Watchdog reported pattern of extreme sexual violence by security workers; 11 tribal women said a previous ‘remedy framework’ for 137 women fell short
Karen McVeigh, The Guardian, April 3, 2015
A Canada-based gold mining company is paying compensation to a group of tribal women and girls who allege they were assaulted and raped by police and security guards at the company’s mine in Papua New Guinea.
The 11 women, who were aged between 14 and in their 80s when the alleged crimes took place, are among 137 local Enga women and girls who had previously been compensated by Barrick Gold Corporation, after allegations of sexual violence, including gang rape and imprisonment, by armed security guards and police officers at the Porgera mine.
Most of the 137 women accepted the company’s offer of a compensation package under a “remedy framework” set up by Barrick as an alternative to the local judicial system, after a Human Rights Watch report in 2011 identified a pattern of extreme sexual violence by security personnel at the mine.
But 11 of the women initially refused and argued that the compensation – on average 23,630 kina, which amounts to $8,743 – was not adequate to remedy the multiple and continuing traumas they had suffered.
One, who was 14 at the time of the alleged rape in 2010, said what happened to her halted her education and ruined her reputation and chance at marriage in her culture. She said she wanted sufficient compensation to start a life for herself and daughter elsewhere.
Over recent days, EarthRights International – which is representing the 11 women – threatened to take legal action against Barrick in Nevada, where the company has numerous holdings. ERI is also representing three individuals in relation to alleged deaths at Porgera.
The remedy framework arose after the HRW report documented six alleged incidents of brutal gang rape by security personnel employed by Barrick at Pogera to patrol the mines and waste dumps against illegal miners. In its report, HRW said the gang rapes were part of a pattern of extreme sexual violence by security personnel at the mine. It highlighted systemic failures by Barrick that it said had kept the company from recognising the risk of abuse or responding to it.
Since then, Barrick, which took over the mine in 2006, has fired about a dozen employees who were either implicated in the assaults documented by HRW or had knowledge of them without reporting it. It also facilitated a PNG police force investigation of the allegations. Police made several arrests, but no convictions resulted.
A joint statement by Earth Rights International and Barrick, issued on Friday, said:
“Barrick Gold Corporation and Earth Rights International (ERI) have negotiated a settlement of claims by 14 individuals from Papua New Guinea (“PNG”), represented by ERI, in relation to a variety of alleged acts of violence concerning the Porgera Mine in PNG.”
“Eleven of these individuals are women with claims alleging acts of sexual violence, including rape. Pursuant to the terms of the settlement, the women will receive compensation under the Porgera Remedy Framework, and a payment in connection with their participation in the mediation process which led to the resolution of their claims. The remaining claims, which relate to alleged deaths, were lodged through the operational grievance mechanism at Porgera, and have also been resolved. All claimants are pleased with this resolution.”
A spokesman for Barrick said: “Sexual assault is a horrific act under any circumstances and it goes against everything we believe in as a company. We believe we have acted decisively to address the issue of sexual assault at the Porgera Joint Venture, both to remedy past harms and ensure such incidents do not occur again.”
ERI, who have worked with the community in Porgera since 2012, have been negotiating a settlement with Barrick over the past two weeks. They said on Friday they were unable to release any further details regarding the specific claims in the deal. The terms mean that ERI will not file litigation on behalf of the 14 clients, it said.
“We have been proud to represent the people of Porgera for the past three years,” said Marco Simons, General Counsel of ERI, which has litigated major human rights suits against companies such as Shell and Unocal. “Porgera presents one of the worst cases we’ve seen of human rights abuse associated with extractive industry.”
Barrick maintains a private security force of 450 security personnel at Porgera mine, according to the HRW report in 2011. The report acknowledged that 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.”
One of the 11 women represented by ERI, who is now 18, said she and two friends had been asked by mobile police officers to make string bags for them in 2010. But instead of taking them to the ATM machine for payment, the armed officers took them in the police car to their living quarters at the mine site, where they were raped. Mobile police at the mine are not employed by Barrick directly but have a support agreement with the company.
In a statement provided by ERI, the woman said: “The rape has caused me to lose many important things in my life. I used to be a top student in my fifth grade class. I was good at school, and I enjoyed it. I could have really made something of myself if I had been able to stay in school. But after I was raped, everyone knew and my classmates were always talking about me. It was too difficult to deal with, so I dropped out. I tried to go back last year, but the kids said such bad things about me. I was so ashamed that I stopped going.”
She later married, but when her husband found out about the rape, they divorced, leaving her to look after a two-year-old daughter alone.
Another woman told how she was collecting firewood near the mine’s tailing pile when she was seized by an armed Barrick security guard and raped. She said: “Rape is a very shameful thing in the eyes of my community, and everyone in my community knows what happened to me.”
She said: “I want to be appropriately compensated for what happened to me, according to Engan culture. I want be able to live somewhere far away from the mine so I do not have to relive the rape that I suffered and risk the dangers of the dump.”
Earlier this year, in a separate action, a subsidiary of Barrick Gold, formerly called African Barrick Gold but now known as Acacia Mining, reached a settlement after claims brought against it in London high court over an incident that saw Tanzanian villagers killed. Villagers claimed the company’s subsidiary, North Mara Gold Mine Limited, had failed to prevent the use of excessive force by police and security services that had led to six deaths and other injuries in 2008.
In 2013, African Barrick Gold compensated 14 women who said they were sexually assaulted by security guards at its North Mara mine in Tanzania.
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