For decades, security guards at Barrick Gold Corporation’s gold mine in the remote highlands of Porgera, Papua New Guinea (PNG), have systematically committed acts of violence against the local population. Hundreds of women and girls living near the mine have been brutally raped by the mine’s security guards patrolling in or near the mine and local men and boys have been beaten, shot, and killed. The mine has also devastated the local environment and destroyed traditional lands.
EarthRights International represented dozens of women who survived these sexual assaults in a non-judicial Remedial Framework process established by Barrick, advocating for a more just process and better benefits. And when some of our clients rejected the Remedial Framework, believing that it was inadequate to compensate for the trauma they had suffered, we moved forward with plans to file a lawsuit against the company.
In April 2015, Barrick Gold Corporation and ERI reached a negotiated settlement and jointly released the following statement:
Barrick Gold Corporation and EarthRights International (ERI) have negotiated a settlement of claims by 14 individuals from Papua New Guinea (“PNG”), represented by ERI, in relation to a variety of alleged acts of violence concerning the Porgera Mine in PNG. Eleven of these individuals are women with claims alleging acts of sexual violence, including rape. Pursuant to the terms of the settlement, the women will receive compensation under the Porgera Remedy Framework, and a payment in connection with their participation in the mediation process which led to the resolution of their claims. The remaining claims, which relate to alleged deaths, were lodged through the operational grievance mechanism at Porgera, and have also been resolved. All claimants are pleased with this resolution.
The settlement means that our clients’ claims were resolved without litigation.
No litigation was filed, but ERI’s clients in the planned litigation were eleven women with claims alleging acts of sexual violence, including rape, and three clients with claims of alleged deaths.
ERI also represented several dozen of the over two hundred women and girls who lodged complaints of rape and gang rape with Barrick’s Remedial Framework.
Barrick Gold Corporation is the largest gold mining company in the world, with its headquarters in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. It has owned and operated the Porgera gold mine since 2005 when it acquired Placer Dome – another Canadian mining company that had been the prior owner – and employs a private security force to patrol the open pit mine and waste dumps.
Barrick employs a private security force to patrol the open pit and the waste dumps at its Porgera mine. Villagers caught scavenging in the dumps or pit are often detained in a holding cell at the mine site before being transferred into police custody for “illegal mining” or trespassing. These security personnel have engaged in physical abuse and rape.
The security force includes local police officers and others with a police or military background who are employed by Barrick to protect the mine. Barrick has a Memorandum of Understanding with the government of Papua New Guinea to provide police reservists from its own security guards in order to augment the local police force; in practice, these reservists patrol the mine at Barrick’s direction, and reportedly exercise the same power, and use the same weaponry as local police officers—calling into question and raising concerns about the PNG government’s duty to protect human rights.
Barrick also provides financial and other support, such as housing on mine property and transportation, to the Mobile Police squads, a branch of the national police force, to protect its facilities. The Mobile Police have a long history of serious human rights abuses, including shootings, beatings, rape, forced evictions, and burning of homes.
Each day, Barrick dumps massive quantities of waste into the Porgera River and local creeks that villagers have long relied upon for drinking water, bathing, and washing clothes and food. The mine’s ever-expanding waste dumps continue to take over the land and bury the homes of the original landowners that have lived in the region for generations, long before large-scale mining came to Porgera. Surrounded on all sides, villagers have no choice but to cross the dangerous dumps to reach agricultural land, commercial areas, schools or other villages. Many have not been compensated for the loss of their land and their homes, and Barrick has refused to relocate them. Without land to farm and sources of clean water, practically the only means of income available to some of the local indigenous communities is to scavenge for remnants of gold in the open pit or the treacherous waste dumps.
We worked with MiningWatch Canada, as well as the Harvard and Columbia Law School human rights clinics, on advocacy and have coordinated with various groups in Porgera to work with victims and survivors.
1989- The PNG government granted a 20-year Special Mining Lease for development of the Porgera mine, which encompassed a large area many people have lived for generations.
1990- The Porgera Joint Venture gold mine (PJV) began production; operated by Canadian mining company Placer Dome, Barrick’s predecessor.
2005- Local human rights groups, the Porgera Landowners Association (PLOA) and the Akali Tange Association (ATA), began warning of abuses committed by mine guards. Placer Dome acknowledged some deaths of villagers at the hand of security guards, but alleged they were all in self-defense.
The PNG government established a committee to investigate the unusually high number of reported deaths near and at the PJV mine, but no report was ever publicly released.
2006- Barrick Gold acquired a 95% interest in the mine. With it, Barrick also acquired a legacy of environmental damage and human rights abuses.
The ATA reported that they had evidence that security guards had committed acts of sexual violence against local women. Human rights clinics from U.S. law schools began field missions to investigate reports of abuse.
2008- In response to allegations of gang rape by its security guards, Barrick’s CEO wrote a letter to Porgeran leaders saying the allegations were “most distasteful, to say the least as you know these allegations to be untrue.”
2009- A member of the ATA stated at the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues that since he spoke on the matter the previous year, that additional incidents of rape had occurred and five additional killings.
The International Human Rights Clinic at Harvard Law School and the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice at New York University School of Law submitted a legal brief to the Canadian House of Commons, calling for an independent investigation into the allegations of abuse in Porgera and supporting Bill C-300, legislation intended to ensure that corporations engaged in extractives act consistently with Canada’s commitments to international human rights standards.
Mobile Police officers living on Barrick’s mine property took part in a joint-police military operation known as Operation Ipili from April to July 2009 in the area surrounding the mine. During the operation, police engaged in widespread human rights abuses, forcibly evicting people from their homes, burning down more than 130 homes, and brutally assaulting local villagers. Amnesty International published a report in 2010 following an investigation into the abuses during the Operation, which documents Barrick’s support for those Mobile Police forces both before and after Operation Ipili and Barrick’s knowledge of the abuses.
2010- Barrick altered its pattern of denial and commissioned an internal investigation into the sexual assault allegations.
2011- After the results of its own internal investigation and reports from groups like the ATA, MiningWatch Canada, Human Rights Watch, and Amnesty International, Barrick admitted that it had a problem. Barrick acknowledged that the results of its internal investigations were “disturbing.” Barrick terminated certain PJV employees, offered human rights training for security personnel, and publicly announced its plan to create a remedial framework.
In March, ERI began its involvement in the alleged abuses at Porgera by serving as legal advisor on an OECD complaint to the Canadian government filed by the PLOA, ATA, and MiningWatch Canada.
2012- Barrick set up a non-judicial process – the Olgeta Meri Igat Raits (“All Women Have Rights”) Remedial Framework – to consider claims of sexual violence perpetrated by PJV employees, and enable survivors to apply for limited benefits and reparations. The Remedial Framework was limited to claims of sexual violence and did not accept claims for the other violent abuses, nor any of the cases where men had been killed by security guards.
2013 – Over two hundred women lodged complaints of rape and gang rape with the Remedial Framework. ERI represented several dozen women through the process. Barrick claimed that it would make individual assessments of each woman’s needs and offer a flexible benefits package that might include appropriate financial reparations or even relocation where appropriate. But the Framework was not run as promised.
2014 – The Remedial Framework offered reparations and benefits packages to most women who applied, but these packages were predominantly composed of a “business training” program, after which women could get a “business grant” worth 15,000 kina (about $6000). Almost every package came to the same figure for its total value– 21,320.00 kina (about $8500). In exchange, the women – mostly highly impoverished, traumatized, and often illiterate – had to sign legal waivers promising never to sue the company.
Although many women demanded compensatory reparations according to custom in their culture, the Remedial Framework’s Advisory Panel specifically rejected this request. In the explanatory statement, the Panel accepted that the claimants had suffered horrific abuses – “physical assault and imprisonment as well as aggravated rape” – but rejected the notion that compensation for such abuses should rise above $8,500 per woman, regardless of the details of her experience.
Although recognizing that “compensation is a traditional form of redress,” the Panel suggested that this form of remedy would not “respect the dignity” of the women, as protected by the PNG constitution. The women’s request for compensation was rejected; instead, they were treated as an economic development project and given “income-generation skills training” and “start-up” grants.
ERI announced that some of its clients had rejected the Remedial Framework benefits and intended to pursue other legal options.
2015- In April, Barrick and ERI announced they had negotiated a settlement of claims of 14 individuals related to acts of violence, eleven of which included women alleging acts of sexual violence. The terms of the settlement agreement are confidential. In response to a misleading statement issued by Barrick about the settlement, ERI issued a response to correct the record in November.
In May, Barrick announced the sale of 50% of its stake in the mine to China’s Zijin Mining Group.
In response to petitions and protests by other women who had gone through the Framework process and felt undercompensated, Barrick announced that it was going to give an additional 30,000 kina to the other survivors who accepted packages through the Remedial Framework.
The Harvard and Columbia human rights clinics released a report titled Righting Wrongs? Barrick Gold’s Remedy Mechanism for Sexual Violence in Papua New Guinea: Key Concerns and Lessons Learned, while the Columbia human rights clinic initiated an interdisciplinary study of human rights and environmental impacts at Porgera.
2016- Consulting firm Enodo Rights, which was hired by Barrick to conduct an “independent” review, released its assessment of the Remedial Framework.
ERI, along with MiningWatch Canada and the Human Rights Research and Education Centre Human Rights Clinic at the University of Ottawa submitted a report to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, charging that Canada has supported and financed Canadian mining companies—including Barrick—involved in violence against women, in violation of Canada’s Convention obligations.
2017- Local human rights advocates raised new allegations of rape and beatings, and concerns surrounding the raiding and burning of Wangima village by a police unit paid and housed by the mine’s operator, the Porgera Joint Venture, of which Barrick has joint ownership. Reportedly, girls and boys were raped and severely beaten during the raid. In response, Barrick stated that the allegations are being investigated.
Because litigation was never filed, no legal issues were addressed by any court in relation to the abuses at Barrick’s mine. However, ERI did challenge the appropriateness of Barrick’s Remedial Framework, especially the fact that the participants in the process typically were not provided the resources to fully understand and knowingly consent to any agreement. Additionally, ERI and others believed that it was improper, and inconsistent with the U.N. Guiding Principles for Business and Human Rights, for the Remedial Framework to be used for such serious abuses and require a waiver of the right to sue in exchange for benefits.
After Enodo Rights issued its report, we also had several concerns regarding its analysis. While the report contained a number of valuable lessons, it also contained a number of troubling conclusions. We issued a response to the assessment in a number of points, including a strong critique of Enodo’s conclusion regarding the fairness of the Framework’s remedies and the international standard for calculating such remedies. We remains concerned by the way the Enodo report evaluated what constitutes an appropriate remedy: by comparing compensation for non-pecuniary injuries (i.e. injuries not readily state in terms of monetary loss) caused by sexual violation by benchmarking them to the average annual income — per capita GDP – in each country. Under this approach, awards for such damages due to rape are equitable if they reflect a similar “multiple” of average per capita GDP – in other words, it says poor women deserve less money for being raped than rich women do.
ERI’s submissions to the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women and the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination also argue that Barrick’s abuses violate Canada’s commitments under core U.N. human rights treaties.