Years after being sexually assaulted by Barrick Gold security staff, victims of gang-rape are finally being offered counselling and micro-loans by the world’s largest gold company.
The events occurred at the Porgera mine in Papua New Guinea, operated by the Porgera Joint Venture (PJV). PJV is 95% owned by the Canadian mining company Barrick Gold, also active in Peru, Argentina and Chile (including the Pascua-Lama project on the border of these last two).
This case demonstrates that with reliable research and sustained international campaigning, some companies will respond positively (although not necessarily quickly). There are parallels with cases in Guatemala, for example, concerning the Hudbay company.
In a thorough investigation of a long series of assaults, rapes and gang rapes going back several years, Human Rights Watch recorded some horrifying acts near the mine. One victim told how she was forced to swallow a condom used to rape her. Another testified that she was gang-raped by six Barrick security guards at a waste dump after the assailants had shattered her teeth.
The initial reaction of Barrick was dismissive. Founder Peter Munk told the Globe and Mail:
” … gang rape is a cultural habit. Of course, you can’t say that because it’s politically incorrect. It’s outrageous. We have to pretend that everyone’s the same and cultures don’t matter. Unfortunately, it’s not that way.”
Since then, and as a result of international pressure, there has been a major shift in Barrick’s position. They have worked to remedy the situation, producing the “Framework of Remediation Initiatives in Response to Violence against Women in the Porgera Valley”.
In a letter to the UN High Commissioner on 22nd March 2013, Barrick stated that about 170 women had been interviewed after filing claims; some 93 had been assessed as having claims that meet the initial threshold eligibility criteria. No claim had reached finalisation.
On 7th June the conclusions of a mid-programme review were published, making minor adjustments to the scheme including to the legal waiver whose terms had come in for criticism.