By YEHIURA HRIEHWAZI
BARRICK Gold Corp is fuming over allegations presented at Canadian Parliamentary hearing that its security guards at the Porgera gold mine in Papua New Guinea were involved in gang-raping local women on numerous occasions.
A parliamentary committee in Canada is collecting information to support a private members’ bill to empower its foreign affairs and trade ministries to impose strict community obligation and social responsibility guidelines on Canadian companies operating overseas.
Barrick responded immediately, saying it was alarmed by the “extra-ordinary and extremely serious allegations” that its guards may have been involved in sexual assault on women. It said there were no such cases of sexual assaults since it took over the mine in 2006.
A human rights lawyer, Sarah Knuckey, who claimed to have been to Porgera and spoke to local people told the hearing that: “Numerous accounts of rapes show a similar pattern.
“The guards, usually in a group of five or more, find a woman while they are patrolling on or near mine property. They take turns threatening, beating and raping her.
“In a number of cases, women reported to me being forced to chew and swallow condoms used by guards during the rape,” Knuckey said.
Barrick spokesman Vince Borg flatly denied the allegations and said such actions would have been the subject of a full investigation by Barrick’s subsidiary in PNG.
Knuckey is a lawyer at the centre for human rights at New York University School of Law. She testified recently at the Commons foreign affairs committee examining a proposal to toughen scrutiny of the operations of Canadian mining and resource companies overseas.
“We are alarmed by the extraordinary and extremely serious accusation that security personnel working at the Porgera mine may have sexually assaulted local Porgeran women,” Borg said in a statement.
“To our knowledge, there have been no cases of sexual assault reported to mine management involving PJV security personnel while on duty, since Barrick acquired its interest in the mine in 2006.
“Barrick and PJV would encourage anyone who has information related to a serious crime of this or any other nature to report it immediately to (Papua New Guinea) authorities in order for it to be properly investigated and receive due process under the law,” Borg said.
According to websites of some of the Canadian media, if the private member’s bill is passed, it would break new ground internationally.
Canada is home to many of the world’s largest multinational mining and metals firms, and the bill is believed to be a first-ever attempt to exercise control over companies operating abroad.
If passed, it would empower the trade and foreign affairs ministers to produce a set of corporate social responsibility standards for Canada’s resource firms.
The guidelines would be based on international human rights conventions and rights and environmental norms set out by the World Bank.