Barrick Goes To International Arbitration in Last Ditch Effort to Hold onto Lucrative Porgera Mine

(Ottawa) – Barrick Gold has announced that its Australian subsidiary, Barrick Australia Pty. Limited, is seeking international arbitration under the investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) provisions of a bilateral investment treaty between Papua New Guinea (PNG) and Australia over the PNG government’s refusal to grant Barrick’s subsidiary Barrick Niugini Ltd. an extension of the company’s lapsed permit to mine for gold at the controversial Porgera Joint Venture mine in the PNG highlands. Both Barrick Australia and Barrick Niugini Ltd. will separately seek arbitration through the World Bank’s International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID).

In spite of four trips to PNG by Barrick’s new CEO, Mark Bristow, Barrick’s efforts to secure a 20-year mine extension, initiated in 2017, failed in March of this year when PNG’s National Executive Council refused the company’s application for a mine lease renewal. The mine had been allowed to continue operating after its 30-year lease expired in August 2019 by virtue of a PNG National Court decision pending a final decision by the government on the application for a new lease. Barrick’s response to the refusal of the PNG government to grant a lease extension was to launch a judicial review of the decision, through Barrick Niugini, before the PNG National Court on April 28, claiming lack of procedural fairness, among other things. Court-ordered negotiations failed, and the court is now set to rule on Barrick’s petition later this month.

“It is outrageous that Barrick is seeking international arbitration through its subsidiaries before the PNG court has even ruled on the case,” said Catherine Coumans, of MiningWatch Canada. “This smacks of an attempt to put undue pressure on PNG court procedures. It is also stunning that Barrick, whose lease has expired, somehow thinks it has a right to continued access to the gold under the feet of the people of Porgera, who have suffered so much because of this mine.”

The Porgera mine has long been implicated in serious human rights abuses against neighbouring Indigenous Ipili and Engan peoples. MiningWatch Canada and others have reported on, among others, excess use of force by mine security, including killings, rapes and gang rapes, regular house burnings by mine security and police, and chemical spills leading to burns of men, women, and children. Additionally, the mine’s continued dumping of waste rock and uncontained tailings in the river valleys has contaminated an 800 kilometre-long river system and creates dangerous conditions for villagers who must cross these treacherous waste flows.

“This mine is one of the worst examples of irresponsible mining I am aware of,” says Coumans. “People who should have been resettled long ago instead live in increasingly hellish conditions. It is no wonder Barrick is scorned by many in Porgera and has no social licence to operate.”

Since 2008, MiningWatch Canada and Porgerans themselves have repeatedly brought the horrors faced by villagers around the Porgera mine directly to the attention of Barrick’s board of directors and shareholders at the company’s annual general meetings, including this year. “The company’s response is always one of shooting the messengers and denial, rather than a serious effort to address the harm the mine has imposed on Porgerans,” says Coumans. “By now it really should not be a surprise to any of the company’s directors or investors that Barrick is not welcome in PNG any more.”

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 See also: Reports on human rights abuses implicating the Porgera mine

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