Barrick Gold’s Porgera mine in Papua New Guinea linked to grave human rights abuses, environmental impacts

Indigenous leaders from Papua New Guinea travel to Canada to speak out about mine-related killings and severe impacts on their rivers, food security, and health.

(Ottawa) Indigenous leaders from Porgera in Papua New Guinea (PNG) have traveled to Canada to speak out about devastating impacts in their mountainous community from a Barrick Gold-operated mine. Joining the indigenous leaders are researchers with the International Human Rights Clinic at the Harvard Law School and MiningWatch Canada.

Concerns about killings by security guards at the Porgera Joint Venture (PJV) mine, as well as about serious public health, environmental and socio-cultural impacts of the mine have continued since Barrick’s purchase of the mine two years ago. Neither the PNG government nor Barrick have responded effectively to these concerns.

For more than a year, MiningWatch Canada and the International Human Rights Clinic at the Harvard Law School, together with the Mineral Policy Institute in Australia, have been documenting allegations of abuses, as well as concerns about the lack of adequate information on human rights abuses and on mining-related sources of contamination.

Since the 1990s, primary concerns surrounding the mine have included: killings and rapes of local community members by PJV security guards (a PNG government inquiry into these allegations has yet to be released); impacts on riverine ecosystems and downstream communities as a result of the dumping of toxic mine waste (tailings) directly into the river system; loss of agricultural land and food security through encroachment of the mine and its massive waste dumps; health and safety issues as the community lives on the edges of the mine and its waste dumps; lack of adequate information on human rights abuses and on mining-related sources of contamination in the community; lack of an equitable plan to relocate all of the affected indigenous communities.

“The mine has destroyed our way of life, our environment, our water, our gardens, which we need for food, and our security,” says Jethro Tulin of the human rights organization Akali Tange Association. “We cannot stay here safely anymore, but Barrick is refusing to provide our people with a fair relocation plan.”

“The mine has made it impossible to live here,” says Mark Ekepa, of the Porgera Landowners Association. “Either we need to be moved immediately, or Barrick needs to leave this place.”

“With residents, including children, running barefoot through tailings, there is a clear need for education and clarification about the types of chemicals—and their toxicity—surrounding the Porgera mine,” said Tyler Giannini, Clinical Director of the International Human Rights Program at Harvard Law School. “Individuals and communities have a right to know what is flowing into their environment so that they can make informed decisions about their lives.”

“Because of the constant threat of violence, the destruction of environmental resources, and major concerns about public health impacts, Porgera residents live in an atmosphere of fear and uncertainty about their safety and well-being,” said Catherine Coumans of MiningWatch Canada. “We call on Barrick Gold to stop riverine disposal of mine waste, relocate all PVJ-affected people who want to be moved, and provide public reporting on all allegations of killings and rapes by its security forces. We also call on the government of Canada to implement the recommendations of the 2007 Advisory Report on the CSR Roundtables.”

For more information contact:

  • Catherine Coumans, MiningWatch Canada: catherine(at) (613) 569-3439
  • Jethro Tulin, Mark Ekepa and Anga Atalu: in Canada (310) 848-7543
  • Tyler Giannini, Clinical Director of the Human Rights Program at Harvard Law School: (617) 669-2340
  • Techa Beaumont, Mineral Policy Institute, Australia + 61 0409 318 406

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

by Catherine Coumans, MiningWatch Canada 

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 human rights organization established by indigenous community members of Porgera, called 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 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 dated between December of 2007 and April of 2008.[2] A Papua New Guinea (PNG) government investigation established in 2006 heard witness reports 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’s security forces and alleged unauthorized gold mining before such a link has been established in evidence.[3] On December 2, 2007, a complaint was filed 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 both 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, the Australian consulting firm CSIRO 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]

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 center 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,” their word for 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 this task. While it is known that Barrick has hired consultants to review the relocation possibilities little information about the findings of these consultants is being shared by Barrick. The desire to be relocated has most recently been strongly put forward by representatives of the local human rights organization Akale Tange Association, as well as 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

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.

7. CSIRO 1996. p. ES-8

8. Ibid. p. ES-6

9. Ibid. 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. Ibid.