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.  In 2015, Barrick sold 50% of its share in the local subsidiary Barrick Niugini Ltd. to Chinese-owned Zijin Mining Group, leaving Barrick with 47.5% ownership.  Barrick Gold is headquartered in Toronto and trades on the New York and Toronto Stock Exchanges.

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, including killings, torture, arbitrary arrests and beatings. Human rights 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....”  However, in response, the company opened a time-limited grievance procedure (2012-2014) narrowly framed only for female victims of sexual assault by PJV’s private mine security. The procedure was critiqued by human rights experts before it began, during its operations and following its closure.  
  • Unaddressed human rights abuses continue to be documented and reported.  

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

Pre-Acquisition of the PJV mine

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 also guarded the mine. In 2005, a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU)  was signed between the PJV mine and the Royal Papua New Guinea Constabulary, the national police force, regarding joint security arrangements at the PJV mine. 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 remained involved in the Porgera mine after the acquisition of Placer Dome and went on to work for Barrick becoming an architect of the flawed 2012-2014 grievance procedure for victims of rape by mine security.  Also, in 2005, the Government of PNG was developing terms for its own investigation into violence related to mine security at the PJV mine that took place in 2006.  In 2005, 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, therefore, a matter of public record, and also brought to Barrick’s attention before the acquisition of Placer Dome, that serious human rights abuses including killings by mine security, were occurring.

Post-acquisition of the PJV mine

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 Porgeran delegations also met with Canadian media, Members of Parliament and civil servants at Foreign Affairs, as well as with Barrick officials at the company’s headquarters in Toronto. 

From 2008 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 to the allegations of human rights abuses by PJV’s mine security. But the response was very narrowly framed to only address sexual assault allegations by the mine’s private security.  Barrick created a short-term (2012-2014) grievance mechanism through which 119 women were provided limited remedy in return for signing legal waivers.   Another eleven women received a remedy worth four times as much through an out-of-court settlement in 2015.   Women who were raped and gang-raped, but not covered by these two remedy options, have yet to receive remedy for the harm they endured. The grievance mechanism  has been criticised by the rape victims who participated in the mechanism,  MiningWatch Canada  and other human rights experts.  There has, to date, not been an effective response by Barrick to the allegations of violence by mine security against men and boys.  

What could have made a difference in this case? 

In 2014, Barrick’s Patrick Bindon, whose involvement with the Porgera mine dates back to his employment with Placer Dome, “acknowledged that...’The company’s response clearly had weaknesses. (...) We’ve learned to look a lot more closely at the cultural and institutional issues that might be barriers to these kinds of things being reported.’”  However, Bindon’s acknowledgement ignores the history outlined here of many years, starting in 2005, in which Barrick was directly made aware of the violent assaults, killings, rapes, and beatings of local Porgeran men and women by private mine security and by police paid to guard the mine. As detailed here, Barrick was made aware of the abuses by Porgerans themselves, including at the company’s Annual General Meetings in Toronto, and by MiningWatch Canada and the human rights clinics at Harvard, New York, and Columbia Universities. If Barrick had taken these allegations seriously, and responded by doing basic due diligence, it would not have been difficult for the company to have confirmed the validity of the allegations well before 2010, when the company made a partial acknowledgement of human rights abuses in regard to victims of rape by mine security. 
If Canada had had mandatory Human Rights Due Diligence (mHRDD) legislation in place, as drafted by the Canadian Network on Corporate Accountability and proposed in 2022 in a Private Members Bill C-262,  Barrick may not have been able to ignore the allegations made to the company directly concerning these serious human rights and environmental violations. For a consideration of how mHRDD legislation may have made a difference in this case see the CNCA’s case study here.

Case study (June 2022)