119 Indigenous Women Demand Justice from Barrick Gold at UN Forum in Geneva
Tired of waiting for fair compensation from mining giant for gross sexual violence, 119 indigenous women from Papua New Guinea call for UN intervention
(Geneva, Switzerland/Porgera, Papua New Guinea) Today, in an open letter to the United Nations, 119 indigenous women who were sexually assaulted by security guards at Barrick Gold’s mine in Porgera, Papua New Guinea appealed for UN intervention in their fight to obtain fair remedies from the company.
“The company’s guards raped us. The company ignored us for years. When the company finally created a remedy program, we 119 women went to it,” said Everlyn Gaupe, one of the women harmed by the company’s actions and now seeking justice. “But the remedy was not fair. We did not get everything that we were promised. We call for the support of the UN because Barrick Gold is ignoring our call to pay us equal compensation.”
The letter, signed by all 119 women, states their grave dissatisfaction with the amount of compensation awarded under the company’s remedy mechanism, and asks for compensation equal to that received by eleven women who were represented by attorneys from US-based NGO EarthRights International. Those represented by EarthRights received a confidential settlement outside the remedy mechanism believed to be as much as four times greater than the amount the 119 women received.
Seeking equitable compensation, the women submitted their letter today at the 5th Annual UN Forum on Business and Human Rights in Geneva. Their voices were also heard in a video played during a public panel today that examined the responsibility of companies to provide rights-compatible remedy to those who have been harmed by their operations.
“For the women, this is another step in what has been a long process over many years fighting for their right to remedy for brutal sexual assaults by mine guards,” said Catherine Coumans of MiningWatch Canada. “These are strong women who are fighting for justice against the largest gold mining company in the world.”
- Catherine Coumans, MiningWatch Canada, email@example.com
- Ms. Everlyn Gaupe, Porgera, Papua New Guinea, via Whatsapp at +675 7983 3893
For more information see:
- Letter from the 119 female victims of sexual violence by mine security at the Porgera Joint Venture mine to the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights. In cases where the victim is deceased, family members have signed the letter. Attached, and available here.
- Video testimonies provided by the women and played today at the United Nations in Geneva. Available here.
Background: Strategic use of remedy program aimed more at legal risk reduction than providing equitable remedy
For years, security guards and police guarding the Porgera Joint Venture mine, under an MOU between Barrick and the Papua New Guinea (PNG) state, physically assaulted and sexually abused members of the local community. It was only after years of repeated pressure by local and international groups that Barrick finally acknowledged the sexual violence. The company began its internal investigation in 2010, and two years later launched a remedy mechanism to handle claims by survivors. The mechanism, one of the first of its kind, has been the subject of heated debate and criticism, by both claimants and international advocates.
Barrick’s Framework for the mechanism created a short term program that was very narrowly scoped. The mechanism only dealt with victims of sexual violence – not all victims of excess use of force by mine security. And it only dealt with victims of sexual violence by security hired by the mine, not by police who also guard the mine under an MOU with the PNG state and are housed, fed, clothed and paid by the mine. Arguably, these provisions of the remedy program focussed on the victims and perpetrators that caused the highest degree of legal risk for Barrick and its subsidiaries. Furthermore, Barrick made the provision of compensation to sexual assault victims conditional on their signing a legal waiver indemnifying Barrick and its subsidiaries from any future legal action on these issues by the victims.
The mechanism was implemented in the second half of 2012. Starting in 2013, MiningWatch Canada repeatedly detailed concerns about the lack of rights-compatibility of the remedy program’s Framework, and its implementation, among others, in letters to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. In response the OHCHR [Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights] did recommend that Barrick implement a review of the program, while it was still being implemented, by reviewers that were acceptable to the company, as well as to the victims and other key stakeholders. Barrick declined to conduct this review.
The remedy program ended in 2014. 119 women had signed legal waivers in return for compensation packages. 11 women, who received legal counsel from EarthRights International, received an out of court settlement from Barrick widely reported to be worth 4 times what the 119 remedy program women received. Since the closure of the remedy program, the 119 women who participated in it have started to speak publicly about the assaults they endured, their dissatisfaction with the remedy process they went through, and with the remedy they received. They have also spoken about the aspects of the remedy packages that they never received such as education, health care, and small business training.
Additionally, some 70 women who never received remedy through the program have filed a claim (ID# 3936) with the mine’s grievance office with the help of a local grassroots human rights organization, Akali Tange Association. Additional reports of sexual assaults by forces guarding the mine continue to be logged and are reportedly not being dealt with by the mine’s grievance office.
Human rights investigators and legal experts at the Columbia and Harvard Law Schools identified serious short-comings in the Barrick grievance mechanism in a 127-page assessment, “Righting Wrongs,” released in 2015. The report found that Barrick’s attempt to provide remedies for the rape survivors fell far short of international standards, as Barrick ultimately failed to address the acute power imbalance between the company and the impacted community. Most notably, the women were not consulted during the design of the mechanism and were required to sign away their legal right to sue in order to receive remedies.
Earlier in 2016, the consulting firm Enodo Rights released a controversial assessment of the mechanism. Barrick hired Enodo to conduct this review of the grievance mechanism in 2015. Both EarthRights International and MiningWatch Canada have raised concerns regarding the practical independence and accuracy of this review, which elevated a corporate-centered analysis of Barrick’s human rights obligations. Still, even the Enodo report confirms concerns raised by MiningWatch Canada and by the Harvard and Columbia report that there was a lack of adequate communication with survivors and a lack of independent legal counsel for claimants.
MiningWatch Canada will be joining other advocates at the 5th Annual United Nations Forum on Business and Human Rights to raise these concerns at a panel addressing lessons on company grievance mechanisms. The MiningWatch team aims to elevate a rights-centered approach by focusing discussion on the real experiences of women who have accessed the mechanism.
Although a representative of the 119 survivors could not make it to the Forum, their voice rings loud and clear in a video that will be shown and in their open letter: “All in all, we stand united and speak for our rights so that Barrick MUST make equal compensation to us.”
In August 2015 Barrick divested 50 percent of its share in the Porgera mine, but it continues to be a key stakeholder. Barrick Chief Sustainability Officer Peter Sinclair said Barrick is still accountable for what happens on-site and at the hands of its security.