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Abuses were documented in Papua New Guinea, Tanzania, Colombia, and Guatemala. (Image: Humphrey King/flickr/cc)

Canada Accused of Complicity in Mining Companies' Abuse of Women and Girls

New report calls on Canada to stop financing and supporting companies that abuse and discriminate against Indigenous women living near mines abroad

Nadia Prupis

The Canadian government is failing to protect women against human rights abuses by supporting and financing mining companies that are involved in discrimination, rape, and violence abroad, according to a new report submitted to the United Nations on Monday.

The report (pdf), written by EarthRights International (ERI), MiningWatch Canada, and the Human Rights Research and Education Center Human Rights Clinic at the University of Ottawa, states that the Canadian government continues to support these corporations instead of holding them to account, despite its obligations to do so as a member of the U.N. Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).

Canada's complicity in the abuse is especially noteworthy because it is home to a majority of the world's mining company headquarters, which operate at more than 8,000 sites in over 100 countries.

In one case outlined in the report, Indigenous women and girls living near Papua New Guinea's Porgera Joint Venture (PJV) gold mine accused security personnel at the site of engaging in a decades-long campaign of sexual violence, including gang rape. The companies that run PJV—Barrick Gold and Placer Dome—also reportedly allowed environmental devastation and other forms of violence against men and women, as well as forced displacement, extrajudicial killings, and arbitrary detention, the report states.

The community has been fighting for redress since 2005. Although Barrick Gold established a so-called "Remedy Framework" in 2010 to compensate victims, less than half of the women who filed claims received remuneration, and those that did say it was not enough to "reflect the gravity of the harm suffered," the report states.

Similar abuses, and lack of accountability, occurred in Tanzania, Colombia, and Guatemala, the groups continue. At the Fenix nickel mine near El Estor, Guatemala, women were reportedly gang raped by police, military, and security personnel during a forced eviction. Despite these and other abuses, the Canadian government continued to provide support to the owners of the mine. In a leaked email between the Canadian embassy and the mine's then-owner, Skye Resources, the native community is referred to as "invaders" and a property conflict is described as "an anarchic free-for-all land grab."

"The allegations against Canadian corporations are not isolated incidents," said Marco Simons, general counsel at ERI. "There is a systemic pattern of reported abuses associated with Canadian extractive sector companies operating outside Canada."

Under CEDAW, Canada is required to do all it can to eliminate discrimination against women by any corporations that work in foreign countries, including through prevention and punishment measures. It is also obligated to compensate victims.

As Catherine Coumans of MiningWatch Canada summed up, "Despite calls from civil society, the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade, individual members of parliament, and numerous U.N. treaty bodies to take proper legislative action to regulate its corporations, ensure accountability for involvement in harm and access to a remedy for victims of corporate related abuse, Canada has failed to do so."

Salvador Herencia-Carrasco, director of the Human Rights Clinic, said, "With this submission, our organizations hope that Canada and other home states implement mechanisms to assure that private extractive companies respect environmental standards and the human rights of women."


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