|Act on abuses, Papua New Guinea activists plea|
by BJ Siekierski, iPolitics.ca
A pair of Papua New Guinean activists are in Ottawa for a fourth time hoping a recent report will help them succeed where earlier pleas have failed.
“Once again, I have made the long trip from my home in Porgera, Papua New Guinea to tell Canadian people and the Canadian government about the ongoing human rights abuses at Barrick Gold’s Porgera Joint Venture mine,” said Jethro Tulin, executive officer of the Akali Tange Association, a grass roots human rights group.
Tulin, and Porgera Landowner’s Association chairman Mark Ekepa joined Mining Watch Canada, Thursday, to highlight abuses and environmental ruination linked to Barrick Gold’s mining operations in their region.
The abuses include alleged killings, beatings, and rapes perpetrated by security forces at the Canadian company’s Pongera Joint Venture mine.
Up until recently those allegations had fallen on deaf ears, but in February, a Human Rights Watch report compelled the company to react publically.
“Barrick condemns these alleged crimes in the strongest possible terms and wishes to see anyone involved brought to justice under PNG law,” their February 1 statement read.
“These allegations run contrary to everything we stand for as a company firmly committed to protecting human rights and human dignity.”
Catherine Coumans, who heads the Asia-Pacific program at Mining Watch Canada, said Barrick has made some positive changes — such as adding a new women’s liaison officer to whom victims of sexual assault can report their cases, but that a recent rape inside the mine site by Barrick security forces doesn’t bode well.
She’s also frustrated by how long it has taken to get the company’s attention. Tulin and Ekepa addressed three of Barrick’s last four annual meetings, and would’ve spoken again this year if it weren’t for a visa delay.
“They’ve been telling Barrick’s shareholders and the board of directors directly that these rapes were going on, and consistently they were told that these people were making outrageous statements,” Tulin said.
Ekepa is also extremely upset about comments Barrick Chairman Peter Munk made in a Globe and Mail article on February 18. In that article Munk said it would be impossible to police the behavior of 5,550 employees, particularly in countries where “gang rape is a cultural habit.”
In an open letter to Munk, Ekepa wrote, “Gang Rape is a new phenomenon to us since your mine arrived.”
Thursday, however, Ekepa’s focus was the millions of tons of tailings and suspended sediments from waste rock piles that are dumped directly into nearby valleys and rivers.
“Just within the past two months, three of our young people have died by drowning in the waste flowing around the mine site,” he said. “Our waters are contaminated, our land is degraded by the mine, and we don’t have enough land left to grow our food.”
To make matters worse, Ekepa said, the Ipili are constantly threatened by the mine’s security forces and government troops supporting the mine. Some of these troops, known as ‘mobile units,’ have been accused by Amnesty International of burning down local people’s houses.
Tulin accused Barrick of housing, feeding, and providing these units with fuel and stipends.
Their protests have already born fruit in Norway, where the government divested its pension fund of $230 million worth of Barrick shares.
Ekepa and the Porgera Landowners’ Association are asking Barrick to resettle all landowners living in the mine area. To date, the company has resettled some, but refuses to carry out a complete relocation.
The Canadian government has no authority to investigate Canadian companies operating abroad. Liberal MP John McKay tabled a bill last year which would’ve given the government that authority, but it was defeated by six votes in the House last October.