Blog Entry

Lawyers Say Barrick Thwarts Access to Justice for Victims of Violence

Catherine Coumans

Ph.D. Research Coordinator and Asia-Pacific Program Coordinator

(Ottawa) New evidence is emerging that Barrick Gold’s dealings with victims of violence by mine security and police at mine sites in Papua New Guinea and in Tanzania is primarily designed to protect the company from legal action, rather than to provide fair remedy for women who have been raped and men who have been hurt or killed by mine security.

Lawyers who represent victims of violence at the Porgera mine in Papua New Guinea (PNG) and at the North Mara mine in Tanzania are speaking out.

On Friday, U.S.-based EarthRights International released documents that reveal how the compensation process Barrick has put in place at the Porgera mine to deal with victims of rape by the company’s mine’s security trades inadequate benefit packages for a promise never to sue Barrick. Documents reveal that women who reject the packages or ask for other forms of remedy are being turned away by the program.

“Some of the women felt they had no choice but to accept the benefits offered,” said Marco Simons, Legal Director of EarthRights International (ERI), which represented dozens of women in the process. “One of our clients told us how she was brutally beaten, cut with a knife and raped by more than 10 Barrick guards, left unable to have children, and then abandoned by her husband and ostracized by her community. She was angered by what the Remedial Framework offered. But she felt she could not reject the benefits because she needed medical treatment; her injuries still made it painful for her to walk.”

“Some of our clients did, however, refuse the benefits,” added Simons. “As far as we know, the only women who refused to sign Barrick’s legal waiver were those represented by ERI – in other words, those who thought they might have other options.”

In a visit to Ottawa on November 6, 2014, Shanta Martin, a partner at UK-based law firm Leigh Day, spoke out about the firm’s Tanzanian clients who are pursuing claims against African Barrick Gold and its Tanzanian subsidiary in the High Court of England and Wales for deaths and injuries they claim were a result of the excessive use of force by mine security and police, including the frequent use of live ammunition. 

In its press release Martin said, “Impoverished people from remote rural villages who sue multinational companies often face incredible obstacles to having their claims heard by an independent arbiter,” said Martin. “Our clients naturally expect companies that say they are transparent and supportive of human rights to live up to those claims.” 

As in Papua New Guinea, Barrick’s North Mara mine in Tanzania has implemented a compensation process to deal with victims of excessive violence by mine security. And as in PNG, victims of violence have to sign away their right to sue the company in return for compensation, however inadequate. MiningWatch Canada and UK-based Rights and Accountability in Development (RAID) conducted a human rights assessment at the North Mara mine in July and August and found that the mine’s compensation program is not transparent, not independent of the company, that the compensation being offered is neither appropriate nor reflective of the deaths and serious harm that victims have suffered, and that it is not what the victims themselves said they need to overcome the harm. 

MiningWatch and RAID also found that clients of Leigh Day were being targeted by North Mara mine personnel to persuade them to drop their law suit in return for this inadequate compensation. 

In its release, Leigh Day confirmed that many of their clients stated they had been specifically targeted to forgo their legal claims and sign up to the mine’s grievance mechanism.

“The PNG and Tanzanian cases clearly demonstrate an abuse of so-called project level grievance mechanisms to ensure legal immunity for Barrick at a high cost to the victims of violence,” says Catherine Coumans of MiningWatch Canada. “It is questionable whether company-led project-level grievance mechanisms should even be dealing with criminal acts by mine security, but if they do they should absolutely not result in legal waivers that create barriers to access to judicial remedy.”

Both the Government of Canada and the Mining Association of Canada are currently drafting guidance for the use of project-level non-judicial grievance mechanisms. The issue is also front and centre at the upcoming UN Forum on Business and Human Rights in Geneva in December.

For more information, or to set up an interview with victims, contact:

Catherine Coumans, tel: 613-569-3439, [email protected]

The following documents have been released by EarthRights International :

  1. Statement from Remedial Framework Advisory Panel rejecting compensation demands
  2. Remedial Framework benefits package (name redacted)
  3. Remedial Framework benefits package (name redacted)
  4. Remedial Framework final contract including agreement not to sue Barrick (name redacted)

See also Leigh Day's news release of November 6, 2014.