Blog Entry

UN High Commissioner Responds Regarding Barrick’s Porgera Abuses

Catherine Coumans

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

In our June newsletter, we wrote about the ongoing abuse of the human rights of victims of rape by security guards at Barrick Gold’s Porgera Joint Venture mine in Papua New Guinea (95% owned, operated by Barrick). Although Barrick has finally acknowledged the rapes, after years of denial, and is offering a compensation package, the company is using the remedy program to secure legal immunity for itself. It is making any women who accepts a benefits package through the program sign away their legal right to sue Barrick.

MiningWatch conducted a site visit in March of this year and has raised concerns about the legal waiver and other aspects of Barrick’s remedy process with the company and with the United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights. Additional concerns include: that the remedy process was designed without the input of the rape victims themselves or the local stakeholder groups that spent years raising this issue at the international level; that the remedies being offered to the women were not ‘rights-compatible’ as they were not commensurate with the harm the women had endured, nor did they in any way redress that harm; that one of the remedies offered, counselling and health care, should be offered to the women regardless of whether they sign any agreement.

Since then, Barrick has reworded the legal waiver to recognize the Papua New Guinea state’s right to pursue Barrick criminally (as if that will happen!), but has continued to insist on immunity from civil action by the women themselves. In September, the Office of the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights (OHCHR) responded to the issue with a 13-page opinion. Importantly, with respect to a project-level non-judicial grievance mechanism such as this one, the OHCHR noted that: “...the presumption should be that as far as possible, no waiver should be imposed on any claims settled through a non-judicial grievance mechanism.”

Furthermore, recognising the issues that have been raised by MiningWatch and others, the OHCHR recommended an independent review of the remedy program before it is implemented:

“OHCHR recommends that in addition to any further investigation by Barrick itself as to whether the implementation of the programme corresponds to what is stipulated in the Manual and is in conformity with the Guiding Principles, efforts should be made to establish a process to identify an individual, group of individuals or organization, considered credible by Barrick, the claimants and other key stakeholders, to conduct an independent review of the Porgera remediation programme. If necessary, the review should identify possible areas for improvement in the implementation of the programme.”

MiningWatch Canada supports the recommendation from the UN High Commissioner and we’ve expressed willingness to participate in setting up an independent review of Barrick’s remedy program. In October, Barrick started to process rape victims through its remedy program without implementing the OHCHR’s recommendation. All rape victims who accepted remedy packages were required to sign legal waivers granting Barrick immunity from civil suit by these victims for the rapes they had endured.