Backgrounder: Issues Related to Barrick’s Porgera Joint Venture Mine in Papua New Guinea

Catherine Coumans

Ph.D. Research Coordinator and Asia-Pacific Program Coordinator

Violence perpetrated by Porgera Joint Venture’s security forces

Allegations of rapes, beatings and killings of community members by Porgera Joint Venture (PJV) security forces have been prevalent for at least a decade. In 2005, a grass roots human rights organization established by indigenous community members of Porgera, Akali Tange Association Inc., issued a report called “The Shooting Fields of Porgera Joint Venture.” This report documents incidents of killings (14, of which 11 were by shooting), torture, arbitrary arrest, and beatings by the mine’s security forces. In a news article of 2005 then-mine operator Canada’s Placer Dome admitted to 8 killings of community members by PJV security guards and police. [1]

Early in 2006 Barrick Gold Corp. took over the mine when it acquired Placer Dome. There have been further allegations of killings by PJV security forces in 2007 and 2008.[2]

A Papua New Guinea (PNG) government investigation established in 2006 heard witnesses report that the mine’s private security guards committed abuses but, to date, the government’s findings have not been publicly released. The terms of reference for the PNG government’s inquiry have been called prejudicial as they assume a link between the shootings and killings by Porgera Joint Ventures’s security forces and alleged unauthorized gold mining before such a link has been established in evidence. [3]

On December 2, 2007, MiningWatch Canada filed a complaint with the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary, or Arbitrary Executions regarding killings of residents of Porgera by PJV’s private security guards (tolerated by the government), PNG Police, and Mobile Unit Police at the Porgera Mine. [4]

Extreme environmental degradation and concerns for human health impacts

The Porgera Joint Venture mine empties millions of tons of tailings and mountains of waste rock directly into the nearby 800 km-long river system. The waste enters the Porgera River, which drains into the Lagaip River then into the Strickland River and eventually into the Fly River before reaching the Gulf of Papua, 800 km from the mine site. The upper reaches of the river system are fast flowing and steep while about 200 km downstream the river enters an extensive flat floodplain where it meanders. Dumping into this major river system began in 1992 and has continued unabated ever since.[5]

The extreme damage this mine waste disposal method is causing, as well as concerns about likely environmental toxicity from metals in the mine waste, has been well-documented. [6] As early as 1996, Australia's national science agency CSIRO (The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation) noted that: 1) The impact of PJV’s waste disposal on the river was significant; 2) PJV should urgently explore options to store tailings solids and waste rock on land; 3) PJV’s approach to managing and monitoring the impacts on the river was inadequate. CSIRO noted the impact on biota in the river: “fish populations in the upper river system have been in decline since 1993.”[7] CSIRO also noted the potential for human health impacts as a result of the metals in the river: “Much of the lower river is a depositional environment where exposure pathways potentially occur. The PJV has already identified the possibility of long-term low level effects of metal uptake on the human population….” [8] and “It is possible to detect an effect of the mine in the enrichment of the TSS (total suspended solids) by the metals measured at the compliance point, SG3. Particulate metals (As, Pb, Ag, Cd, Hg, Ni, on a per gram TSS basis) are steadily increasing and may now exceed concentrations that have been shown elsewhere to have long term ecosystem effects, particularly when the river is at low flow.” [9] Nonetheless, the disposal of metal laden tailings and waste rock into the region’s major river system has continued unabated. Meanwhile, residents report getting little information from Barrick or the government on what chemicals are being released into waterways through mining waste, and their impact to the ecosystem and potential impact on human health. [10]

Norwegian pension fund excludes Barrick Gold on ethical grounds

Norway’s Government Pension Fund has dropped its shares in Canada’s Barrick Gold as a result of Barrick’s waste disposal practices at the Porgera Mine in Papua New Guinea. Based on an in-depth assessment of Barrick’s operations in Porgera, the pension fund’s Council of Ethics concluded that investment in Barrick amounted to “an unacceptable risk of the Fund contributing to serious environmental damage.” The Council added that “the company’s assertions that its operations do not cause long-term and irreversible environmental damage carry little credibility. This is reinforced by the lack of openness and transparency in the company’s environmental reporting.” The Government Pension Fund had owned more than $229 million (Canadian) in Barrick shares.

Mercury exposure

Public health concerns from other contamination sources are also prevalent in Porgera. Many residents, including children, face exposure to mercury. Mercury is used by residents engaging in small-scale alluvial mining, which includes gold extraction from the waste streams of the mining operations. Many residents turn to this practice of mining as a means of supplementing their incomes. Residents can readily purchase mercury from stores and community members report that children as young as six years old handle raw mercury as they help their families with the small-scale mining. Residents report that their need to gain income from alluvial mining has increased as the mine’s encroachment on their land has made it more difficult to grow subsistence foods. There is very little being done by the government or by PJV to raise public awareness of the dangers of exposure to mercury and to keep people way from the mine’s waste streams.

Public safety concerns

As the mine is expanding in the centre of a mountainous inhabited area it is continuously encroaching on people’s homes. There is little to keep people out of the mine, or away from the dangers of its mountainous waste dumps, and rivers of mine tailings. There are numerous documented and anecdotal cases of people, including children, falling into the open pit, being buried by rock slides on the waste dumps and drowning during flooding in tailings rivers. Although Barrick has recently installed a fence around the open pit itself the pit, waste dumps and river streams remain accessible.

Loss of food security

As the open pit has expanded and its massive waste rock dumps have grown, local residents have lost most of their spaces for “gardens,” as they refer to plots to grow subsistence foods. As people have been relocating to steeper territory uphill from the mine they cannot farm the steep slopes.


Given all of the issues set out above, many of the some 10,000 indigenous residents living within the mine lease area are seeking to be relocated. However, Barrick seems to be reluctant to undertake a full relocation. While it is known that Barrick hired consultants to review the relocation possibilities little information about the findings of these consultants is being shared by Barrick. Barrick is now seeking to relocate smaller groups of people only as their safety becomes directly affected by the mine’s operations.

The need for full relocation was strongly put forward by a representative of the local human rights organization Akali Tange Association, and supported by leaders of the Porgera Landowners Association at Barrick’s Annual General Meeting in Toronto on May 5, 2008.

Mr. Munk, you have destroyed our land, our water, our safety and our ability to feed ourselves. We know that we can no longer live on our ancestral land. We know that we must leave our place so that our children can have a future. But now your company - Barrick - is refusing to offer us fair terms for our relocation. (...)When will Barrick agree to move the more than 5,000 families who live within your mine lease in a way that is fair and will provide us an opportunity to be healthy, to feed our families, and to educate our children? “ [11] Jethro Tulin – Akali Tange Association

This year, Mr. Tulin returned to Barrick’s AGM and reiterated the request of Porgera Landowners living in the Special Mine Lease area to be relocated.

“Operation Ipili ’09”

In March 2009 the Government of Papua New Guinea’s National Executive Council responded to a request by Member of Parliament Philip Kikala of Lagaip-Porgera by deciding to deploy military and police in a “call out” to address “tribal fighting and illegal mining”[12] in the vicinity of the Porgera Joint Venture gold mine.

On April 18, 2009, more than 200 troops including 4 mobile units, an air tactical unit and intelligence officials from the PNG Defence Force were deployed in Porgera [13] in an operation named “Operation Ipili ’09.”

On April 27, 2009, MiningWatch Canada received communications out of Papua New Guinea from a member of a human rights organization based in Porgera: “In Porgera at the Ungima village adjacent to the open pit mine, the call out ‘Operation Ipili 2009’ had completely burnt down all the houses and evacuated the land...” [14] A subsequent communication from the same person and on the same day provided the following information: “...All the houses of the Ungima village about 80 and lately 2 houses of Yokolama village was burnt and another 4 houses of Kulapi village was burnt. Villagers who spoke up to protect their homes were bashed and bruised. I had that casualties are increasing at the Paiam Hospital. Others are detained. The incident happened at around 1pm yesterday the 27th of April 2009...”[15]

With respect to the belongings inside the houses this communication clarified that: “Not a single item was taken, everything inside was burnt.” [16] With respect to whether the inhabitants had any advance warning that their houses would be burnt down this communication clarified that: “Warning was given a week ago to discourage the illegal mining practice and law and order they say but the indigenous land owners were not aware that their properties adjacent to the mine will be burnt. No formal warning was given to burn any house very close to the mine.” [17] The villages referred to here are within the Special Mine Lease area of Barrick Gold’s Porgera Joint Venture mine.

On April 28, 2009, MiningWatch Canada received further communications out of Papua New Guinea that: The situation at Porgera is getting extremely worse. (...) More than 300 houses are confirmed burnt.” [18] This communication included pictures of houses burning in Ungima village (see picture attached below, more are available upon request).

News reports on April 30th indicate that “[m]ore than 300 houses belonging to local landowners near the Porgera gold mine in Enga Province have been torched allegedly by the policemen called out to restore law and order in the district.” [19] Mr. Mark Ekepa, Chairman of the Porgera Landowners Association is quoted as saying that “these houses belong to the second and third generation landowners (...) [m]any of those left homeless were three of the seven landowner clans – Tieni Wuape, Tieni Wiagolo and Tieni Lakima – in Porgera.” [20] These houses are located within the Special Mine Lease area of the Porgera Joint Venture mine which is 95% owned by Barrick Gold Corp. of Canada.

On May 3, MiningWatch Canada sent an Urgent Appeal to: the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms of Indigenous People; the Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing; the Representative of the Secretary-General on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons; the Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary, or Arbitrary Executions; the Special Rapporteur on Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment


1. “Canadian Firm Admits to Killings at PNG Gold Mine” by Bob Burton. Nov. 18, 2005.
2. Personal communication with Porgera community members; Postcourier, 12 Dec 07; The Age, January 2, 2008.
3. “Papua New Guinea Conducts Flawed Investigation of Killings at Barrick Mine” Press release. Monday July 10, 2006,
4. Complaint filed by MiningWatch Canada.
5. “Placer Dome Case Study: Porgera Joint Venture”. Catherine Coumans, April 2002.
6. Shearman, P. for Mineral Policy Institute, 1995. The Porgera File: A Legacy of Destruction.; CSIRO Australia. December 1996. Review of Riverine Impacts, Porgera Joint Venture.; Shearman, P. 2001. Giving Away Another River:… in Mining in Papua New Guinea: Analysis and PolicyImplications. B.Y. Imbun and P.A. McGavin eds. p.177.; “Placer Dome Case Study: Porgera Joint Venture”. Catherine Coumans, April 2002. /sites/default/files/PD_Case_Study_Porgera_0.pdf
7. CSIRO 1996. p. ES-8
8. CSIRO 1996. p. ES-6
9. CSIRO 1996. p. ES-7
10. Intervention by Jethro Tulin on behalf of himself and Mark Ekepa and Anga Atalu of the Porgera Landowners Association at Barrick AGM 2008.
11. Intervention by Jethro Tulin on behalf of himself and Mark Ekepa and Anga Atalu of the Porgera Landowners Association at Barrick AGM 2008.
12. Kepson, Philip. Ipatas opposes troops for Enga. The National. April 9, 2009.
13. Muri, David. Porgera ‘empty’ on eve of call-out. The National. April 20, 2009.
14. Personal e-mail communication received out of Papua New Guinea from a member of the grass-roots human rights organization Akali Tange Association based in Porgera. Sent Monday 27/04/09. MiningWatch Canada has known this individual since 2005.
15. Ibid.
16. Ibid.
17. Personal e-mail communication received out of Papua New Guinea from a member of the grass-roots human rights organization Akali Tange Association based in Porgera. Sent Tuesday 28/04/09. MiningWatch Canada has known this individual since 2005. The text is unaltered from the original.
18. Ibid.
19. Eroro, Simon. Porgera up in flames. Post Courier. April 30, 2009; Radio New Zealand International. Homes burnt at PNG’s Porgera Mine. April 30, 2009
20. Ibid.

Letter to Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary, or Arbitrary Executions