(Ottawa) Four members of the Ipili tribe of Porgera in Papua New Guinea (PNG) have travelled to Canada to demand that Barrick Gold address serious human rights abuses and environmental destruction related to Barrick's Porgera Joint Venture gold mine. Two of the Ipili are landowners and also part-owners of the Porgera Joint Venture mine.
Long-standing allegations of killings and rapes of civilians by security forces at Barrick's PNG mine have been confirmed recently by the findings of a team of investigators from Harvard University who reported to Canadian Parliamentarians in 2009. "We have been trying to raise awareness of these killings and rapes by Barrick's security forces for many years," said Jethro Tulin of the Akali Tange Association, a local grassroots human rights organization. "Finally our allegations are being confirmed but Barrick is not supporting our calls for an investigation of these killings nor offering compensation to the families of those who have been killed or raped."
Last year Barrick supported a massive military action in villages inside Barrick's mine lease area. This military crack-down led to the forcible eviction of many citizens and the burning down of some 300 of their homes. "My house was burned down," said Mark Ekepa, chairman of the Porgera Landowners Association and part-owner of the mine. "Barrick was complicit in the actions of the police and military and should be actively calling for an investigation as Amnesty International has recommended in its report of the house burnings."
In 2009, the Norwegian Government divested its Pension Fund of shares in Barrick Gold as a result of findings by the fund of massive environmental damage downstream from the mine caused by the dumping of toxic mine waste into the local 800-kilometre long river system. "Our river system has been severely contaminated and is no longer safe for drinking water or for harvesting food," said Jeffery Simon, a member of the Akali Tange Association. "This is causing a lot of hardship for villagers who rely on the rivers."
Contamination of local water sources, lack of available land for food production, and unsafe living conditions of villagers living within the mine lease area have all become untenable. "We have made it clear to Barrick many times, most recently in our meeting with Barrick last week in Toronto, that all residents in the mine lease area must be resettled according to international standards," said Anga Atalu, one of the landowners living in the mine lease area, "but Barrick is refusing our request."
"The situation at the Porgera Joint Venture Mine in terms of environmental destruction and human rights abuses in which Barrick is alleged to be complicit is only possible because the Papua New Guinea government is weak and not doing its job to protect its citizens and its environment" said Catherine Coumans of MiningWatch Canada. "This is a common problem in developing countries and the effective impunity of Canadian companies in these situations can only be addressed by legislation, like Bill C-300, that would allow these citizens of Papua New Guinea to file a complaint and seek sanction in Canada for the abuses they are suffering."
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Mark Ekepa, Chairman, Porgera Landowners Association: emarktony(at)gmail.com
Jethro Tulin, Executive Officer, Akali Tange Association: jctulin(at)gmail.com (647) 669-4529 (cell)
Catherine Coumans, MiningWatch Canada: catherine(at)miningwatch.ca (613) 569-3439
For more information please see:
- MiningWatch Canada backgrounder on the issues at the Porgera mine (below)
- Amnesty International's report on the house burnings in Porgera in 2009
- Testimony by Tyler Giannini (Harvard University) and Sarah Knuckey (New York University) to Parliament in 2009 about their findings regarding rapes and killings in Porgera by Barrick security guards
- A summary of the 2009 report by the Norwegian Government explaining its reasons for divesting its Pension fund from Barrick Gold shares
Background: Issues Related to Barrick Gold’s Porgera Joint Venture Mine in Papua New Guinea
Violence Perpetrated by the Security Forces of the Porgera Joint Venture Mine
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 a news article in 2005, then-mine operator Canada’s Placer Dome admitted to eight killings of community members by PJV security guards. Early in 2006 Barrick Gold took over the mine when it acquired Placer Dome. There have been further allegations of killings and rapes by PJV security forces since 2006. Most of these cases have never been investigated. In one recent case that was brought to court, the security guard was found guilty of having killed two citizens.
In October 2009, Tyler Giannini from Harvard University’s International Human Rights Clinic and Sarah Knuckey of the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice at New York University testified before the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development about the serious human rights abuses associated with the mine’s security forces including rapes, gang rapes, physical assault and killings (see the committee evidence).
Forced Evictions and House Burnings in 2009
In April 2009, more than 200 troops including 4 mobile units, an air tactical unit and intelligence officials from the PNG Defence Force were deployed in Porgera in an operation named “Operation Ipili ’09.” In this operation, people were forcibly evicted from their homes and more than 300 houses of villagers living in Barrick Gold’s mine lease area were burned down. Barrick Gold’s PJV mine hosted these military forces and provided food for them and is thus complicit in these gross violations of human rights. This has been written up in a report by Amnesty International.
Large Scale Environmental Degradation
The Porgera Joint Venture mine empties 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. Dumping into this major river system began in 1992 and has continued unabated ever since. This practice would not be permitted in Canada and is having a severe impact on the river system and on the food security of downstream communities.
In 2009, Norway’s Government Pension Fund dropped its shares in Canada’s Barrick Gold as a result of Barrick’s waste disposal practices at the Porgera Mine. Based on an in-depth assessment of Barrick’s operations in Porgera, the pension fund’s Council of Ethics concluded that investment in Barrick amounted to “an unacceptable risk of the Fund contributing to serious environmental damage.” The Council added that “the company’s assertions that its operations do not cause long-term and irreversible environmental damage carry little credibility. This is reinforced by the lack of openness and transparency in the company’s environmental reporting.” The Government Pension Fund had owned more than $229 million (Canadian) in Barrick shares.
The Need for Resettlement
Given extreme environmental degradation around the mine, water contamination, loss of land for agriculture and food security, health concerns and the security concerns related to violence by the mine’s security forces, the landowners living within the mine lease area have been asking to be resettled elsewhere according to international standards. However, Barrick is refusing to undertake a full relocation. While it is known that Barrick hired consultants to review the relocation possibilities little information about the findings of these consultants is being shared by Barrick. Barrick is now seeking to relocate smaller groups of people only as their safety becomes directly affected by the mine’s operations. This is unacceptable to the landowners in the mine lease area.
The Need for Bill C-300
Many of the issues facing the people in Porgera would be cause for legal action if they were occurring in Canada. But given a weak government in Papua New Guinea that is highly dependent on resource extraction for its Gross Domestic Product, the government is not acting to protect its environment or its people. As there is no international forum for legal action and no international regulatory regime to which the people of Porgera can turn, there only hope is that Canada will pass Bill C-300 so that they can at least file a complaint and seek sanction in Canada, the home of Barrick Gold.
For more information contact Catherine Coumans, MiningWatch Canada, tel. (613) 569-3439 or e-mail catherine(at)miningwatch.ca