Papua New Guinea is a country rich in natural resources and holds large reserves of mineral ores such as gold and silver. The mining sector represents an important source of governmental revenues that contributes substantial shares to the national GDP. The Porgera Joint Venture (PJV) mine, located in Enga province, is the second largest mine in Papua New Guinea and among the ten most productive gold mines worldwide . But the sector brings not only benefits – it comes with massive social and environmental costs as the depressing development of the Porgera Gold Mine has shown [2;3;4].
Before the arrival of the Porgera Gold Mine, the area was a rather remote area that was hardly accessible and mainly inhabited by Ipili indigenous clans. Apart from agriculture, home gardens and forest uses, small-scale alluvial gold mining had long been an important local livelihood source for residents. Things changed rapidly when the Porgera Gold Mine opened in 1990; first under the management of Placer Dome company, which was later taken over by Barrick Gold in 2006 .
Since the operation of the mine, the dump sites of the waste rocks occupy an ever-growing area that was previously bush, forest and farmland of local residents . Large amounts of mine tailings have been disposed into nearby rivers year by year. The tailings contain mainly waste rocks, but also heavy metals and traces of chemicals like cyanide used in the gold extraction process [2;3;4]. While this poses not only a threat to the environment, the pollution represents a severe health concern for close by and downstream communities. This practice caused that Barrick was later excluded from the portfolios of major investment funds, like the Norwegian Government Pension fund . Beyond the environmental impacts, the social impacts have been devastating.
Inside the mine, several accidents occurred. In August 1994, a blast destroyed the Dyno Wesfarmers explosives factory located at the mine. Eleven workers were killed and property was damaged in an area of up to 2km away. In 2012, five people were killed during a routine blast. The police said the victims were illegal miners who entered the mine. The remaining three survivors were charged for trespassing .
Outside the mine, social tensions and livelihood concerns shape the daily lives of local residents, as well as depressing cases of violence employed by security and police against local residents. People have complained about the lack of adequate compensation and absence of livelihood opportunities in light of declining access to land. Social problems, such as prostitution, alcoholism, economic inequality and other issues have increased. Many impoverished residents frequently come to the dump sites to search for remaining traces of gold in waste rocks, in a non-violent way, to enhance their little income. They use mercury in the final gold extraction process, which poses a severe health and environmental risk. When found by security guards, they face arrest and violence. A few times, the mine was also violently raided by illegal mining groups posing severe threats to its employees. The mine’s private security force mounts up to about 450 persons [2;3;4].
The most severe events occurred through private security staff and police raids. Extrajudicial killings through private security was reported by local groups in the early 2000s, as well as brutal gang rapes of women who were captured on the waste rocks by security guards . The women were pressured to not report to the police and local authorities under threats of arrest . A dramatic event occurred in 2009, when close by villages were raided by police officers. People were forcibly evicted, houses were burned down and livelihood assets (land, garden, livestock, other belongings) were destroyed. Most affected was the Wuangima area, located next to the underground mining operation, where at least 130 houses were burned down, and cases of rape were reported by villagers. Other areas were violence was used was Kulapi and Mungalep. The police raids were formally conducted to enforce law and order in the area, including illegal small-scale mining, through an operation that was termed “Operation Ipili”. The mobile police squads were supported by the PJV through food, fuel and accommodation .
Already in 2005, a report issued by the local organization Akali Tange Association (ATA) alleged that the mine’s security staff had killed at least nine people between 1995 and 2005. The government of Papua New Guinea started an investigation but results were not made public. Placer Dome acknowledged that eight people were killed in that time, arguing that it was in self-defence. Some cash compensation was paid to relatives upon the condition that no further legal would be taken .
In May 11, 2009, Amnesty International issued a statement about concerns over human rights abuses by the police and subsequently investigated the cases . Also Human Rights Watch investigated six cases of rape between 2008 and 2009 that were believed to represent a broader pattern of violence against residents, employed by security staff . Further investigations by local authorities followed. In 2009, a research team from Harvard and New York University submitted evidence on rape incidents to the Canadian parliament . Barrick stated that they had no knowledge of these incidents and passed the responsibility to investigate these cases to the Papua New Guinea authorities, but initially did not commit to action itself .
Several events followed. In 2010, a PJV guard was convicted of murder that took place in 2002. The local representative organization ATA itself became controversial over allegations that ATA charged money from families for their work, while some of them received nothing in return . The mining company opened major internal investigations. As a result, several security staff were fired, and three former PJV employees were arrested in January 2011, charged with rape among other issues . The company also agreed to make its environmental reports publicly available and a remedial framework was set up to provide compensation. Later on, more than 130 women accepted payments of around 10,000$ requiring them to forego any future legal action. 11 women however rejected the offer as being grossly inadequate and planned to file a lawsuit with support from Earth Rights International. In 2015, an out-of-court settlement was reached, the details of which were however not made public .
Conflicts surrounding the mine have continued until today. For instance, on September 4th, 2015, Akali Tange Association (ATA) submitted through the PJV grievance mechanisms a list of 256 victims “who have been shot death, injured and raped by the Barrick PJV Security Personnel” . As according to ATA there was no adequate response to their letter, a peaceful protest march was planned for June 24, 2016 . The most recent controversial police action against residents was documented in March 2017 .
(See references provided at the bottom of the entry for a detailed description of the events of this complex case. The Barrick Gold homepage on the Porgera mine provides an overview of formal responses taken by the company).