Trucks sit idle at Porgera mine, April 2020.
Blog Entry

Barrick Gold Corp.’s Porgera Joint Venture Mine: A Legacy of Ignoring Human and Environmental Rights Abuses

Catherine Coumans

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

The case study with footnotes is available here.

Ownership history

The Porgera Joint Venture (PJV) gold mine is located in Porgera, Enga Province, in the highlands of Papua New Guinea (PNG). In 2006 Barrick Gold Corp. (Barrick) owned 75% of the joint venture, which it also operated. Barrick increased its stake to 95% in April 2007. Barrick’s stake in the PJV mine was held through its local subsidiary Barrick Niugini Ltd. In 2015, Barrick sold 50% of its share in Barrick Niugini Ltd. to Chinese-owned Zijin Mining Group, leaving Barrick with 47.5% ownership. 

Summary history of abuses 

  • Since 1990, this mine has had well-documented environmental impacts on surface water related to the uncontained disposal of waste rock and tailings into adjacent river valleys. The mine has also been implicated in human rights impacts both related to the company’s mine waste disposal practices and related to excess use of force against men, women and children by mine security and police guarding the mine. 
  • 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, and Barrick received evidence from a local grassroots human rights group detailing several human rights abuses allegedly perpetrated by mine security and police. The abuses were also covered in the Canadian media just months after Barrick took over the mine.
  • Following its takeover of the mine in March 2006, Barrick had numerous opportunities based on information provided to the company in PNG and in Canada to investigate, acknowledge and address excess use of force by mine security and police guarding the mine, which resulted in killings and beatings of men and boys, beatings, rapes and gang rapes of women and girls as well as house burnings. 
  • It was not until 2010 that Barrick publicly recognized that the company had received “specific and detailed allegations of sexual assault by PJV employees....” In 2012, the company opened a highly flawed time-limited grievance procedure narrowly framed for female victims of sexual assault by PJV’s private mine security. Meanwhile, unaddressed human rights abuses continued to be documented and reported.

The Details: A “‘hear no evil, see no evil’ approach to human rights abuses”

Prior to Barrick’s acquisition of the PJV mine in March 2006, Barrick was made aware of violence directed at local Indigenous Ipili and Engan villagers by mine security and by PNG police, who were also guarding the mine as per a 2005 Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the PJV mine and the national police force. On November 4, 2005, a local group, Akali Tange Association, sent a letter to Barrick warning the company of the legacy of killings by mine security for which Barrick would be held accountable in an acquisition of Placer Dome. The same group deposited a copy of its own 2005 report, detailing 11 extra-judicial killings by mine security and police guarding the mine, at the mine’s headquarters in Port Moresby. Furthermore, also in 2005, Placer Dome’s Patrick Bindon reportedly told the news outlet IPS that “eight people have been killed since 1996 by its own security forces and police at the giant Porgera gold mine” and that “seven of the eight killings occurred since February 2000....” Bindon went on to work for Barrick after the acquisition of Placer Dome in 2006. Also in 2006, the Government of PNG initiated its own investigation into violence related to mine security at the PJV mine. Prime Minister Michael Somare was reported to have said that he would “set up a commission of inquiry to look into the deaths at the Porgera Gold Mine.” It was no secret that abuses were occurring.

Starting in 2008, Porgerans travelled to Canada to attend Barrick’s Annual General Meeting of shareholders in Toronto. For three consecutive years they stood up in the shareholder meeting and told the CEO, the board of directors and all assembled shareholders that PJV mine security and police guarding the mine were beating and killing men and boys and beating and raping women and girls. During these years the delegations also met with Canadian media, Members of Parliament and Civil Servants at Foreign Affairs, as well as with Barrick officials in Toronto.

From 2006 to late in 2010, Barrick’s public response to the allegations being brought to the company’s own AGM by Porgerans was denial in the shareholder meetings themselves and largely silence outside of the meetings. 

Following Barrick’s acquisition of Placer Dome in 2006, researchers from Harvard University, New York University and later Columbia University, as well as from MiningWatch Canada, started to investigate and report on not only extra-judicial killings by mine security and police guarding the mine, but also on large numbers of women who detailed cases of rape and gang rape by mine security and police. These findings were reported in testimony before Canada’s Foreign Affairs and International Development Committee in 2009 and 2010 and in a legal brief that was tabled. Between 2008 and 2009, Barrick’s response to three separate letters from Harvard and New York University human rights investigators was extremely limited. The investigators requested to meet with the company to discuss alleged violence and asked to receive copies of specific reports pertaining to the environmental and human rights impacts of the mine. Barrick did not provide any information about specific killings and did not provide documents pertaining to the company’s security structure at the mine.

In response to testimony before the Foreign Affairs and International Development Committee in 2009, Barrick chose its words carefully, noting that “no cases of sexual assault [have been] reported to mine management” and that “It is not possible for the PJV to investigate an allegation it has never received....” Barrick also called into question the possibility that 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. Barrick also stated that, since 2006, “...there have been no fatal shootings by Porgera security personnel.” In a subsequent hearing in 2010, New York University School of Law Center representative, Sarah Knuckey, defended her earlier testimony, which had been based on three fact finding missions. According to Knuckey, “Senior Barrick officials have been aware of general rape allegations at the mine since at least August 2006.” She pointed out that “through our investigations, we quickly discovered allegations of sexual violence. Barrick would have been able to do the same if it had conducted any investigations at all.” Knuckey also clarified that, “Most of the women I met do not know to whom at the company to complain or are fearful of retribution, community disapproval, being arrested, or suffering further abuse from the police.” Finally, in regard to killings, Tyler Giannini noted that “the existence of witness statements, together with the previously referenced autopsy and police reports on the 2006 to 2008 period and killings, as included in our prior submissions, bring Barrick's statement into question and reinforce again the need for an independent investigation.”

It was not until late in 2010 that Barrick acknowledged and started to respond narrowly only to specific sexual assault allegations in a short-term mechanism that has been criticised by MiningWatch Canada and other human rights experts. There has not been an effective response by Barrick to date to the allegations of violence by mine security against men and boys.