(Ottawa) A government inquiry into alleged shootings and killings at Barrick Gold’s Porgera mine in Papua New Guinea will not look into the activities of the mine’s security forces, falling far short of expectations of community leaders. The inquiry’s Terms of Reference focus exclusively on alleged “unauthorized gold mining activities”.
The Government of Papua New Guinea has created an investigative committee to “inquire and report to the Government on the incidence and causes of injuries and deaths at the Porgera mine site.” This move follows years of complaints by local indigenous villagers that people are being shot and killed by the mine’s security forces. The Porgera gold mine, located in the highlands of Papua New Guinea, is operated and 75% owned by Placer Dome Niugini, now a subsidiary of Barrick Gold Corp. Earlier this year, the company admitted to eight killings by its security forces. Local villagers put the numbers much higher. In addition to killings, villagers have reported rapes by security forces as well as injuries—some leading to death—of people, including children, in dangerous parts of the mine that are not fenced off from nearby villages.
While the Porgera Investigation Committee was struck to investigate “injuries and deaths” at the mine, its Terms of Reference are squarely focused on examining all aspects of alleged “unauthorized gold mining.” All 6 terms for the investigation refer to alleged unauthorized gold mining; only one mentions the security forces of the Porgera mine. The terms also expressly limit the investigation to “[t]he circumstances in which any persons have been injured or died whilst engaging in, or as a consequence of, unauthorized gold mining activities.”
“These terms of reference are clearly prejudicial, assuming a link between the shootings and killings by Porgera’s security forces and alleged unauthorized gold mining before such a link has been established in evidence,” says Catherine Coumans of MiningWatch Canada. “They also expressly exclude all evidence of shootings and killings by mine security, or deaths related to hazardous conditions around the mine site, that can be shown not to be linked to alleged unauthorized mining activities,” Coumans adds.
Jethro Tulin of Akali Tange Association Inc., a Porgera landowner group, insists, “We have evidence of shootings and killings by the mine’s security guards, and we have evidence of rapes by security guards and of the death of children by drowning in mine waste. Many of these cases have nothing to do with so-called unauthorized mining; in some cases people are just taking their traditional path to their gardens.”
Tulin notes that the way the terms of reference for the investigation are phrased almost makes it seem like the government is trying to find excuses for the killings so as not to have to pursue the guilty parties.
The company has said that its guards are trained to observe the US-UK Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights, a voluntary code that sets ethical standards for security forces. “There is nothing in the Voluntary Principles that would justify the killing of villagers found on the mine’s concession, whether or not they were engaged in unauthorized mining,” says Coumans.
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