New CEO, Same Human Rights and Environmental Abuses at Barrick Mine Sites

(Toronto) At the North Mara gold mine in Tanzania, Barrick’s subsidiary Acacia is using a brutalizing remedy mechanism to process victims of excess use of force by the mine’s private security, and by police that guard the mine under an agreement, even as some of these victims have filed legal action through UK-based lawyers Deighton Pierce Glynn.

Women who have suffered rape at the hands of the Tanzanian mine’s security forces have spoken out publicly for the first time in a video. They speak not only about the egregious harm they have endured in the sexual assaults, but also about the ongoing social, psychological and financial repercussions and about the inadequacy of the remedy they had received from the mine.

“Barrick’s new CEO, Mark Bristow, has been working overtime to deal with disputes with the Tanzanian government over a ban of exports of concentrate and alleged tax evasion, environmental breaches, money laundering and corruption, but has yet to speak out meaningfully about the appalling human rights abuses suffered by many impoverished villagers living in the shadow of the gold mine,” said Catherine Coumans of MiningWatch Canada. Coumans has conducted yearly human rights field assessments at the mine since 2014, and has critiqued its remedy mechanism.  

Meanwhile, at Barrick’s notorious Porgera Joint Venture mine in Papua New Guinea, two new victims of the mine’s uncontained waste disposal are desperately seeking relief even as the mine’s grievance mechanism fails to function. In February a man and a woman were swept away by a sudden increase in discharge of mine tailings from a pipe as they were panning for gold nearby. They suffered serious injuries as they were dashed onto sharp rocks and are now in failing health. 

“Once again I have brought victims harmed by the mine to the attention of the manager of the mine’s Communities and Social Responsibility Department, but as usual, the mine just does the minimum in terms of medical care for these seriously injured people,” said Karath Mal Waka, Chairman of Porgera’s Human Rights Inter Pacific Association. “These people need immediate and long term care and remedy for the injuries they have. I am afraid they may die. Barrick needs to finally follow the recommendations of their own consultants, BSR, and work with us to design and set up a new effective remedy mechanism as called for in the UN Guiding Principles.” 

In September 2018, Business for Social Responsibility (BSR), hired by Barrick to consider “how to provide remedy for persons harmed at or around the Porgera Gold Mine in Papua New Guinea,” released a report with timelines for action by the company. No progress has been made to date as proposed deadlines have come and gone.

As victims and families of victims of sexual assault by mine security, house burnings, chemical spills and accidental death by mine equipment languish, local human rights defenders who speak up too often face harsh repercussions. 

“When Porgera Joint Venture’s security and the police guarding the mine once again burnt down the houses of villagers from Wingima in 2017, I documented the human rights abuses and reported on them publicly,” said McDiyan Yapari, of Akali Tange Association of Porgera, “and just for speaking out I was arrested and jailed. Barrick did not acknowledged my role as a legitimate human rights defender but rather denied my reports about the house burnings.”

Another report, issued in February of this year by researchers from Columbia University, highlights the harm caused by the mine’s uncontained waste disposal practices into the environment around the mine and the problems faced by Porgerans in accessing clean water.  

“In addition to the violence that we have long suffered at the hands of mine security,” said Cressida Kuala of the Porgera Red Wara [Water] Women’s Association. “We also suffer from severe contamination of our environment because Barrick does not contain its toxic mine waste. We are especially worried about the water we drink as the water around the mine is heavily contaminated and we often have to walk very far in search of clean water. Barrick wants us to collect rain water off the roof in blue barrels but we believe it might be contaminated from the phosphoric/sulphuric residues that are let out from the Porgera Mine autoclaves. We don’t understand why Barrick doesn’t give us access to clean water from its reservoir in the mountains that supplies the mine managers and personnel with safe water. Barrick is abusing our basic human right to clean drinking water. ”

Barrick’s new CEO has already travelled to Papua New Guinea and the Porgera mine site to try to gain support for the mine’s efforts to renew its 25-year-old mine lease. Coumans commented, “Again, Mr. Bristow’s focus is on securing continued profits for Barrick and the shareholders, but it is high time for him and the shareholders assembled at today’s Annual General Meeting to wake up to the risk posed to those profits by the shameful human rights and environmental practices at the North Mara and Porgera mines, as, sadly, it seems only risk to profits may motivate change in this company.”

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