Out-of-court settlement prevents human rights group EarthRights International filing a lawsuit against Barrick Gold in the United States.
A group photo of Porgera community women and men who say they were raped or violently abused at the gold mine owned by Barrick Gold Corporation. Photo: Supplied
Rick Feneley | Sydney Morning Herald
Eleven women and girls who were raped, gang-raped or violently molested in the Papua New Guinea Highlands have reached an out-of-court settlement with the world’s biggest gold miner, having refused to accept the “insulting” compensation paid to 120 fellow victims of the company’s security guards.
“It would be like accepting lollies as compensation,”
“It would be like accepting lollies as compensation,” one of the 11 told Fairfax Media. Identified only as Jane Doe 10, she was 14 when she and two teenage friends were raped in 2010 at the Porgera mine, owned by the Barrick Gold Corporation.
The Porgera community says security guards and mobile police at the mine have raped more than 200 women and girls over the past two decades. It says men and boys have been beaten, shot and killed for entering the open pit or tailings dumps or going near the mine’s property.
The 11 women were preparing to sue Barrick Gold in the United States, convinced they would be unable to find justice in PNG. The human rights group EarthRights International had been scheduled to file a lawsuit late last month in Las Vegas because the Toronto-based miner has major operations in the state of Nevada.
But the women reached an undisclosed settlement which is likely to be well above the 21,320 kina ($10,430) they say Barrick offered most of them. The settlement also covered the families of three people allegedly killed in violence at the mine.
Barrick says 90 per cent of the women who came forward with allegations accepted packages ranging from 23,040 to 32,740 kia under a “remedial framework” established in October 2012. It says the payouts were determined not by Barrick but an independent group of PNG women’s advocates, and they were at “the upper end of civil court judgments in sexual assault and rape cases” in the country.
These women had to agree never to seek further damages, a provision condemned by MiningWatch Canada, which investigated the abuses – as did Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and legal clinics at Harvard and New York University law schools. But Barrick said the UN High Commission on Human Rights reviewed the remedial framework and the legal waiver was consistent with UN guiding principles.
The mine’s ever-expanding waste dumps, EarthRights says, give impoverished Porgera women and girls little option but to enter the company’s property to scavenge for remnants of gold or to cross the site to reach agricultural land, commercial areas, schools and other villages.
The oldest of the Porgera 11, now aged in her 80s, alleges she was raped many times. Jane Doe 10, now 19, is the youngest, along with another girl who was also 14 when they and an older teenager were seized by three mobile policemen at the mine.
The officers each raped one of the girls. One officer has died but two are awaiting sentencing this month for their crimes.
“I brought disgrace to my community and my parents,”
“I brought disgrace to my community and my parents,” Jane Doe 10 said, speaking through an interpreter. When she returned to school she had been mocked, such is the social stigma associated with rape. She promptly left school and gave up on an education. She married young but, when her husband learned about the rape, he assaulted her and abandoned her with their young child.
The remedial framework compensation package was very low by local customary standards, say Jane Doe 10 and another of the 11 women, Jane Doe 2. To accept it would “add disgrace to the disgrace”, Jane Doe 10 said.
Jane Doe 2 was collecting firewood near the mine’s tailings dump when two security guards raped her. She said they threw her against sharp stones and she still carries the injuries. Her husband’s response to the rape was to beat her and abandon her.
Then security guards at the mine raped her daughter, also near the dump.
“We are both victims,” Jane Doe 2 said, “and now I am finding it difficult to look after my kids as well as my daughter’s.
“I treated Barrick as one of my sons. I have given my land to Barrick. But in return Barrick has not shown any respect … so now I am going to file a lawsuit,” she said on the eve of the aborted action in Las Vegas.
Mother and daughter say they still have no choice but to return to the scene of their rapes to find scraps of gold.
In 2008, EarthRights says, Barrick’s chief executive wrote in a letter to Porgeran leaders that claims of gang rape were “most distasteful, to say the least as you know these allegations to be untrue”.
Asked if it was slow to accept the abuses, Barrick’s vice-president, communications, Andy Lloyd, told Fairfax Media:
“When allegations first surfaced, the company attempted to investigate the claims but was unsuccessful in identifying victims or perpetrators.
“When Human Rights Watch came to us with credible information, we acted immediately, terminating the employees implicated in the assaults and handing over all information to the PNG police. We regret that we were unable to uncover these assaults sooner.”
Barrick bought the mine in 2006 and many assaults predate its arrival. However, a local human rights activist, Karath Mal Waka, from the Akali Tange Association, who acted as translator for Jane Doe 2 and Jane Doe 10, says sexual assaults persist. He says an eight-year-old was raped recently at the mine.
Mr Lloyd replied:
“There have been no cases of Barrick employees involved in sexual assaults since 2010. We are aware of an incident similar to the one you are describing, however it did not occur on the mine site and it did not involve a Porgera Joint Venture employee.”
Asked about the shooting of men and boys – which a local association has put at 14 deaths in the past 10 years – Mr Lloyd said:
“The mine’s security guards do not carry lethal ammunition.”
Mr Waka says more than 100 rape victims – girls and women, many married – were not covered by the remedial framework and he wants Barrick to reopen that program for them. Mr Lloyd was unaware of any extra claims and said the framework was advertised widely over many months.
The amount to be paid to the 11 women is not known. It is unlikely to approach the hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars that juries in the US can award to rape victims.
When Fairfax Media covered the story in February 2011, one woman described how she and three others were raped by 10 security personnel, one of whom forced her to swallow a used condom that he had used while raping the other victims.
A 26-year-old woman was allegedly raped while collecting native vegetables near the mine in January 2011 – after Barrick had taken action. Because she resisted, her genitals were repeatedly burnt with a hot rod, the Porgera Alliance alleged.
Jethro Tulin, executive officer of the Akali Tange Association, said before the settlement:
“Barrick has been raping our wives and daughters and killing our fathers, brothers and sons for years.”
Catherine Coumans, of MiningWatch Canada, said:
“Barrick tried to push the problem under the rug for many years despite regular reports of human rights abuses committed by its security forces, documented by numerous researchers and human rights organisations.”
In a joint statement after the settlement, Barrick and EarthRights International said:
“All claimants are pleased with this resolution.”
Mr Lloyd said Barrick took action at all of its mines around the world after after the Porgera allegations came to light, and it had “zero tolerance” for human rights abuses.
“Since then, thousands of employees have undergone human rights training, we implemented a new global human rights policy, we have carried out human rights training for local police forces [including in PNG], we have formed a partnership with White Ribbon to carry out awareness and prevention programs aimed at stopping violence against women in communities where we operate.
“In PNG, we worked with leading human rights experts to develop the remedy program, perhaps the first of its kind ever implemented by a mining company. We are also funding community-based initiatives … to combat violence against women.”
Barrick is negotiating to sell the Porgera mine. Any liabilities from future victim claims would remain with the mine, Mr Lloyd confirmed.