposal of waste rock and tailings into adjacent river valleys, threatening neighbouring residents’ right to access clean water.[iv]
- In 2005, as Barrick was preparing to acquire Placer Dome Inc. (Placer Dome) and its share in the PJV mine, Placer Dome admitted to eight killings of local villagers by mine security and police at the mine,[v] and Barrick received evidence from a local grassroots human rights group[vi] detailing several human rights abuses, including killings, torture, arbitrary arrest and beatings allegedly perpetrated by mine security and police. [vii] The abuses were also covered in the Canadian media just months after Barrick acquired Placer Dome.[viii]
- After taking over the mine in 2006, Barrick was criticized by human rights groups for failing to appropriately acknowledge, investigate or address the excessive use of force by mine security and police guarding the mine, despite repeated reports of killings and beatings of men and boys, beatings, rapes and gang rapes of women and girls,[ix] and house burnings.[x]
- Eventually, in 2010, Barrick publicly admitted that the company had received detailed allegations of sexual assault perpetrated by mine employees;[xi] however, the company’s response involved establishing a time-limited grievance procedure which has been criticized by human rights experts.[xii]
- The company contends that “since the conclusion of the [grievance procedure], no further credible allegations have been received.”[xiii] However, unaddressed allegations of human rights abuses continued to be documented and reported.[xiv]
Despite being a resource-rich country, approximately 40% of Papua New Guinea’s population lives in poverty. Instead of spurring meaningful economic development for local communities, the exploitation of natural resources, including gold mining, has fueled violent conflict and environmental destruction. Today, the country continues to be considered one of the most dangerous places for women and girls due to domestic violence, and impunity for high levels of police brutality is “rampant”.[xv] It is within this context that Canadian mining giant, Barrick Gold, has continued to operate its PJV mine.
Since 2005, prior to Barrick’s acquisition of the PJV mine, the company has been informed on various occasions of well-documented cases of alleged human rights abuses, including sexual assault, rape and killings by private security and police forces and environmental destruction at Barrick’s PJV gold mine. Despite these initial warnings and subsequent reports of violence, it took five years for Barrick to respond publicly. The company’s response has been criticized as inadequate by human rights experts including the Columbia Law School Human Rights Clinic, the Harvard Law School International Human Rights Clinic and MiningWatch Canada.[xvi]
Reports of serious human rights abuses
In November 2005, the PJV mine and the national police force signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to jointly guard the PJV mine, and emerging evidence of police violence was making clear what that ‘protection’ entailed for the safety and lives of the local population. On November 4, 2005, in the lead up to Barrick’s acquisition of the PJV mine from Placer Dome, a local group, Akali Tange Association, sent Barrick a letter[xvii] warning of Placer Dome’s legacy of killings by mine security, including violence directed at local Indigenous Ipili and Engan villagers. The Akali Tange Association also sent a letter and a copy of its 2005 report to Barrick executives at the mine’s headquarters in Papua New Guinea’s capital, Port Moresby.[xviii] The letter detailed 11 extra-judicial killings by mine security and police.
That same year, the government of Papua New Guinea initiated an official investigation into the deaths.[xix] Finally, in an email interview in 2005, Placer Dome’s Patrick Bindon told the news outlet IPS that the mine’s security forces and police had killed eight people since 1996.[xx] After the acquisition of Placer Dome in March 2006, Bindon went on to work for Barrick.
The foregoing suggests that news about the human rights violations was clearly public knowledge, yet Barrick carried on with business as usual.
Barrick remains silent despite testimonies and human rights investigations
For three consecutive years starting in 2008, Porgerans travelled to Canada to attend Barrick’s annual shareholder meetings and to tell the company’s Chief Executive Officer, the board of directors and the shareholders that PJV mine security and police were beating and killing men and boys and beating and raping women and girls.[xxi] While in Canada, they also met with Canadian media, Members of Parliament and civil servants at Foreign Affairs, as well as with Barrick officials in Toronto, where Barrick’s head office is located.
Between 2008 and 2009, Harvard and New York University human rights investigators, who along with MiningWatch Canada[xxii] had conducted extensive investigations including three fact-finding missions into the cases of rapes and gang rapes, sent three separate letters to Barrick.[xxiii] The investigators requested to meet with the company to discuss the alleged violence and asked to receive copies of Barrick’s reports pertaining to the environmental and human rights impacts of the mine. Barrick’s response, however, was extremely limited. The company did not provide any information about specific killings or documents pertaining to the security structure at the mine.[xxiv]
The researchers also shared the findings of this research in testimonies provided to Canada’s Foreign Affairs and International Development Committee in 2009[xxv] and 2010[xxvi] and in a legal brief that was tabled.[xxvii] In response to the testimony in 2009, Barrick chose its words carefully, noting that “no cases of sexual assault [have been] reported to mine management” (emphasis added) and that “It is not possible for the [Porgera Joint Venture mine] to investigate an allegation it has never received…”[xxviii] Barrick also seemed to question whether the women were raped, stating that if they had been, there were “numerous avenues” available at the mine for the women to have reported the abuse.[xxix]
Subsequent testimonies by Harvard researchers poked holes in Barrick’s purported ignorance of the gang rapes and the killings arguing that there was ample evidence pointing to these abuses, including allegations of rape dating back to 2006, which should have prompted Barrick to carry out a thorough investigation – and that it would not have taken much effort to uncover evidence of the abuses.[xxx] Finally, in late 2010, Barrick acknowledged the sexual assault allegations[xxxi] by creating a short-term grievance mechanism that has been criticized by MiningWatch Canada,[xxxii] human rights experts from Columbia and Harvard, [xxxiii] and Barrick’s own consultant BSR.[xxxiv]
Similarly, despite the existence of witness statements, and autopsy and police reports,[xxxv] to date, Barrick has not responded effectively to the allegations of killings by mine security against boys and men.[xxxvi]
If mandatory human rights and environmental due diligence legislation was in place, what would be different for the women and men who, for more than 15 years, have been denouncing grave abuses by public and private security forces at Barrick Gold’s mine in Papua New Guinea?
In cases such as Porgera that have faced longstanding allegations of violence by mine security and national police, due diligence assessments would identify and assess the likelihood of those abuses continuing, set out procedures to prevent the recurrence of those abuses and develop independent mechanisms to remedy harm done prior to the acquisition. If abuses continued, the company could be required to account for what it had done to address the abuses in a Canadian court of law.
- IDENTIFY and ASSESS: If Barrick had undertaken an adequate due diligence risk assessment prior to, and after the time of the acquisition of Placer Dome, it would have:
- Taken seriously information about the legacy of killings by mine security that existed in the public record and that were shared directly with the company by the Akali Tange Association back in November 2005, when the grassroots human rights organization had tried to warn Barrick of serious human rights abuses at the mine.
- Identified and assessed whether violence by security personnel was ongoing after Barrick acquired the project as reported in the media, by local human rights groups at the company’s own annual shareholders meetings, by civil society organizations such as MiningWatch Canada and by international human rights experts from Harvard and New York University.
- PREVENT, MITIGATE, ACCOUNT FOR: Barrick could have taken steps to prevent the recurrence of human rights abuses by its mine security by:
- Withdrawing from the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the national police force given the many allegations of human rights abuses and violence it has faced.
- Developing and implementing effective training of mine personnel and establishing monitoring plans and practices to ensure that any violence at the mine site or related to the mine was identified immediately, independently investigated, mitigated and ceased.
- Ensuring its complaint mechanisms were independent, safe and effective.
- Carrying out stakeholder engagement with community members and in particular women to ensure they were aware of the company’s independent complaint mechanisms and how to access them safely.
- Installing surveillance cameras in areas where rapes and other forms of violence were reportedly taking place.
- Establishing a publicly available and independent complaint mechanism with clear steps for responding to, mitigating, and providing justice for complainants whose claims are found to be substantiated through an independent investigation.
How could justice be accessed for community members and workers?
If Barrick failed to prevent ongoing human rights abuses and failed to ensure access to justice and remedy for the men, women and children who had suffered violence and rape by mine security, those impacted by the violence, or their supporters, would have been able to file a civil suit in a Canadian court. The courts would assess the adequacy of Barrick’s due diligence policies and practices and, if it was determined that Barrick failed to follow through on its own due diligence measures or those measures were considered to be weak and ineffective, Barrick could have been held liable for harm.