Protest Barrick
Home About us Issues International Campaigns Press Actions

PNG, Australian governments respond to abuse claims

by Annie GuestABC Australia - The World Today
June 11th, 2009

PETER CAVE: The Australian Government has rejected demands that it intervene in disputes around a Papua New Guinea gold mine where there have been allegations of shootings, rapes and homes being torched.

Police and security guards employed by the mining company Barrick Gold and its predecessor Placer Dome are accused of dozens of human rights abuses at Porgera in the central highlands.

At a forum in Brisbane, Papua New Guinea's Foreign Minister defended his Government's decision to send in the police.

Annie Guest reports from Brisbane.

ANNIE GUEST: Thousands of kilometres from the alleged atrocities in the plushy surroundings of a top Brisbane hotel, Papua New Guinea's Foreign Minister Sam Abal defends his Government's recent decision to send in the police to the Porgera Valley in the central highlands.

SAM ABAL: Police action had to be taken immediately before anything more dangerous comes up. And I come from that area so I know the facts of the situation.

ANNIE GUEST: Those facts he says include a population build up, gold "hunting" or theft, weapons, and villagers living very close to the mine. He says the PNG Government would be prepared to examine any allegations brought to it and Australia's high commissioner and others are welcome to see the situation for themselves.

Speaking outside the PNG-Australia forum in Brisbane, the Foreign Minister explained the situation is complex.

SAM ABAL: It's not so convenient when a large, world-class mining company wants to dig gold out and there's people everywhere. But that is the case that has happened over there and connected to that there have been people who have been willing to risk their lives to try and, you know, hunt for gold within that mining lease as well.

ANNIE GUEST: But Sam Abal denies police have destroyed homes - only sheds.

Mining in Papua New Guinea has often been fraught but one expert says this dispute could be even more difficult to resolve than the Bougainville troubles.

A villager called Jethro Tulin addressed a UN forum a fortnight ago saying, quote, "In one generation, the mine has brought militarisation, corruption and environmental devastation to a land that previously knew only subsistence farming and alluvial mining."

Barrick Gold, the world's biggest gold miner, didn't return the ABC's call requesting a response to the claims from villagers, Amnesty International and other critics that people have been killed, homes razed and women raped.

Charles Roche from the lobby group, Mineral Policy Institute also holds environmental concerns, including -

CHARLES ROCHE: Infringements on their basic rights, such as access to clean water and having a safe place to live, right through to the killings and bashings and rape.

ANNIE GUEST: And how would you characterise the handling of this by the Papua New Guinean and Australian governments and the company itself?

CHARLES ROCHE: Well the Papua New Guinea Government talks about the importance of mining to their economy and don't seem to be very concerned at all about protecting their citizens. The Australian Government, I think they've still got their head in the sand.

ANNIE GUEST: He's backed calls by villagers for the Australian Government to intervene. It's a major source of funding for PNG. The Foreign Minister Stephen Smith says it will be up to Australia's high commissioner to PNG to decide whether to visit the mine.

STEPHEN SMITH: Foreign Minister Abal has detailed for you the complicated and complex circumstances of the mine over a lengthy period of time. It's quite clear that there have been some law and order and civil disorder issues, as the Foreign Minister himself has said. If people have got allegations or suggestions of abuse to make, they'll be investigated by the relevant PNG authorities.

PETER CAVE: Australia's Foreign Minister Stephen Smith ending that report from Annie Guest in Brisbane.


Join our e-mail list