MINING Minister John Pundari is angry over comments by Chairman of Barrick Gold Peter Munk that “gang rape is a cultural habit” in the Porgera gold mine area which had been attracting international attention particularly among the NGOs in Canada.
But Barrick Gold which owns majority shares and is also the operator said at the weekend that the Canadian newspaper ’Globe and Mail’ which reported the issue had taken Mr Munk’s comments out of context and reported only a small portion of the whole interview.
Mr Pundari said the comments were unwelcomed and insensitive.
It was reported in the Post-Courier on Tuesday January 18. that police had began arresting terminated employees of Barrick at the Porgera Mine who were implicated in alleged sexual assaults against women.
“Barrick conducted its investigations and subsequently invited the Chief Ombudsmen and the Police Commissioner to conduct their own investigations into these allegations of human rights abuse and the Police chief was very vocal and firm with the issue and those involved,” Mr Pundari said.
Mr Munk, the founder of Barrick commented in Globe and Mail in defence of his company by stating that firstly, it would be impossible to police the behaviour of 5,500 employees and secondly, that it was so particular in countries “where gang rape is a cultural habit.”
Mr Pundari said Mr Munk comments that this was a cultural habit was totally insensitive and disrespectful to the country that Barrick operated in.
Barrick Gold’s Australia-Pacific President, Gary Halverson, said at the weekend that the recent comments attributed to Mr Munk did not fully represent his complete view on the subject of human rights and the Porgera Joint Venture.
Mr Halverson said that Mr Munk strongly condemned the allegations of rape as unacceptable to Barrick, and expressed his desire to see anyone guilty of such a crime brought to justice.
“During the interview with the Globe and Mail Mr Munk repeatedly condemned human rights abuses, but regrettably, only a small portion of this conversation was included in the resulting article.
“I can reassure the people of Papua New Guinea that everyone at Barrick, from the chairman to our frontline employees, condemns human rights abuses in the strongest possible terms. Such behavior is completely incompatible with our values, and our commitment to responsible mining with respect for human rights and human dignity.”
“We fully acknowledge that such abuses are as unacceptable to the peoples of Papua New Guinea as they are to us, and we recognise the deep respect with which women are held within traditional PNG society.”
“Furthermore, we have publicly applauded the response of PNG authorities to these matters, and our officers in PNG continue to work closely with police and others in their work in this regard.”
Mr Halverson said that the company continued to advance and implement a wide range of measures to ensure human rights compliance at the Porgera Joint Venture.
“To help address this problem, Barrick and the Porgera Joint Venture are funding research and expanding services for victims of violence through the creation of an independent Women’s Welfare Liaison Officer based in the Porgera community.”
“We are also evaluating further initiatives aimed at tackling violence against women in the country,” he said.
“Everywhere in the world where Barrick Gold operates, we remain fully committed to a zero tolerance policy when it comes to human rights abuses,” Mr Halverson said.