“Boxing with My Hands Tied Behind My Back”: Barrick Grievance Mechanism in Tanzania Not Fair, Say Lawyer, Village Representatives
Barrick Gold is implicated in very serious and ongoing human rights abuses at the company’s North Mara mine in Tanzania, related to excess use of force by mine security, and is failing to provide equitable remedy to the indigenous men and women who have suffered life-altering physical harm and mental distress. In fact, the mine’s grievance mechanism is deepening harm through procedural and operational flaws that have been detailed in depth by MiningWatch, but continue to be ignored by Barrick.
Barrick’s 64% owned subsidiary Acacia also faces serious and ongoing allegations of fraud, corruption and tax evasion in Tanzania. Barrick, through executive board chair John Thornton, and now through new CEO Bristow, has taken the lead in trying, but failing, to negotiate a deal on these issues with the Tanzanian government. While Barrick is actively engaged in Tanzania to secure ongoing profits from the mine, the company is ignoring its human rights responsibility to provide equitable remedy for those it has harmed.
Following MiningWatch’s field assessment in 2018 we highlighted concerns raised by victims themselves who have engaged the mechanism and felt further victimized by the process. This year, our field assessment in May extended to others involved in the mechanism and reveals further concerns.
One of the Tanzanian lawyers who has tried to assist victims through the North Mara mine’s grievance mechanism described the process as being like “boxing with my hands tied behind my back.” This lawyer noted that the four hours of legal support the mine provides victims is far too little and doesn’t even cover the time involved in supporting victims through the final appeal stage of the process.
According to the lawyer, whose name is withheld, indigent victims who rely on the mine’s four-hour legal voucher have no legal support when they are engaged by the mine’s investigation team, which gets victims to: tell the mine’s grievance mechanism investigation team how they were harmed; provide the names of witnesses and all of their documents; describe the impacts of the harm they have endured and the remedy they need. The lawyer added that the mine then conducts its full investigation and writes the narrative of the case drawing its own conclusions. This report is then provided to the members of the final appeal committee and is referenced as the mine’s personnel defend the mine before the appeal committee.
“As the lawyer, I only get the mine’s version of events based on their investigation and whatever supporting documents they choose to provide shortly before the final hearing, as does the appeal committee itself. It is wrong that the mine is conducting the investigation, it should be done by an independent body, or the mine should provide enough funds for a lawyer to be involved from the very start and be able to conduct a thorough investigation on behalf of the victim and be able to advise the victim before they talk to the mine’s investigative team.”
The three-person appeal committee, made up of a chair, an NGO representative, and a village representative are all chosen by the mine. Although the mechanism has been operating since late 2016, it was only this year that provisions set out in the Standard Operating Procedures were implemented with regard to creating a pool of village representatives from which the mine will choose. This year, each of eleven affected villages was asked to choose two representatives to form the pool of villagers, from which the mine chooses one, to sit in hearings together with the chair and the NGO representative, who are also chosen by the mine.
MiningWatch had an opportunity to speak, separately, to two of these newly appointed representatives, who had been chosen by their respective villages to participate on the final appeal committee of the human rights grievance mechanism. They each expressed their concerns. Their names are withheld for their protection.
One villager expressed concern about the grievance mechanism itself saying “So, I’m the one who has caused harm to you, and yet you are bringing the complaint to me, the same person who has harmed you – would there be justice at all? I’m accusing you, and you are the one listening to the accusation against yourself, would [you] be able to make a just decision or a just judgement on the matter? I’m not very sure in such circumstances there will be justice.”
This villager reflected on the broader context of violence noting “In my village there are people who are permanently disabled. Some do not have eyes. Some are dead. (…) I know they die inside [the mine]” and related the violence itself to a lack of justice “I was wondering if there will ever be justice. Justice brings harmony. In any place where there are confrontations, it means there is no justice. Any place where there is chaos means there is no justice. Justice requires responsibility. The company is not being responsible. (…) In order for there to be justice, responsibility must be there. The mine should be responsible in bringing good relationships to the people.”
The other villager chosen to sit on the appeal committee commented in detail on shortcomings of the grievance process itself, noting, “This mechanism is exploitative, especially to us who are representing the community.” This villager described being called in to hear and judge on two cases and being given, respectively, approximately 80 and 130 pages of documents to read in just a short period of time before the hearing, saying it was impossible to read, let alone scrutinize the contents of the documents. This villager said, “I would love for us to be involved, as the community, from when the events occur – during the early investigation we should be involved and get the documents the mine prepares, so we can evaluate them as to whether what is written is true. As they get the evidence, so we should also get it.”
This villager also commented on the relatively powerless position of the village representative in the committee that hears the final appeal as the Chair and NGO representative are chosen by the mine and can jointly override the position of the village representative. Describing the very brief discussion the three representatives had following each of the two hearings, both of which saw the NGO and Chair side with the mine to dismiss the cases to the consternation of the village representative, the village representative said, “They are the ones to write the decision, us, we’re not involved. After 28 days they will bring the judgement of the case we did. At that stage we are not involved. It is like we don’t have power.”
This villager also expressed concern over how negative decisions would affect relations between villagers following hearings. “For example, you bring me your case, (…) then the case is being denied, when in reality you were supposed to get justice. Do you think there will ever be a good relationship? There will not be a good relationship.”
“Based on my review of the Standard Operating Procedure for this grievance mechanism, and based on my interviews with victims that have gone through the mechanism, one former Chair and now with the first villagers chosen by their communities to sit on the appeal committee, it is clear that this mechanism is not only failing to provide fair remedy, but it is also not improving the very much tarnished relationship between the mine and the neighboring communities,” says Catherine Coumans of MiningWatch Canada. “The mine is missing an opportunity to provide fair remedy and repair relationships, leaving people to search for other ways to gain access to justice.”
For more information contact: Catherine Coumans, firstname.lastname@example.org