For Immediate Release
Papua New Guinea: Serious Abuses at Barrick Gold Mine
Systemic Failures Underscore Need for Canadian Government Regulation
TORONTO - Private security personnel employed at a gold mine in Papua New
Guinea have been implicated in alleged gang rapes and other violent
abuses, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. The Porgera
mine has produced billions of dollars of gold in its twenty years of
operation, and is operated and 95 percent owned by Barrick Gold, a
Canadian company that is the world's largest gold producer.
The 94-page report, "Gold's Costly Dividend: Human Rights Impacts of Papua New Guinea's Porgera Gold Mine,"
identifies systemic failures on the part of Toronto-based Barrick Gold
that kept the company from recognizing the risk of abuses, and
responding to allegations that abuses had occurred. The report examines
the impact of Canada's failure to regulate the overseas activities of
its companies and also calls on Barrick to address environmental and
health concerns around the mine with greater transparency.
"We interviewed women who described brutal gang rapes by security
guards at Barrick's mine," said Chris Albin-Lackey, senior business and
human rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. "The company should have
acted long before Human Rights Watch conducted its research and prompted
them into action".
Human Rights Watch said that in response to its investigation,
Barrick has taken meaningful steps to investigate past abuses and make
it less likely for similar abuses to occur in future.
Most of the world's mining and exploration companies are based in
Canada. But Canada's government has not exercised meaningful oversight
or regulation of the overseas operations of Canadian companies, Human
Rights Watch said. Bill C-300, a modest but important effort to impose
greater government oversight, was defeated in Canada's House of Commons
in October 2010. Barrick had lobbied vigorously against the measure.
"Canada's government is asleep at the wheel," Albin-Lackey said. "And
if Barrick wants to hold itself out as a responsible corporate citizen,
it should support meaningful government oversight and regulation of
Papua New Guinea's sprawling Porgera gold mine has produced more than
16 million ounces of gold since opening in 1990 - an amount that would
be worth more than US$20 billion at today's prices. In 2010, Barrick's
worldwide operations were on track to produce more than 7.5 million
ounces of gold, an amount worth more than $9.7 billion at current
Papua New Guinea has an abundance of natural resources, but poor
governance and corruption have prevented this wealth from benefitting
ordinary citizens. The government has failed to bring economic
opportunity or deliver basic government services to Porgera, and the
region is mired in poverty and violence.
Barrick maintains a private security force of nearly 450 personnel at
Porgera. The mine must cope with extraordinary security challenges,
including violent raids by groups of illegal miners. But Human Rights
Watch research documents opportunistic, violent abuses allegedly
committed by some security force members that are in no way a reaction
to these threats.
Every day, hundreds of people try to eke out a living by scouring the
waste rock dumps around the mine for minute traces of gold. In contrast
to the participants in violent raids that the mine confronts on a
regular basis, these miners are for the most part engaged in an entirely
nonviolent - albeit unauthorized - practice. They face arrest by
company security officers if they are caught on the waste dumps.
Human Rights Watch investigated six alleged incidents of gang rape by
company security personnel. In each case, women were allegedly raped
after being captured by company security personnel on the waste dumps.
The women interviewed by Human Rights Watch described scenes of extreme
violence. One described being gang raped by six security personnel after
one of her assailants kicked her in the face and shattered her teeth.
Human Rights Watch also documented cases of people who alleged that they
were beaten or otherwise mistreated by guards who apprehended them on
the waste dumps.
None of the women interviewed by Human Rights Watch said they had
reported the alleged rapes to the local authorities or to the company.
Some said their assailants had told them they would be arrested if they
tried to complain. Compounding matters, Barrick did not have any safe
channels of communication that community members could use to report
Barrick has responded with appropriate vigor to the allegations
brought forward by Human Rights Watch. The company opened a major
internal investigation, facilitated a criminal investigation by the
Papua New Guinea police, and made a commitment to take steps that could
strengthen oversight and accountability for the security force at
The alleged gang rapes appear to be part of a wider pattern, Human
Rights Watch said. The company and police investigations that followed
the Human Rights Watch disclosures have uncovered other cases of alleged
In a public statement, Barrick called the results of its internal
investigation "disturbing" and announced the termination of several
security personnel for involvement in, or failure to report, alleged
incidents of sexual violence. Police arrested three current and former
Porgera Joint Venture employees in January, 2011. Two were charged with
rape and the third with inflicting grievous bodily harm.
A January 17 police statement predicted that more charges were likely
to flow from their investigation and said that the arrests should serve
as a warning that serious abuses will not be tolerated. That message is
important but it will take work to convince many people to believe it,
Human Rights Watch said.
Members of the Papua New Guinea police force are regularly implicated
in incidents of torture and rape, and the force's abusive reputation
makes the public reluctant to turn to it for help. If the government
wants to combat impunity for rape and other serious crimes, it will have
to start by ensuring that the police themselves are held accountable
for their conduct, Human Rights Watch said.
Human Rights Watch's research also examines concerns about the health
and environmental impacts of the Porgera mine. The mine dumps 16,000
tons of liquid waste into the nearby Porgera River every day. This
controversial practice is out of line with current industry standards,
and critics worry that it could pose health risks to communities far
Human Rights Watch called on Barrick to publish several specific
sources of relevant data to allow for independent evaluation of the
company's claims. The company has now agreed to make public its annual
environmental reports for the first time. This is a good first step,
Human Rights Watch said.
Human Rights Watch also called for the Papua New Guinea government
and international donors to facilitate a public health survey of
possible mercury poisoning around Porgera. Impoverished small-scale and
illegal miners in the area regularly process gold ore by combining it
with mercury and then burning the combined materials over an open flame.
This is an extremely dangerous practice and one that local medical
professionals believe may have given rise to an untreated epidemic of
mercury poisoning in local communities.
Human Rights Watch is one of the world's leading independent organizations dedicated to defending and protecting human rights. By focusing international attention where human rights are violated, we give voice to the oppressed and hold oppressors accountable for their crimes. Our rigorous, objective investigations and strategic, targeted advocacy build intense pressure for action and raise the cost of human rights abuse. For 30 years, Human Rights Watch has worked tenaciously to lay the legal and moral groundwork for deep-rooted change and has fought to bring greater justice and security to people around the world.