Mona, who was pregnant with her first child, collected rocks from the ground at a Canadian gold mine’s dumping site in Papua New Guinea and began walking toward the river to wash them.
That day in 2006, Mona, whose name has been changed, joined the masses of other illegal miners who trespass on the dump site to search for gold, according to an independent claims assessment.
Her husband, one of the illegal miners, had his leg amputated when a mining company security guard cut him. He was in hospital and she needed gold to buy him food and soap.
As she made her way to the river, she saw security guards chasing the other miners. A guard caught her, but when he saw she was pregnant, he told her to run. He left her, but two other guards grabbed her. She struggled, but they pushed her to the ground, pulled her clothes off and raped her.
When it was over, the labor pain began. She went to hospital and a doctor said her fetus had died in the womb.
That’s the story of one woman among at least 130 who were raped by security guards at Barrick Gold Corporation’s open pit mine in Porgera, Papua New Guinea, one of the countries with the highest rates of sexual violence in the world. And according to women who shared their stories with VICE News, guards at the mine continue to commit rape today.
The company disputes that, saying no rapes have been reported since 2010, and that there are now confidential ways women can report sexual assaults by mine employees.
As of September 2010, Barrick employed a private security force of 443 guards — 279 from Porgera, 153 from around Papua New Guinea, and 11 supervisors from outside the country — to detain trespassers and hand them over to police, according to a Human Rights Watch report.
After first ignoring their stories, the company finally acknowledged the problem in 2010 and in 2012 it created a process to compensate the women for the abuse they suffered. In return, the women signed waivers promising not to sue the company in any court in the world.
These rapes are undisputed by the mining company. The only matter in dispute is whether the women received justice. And a new joint report by the human rights clinics at the Harvard and Columbia law schools says they did not.
The “red water” tailings waste, where Porgerans often go to pan for gold. Photo Credit: Emily Allen
The report comes at a time when Canada’s newly elected Liberal government has hinted that mining companies could face tougher regulations under their government. Liberal MP John McKay told VICE News earlier this month he’s optimistic his private member’s bill C-300, which would crack down on companies for environmental and human rights abuses, could make a comeback. And the Liberal party has previously supported the idea of an independent ombudsman office to keep an eye on mining companies abroad.
One of the report’s authors, Sarah Knuckey, who presented her findings in front of the United Nations this week, says while Barrick Gold created an “innovative remedy approach” in 2012 — one of the first company-created mechanisms like it in the world — the process has still resulted in a deep feeling of unfairness among the women who went through it.
Earlier this year, 11 women who were raped by the company’s guards but did not sign away their rights, received 10 times as much compensation from the company because they had attorneys advocate on their behalf, according to the report released Thursday.
“In July 2015, Barrick offered each of the 120 women an additional payment, but taken together, the initial packages and additional payment remain significantly less than the international settlement [that the 11 women received],” the report states.
The company’s mechanism had “specific positive features that other companies should look to as guidance,” the report says, but it “falls short” and “is not a model that other corporations should replicate wholesale.”
“The women, if you ask them now, are you happy with the remedy that you received, many of them will say something like, this remedy is like a mother giving a crying child a small snack,” says Knuckey. “They feel insulted, and embarrassed and in some ways quite ashamed about the remedy they got.”
They were raped, sometimes by multiple men, “in some of the most vicious assaults that I’ve investigated anywhere in the world,” she says. And on top of the rape itself, social stigma meant many of them were assaulted by family members, lost their children or husbands, and were unable to receive medical care.
“And when we’re comparing the serious harm that they suffered with the remedy they received, many of them feel that it’s unjust.”
Nina, whose name has been changed, says she was raped at the mine and reported it to police, but she hasn’t received compensation. (VICE News was unable to verify her story independently.)
She has an organizer role in the fight for adequate compensation and has brought 20 women together in one room to tell VICE News their stories over the phone.
They range in age from 25 to 73. Most of them received compensation from the company they believe is inadequate. They have case numbers that correspond to the waivers they signed to receive compensation, and the settlement the company paid them in response.
A 27-year-old woman is the first to tell her story. Her case number is 107. When she was 15 or 16 years old, she went to work at the dump site. That’s where the guards raped her.
“When she was raped, she never told anybody, even to her mother,” Nina says, translating.
Now she’s married with three children. She received compensation, but she wants the company to pay her the same amount the other women received.
Another woman, who is 58, tells her story next. Her case number is 210. She doesn’t remember how many men in guard uniforms raped her. “A lot of men,” she says in English. She reported her rape to police but no arrests were ever made. “The remedy is not good enough,” she says. “They tortured me. I’m still traumatized.”
“Rapes, killing, illegal mining activities are still going on,” she says. “They haven’t done anything [to stop it].”
A woman in Porgera. Photo Credit: Sarah Knuckey
On October 29, days before the Liberals took power, Canada’s ministry of natural resources released a corporate responsibility checklist for mining companies operating abroad, which includes a chart labeled, “How do you know what you are doing is working?” Good signs include “no or low public outrage following incidents” and “people waving back when greeted.” Signs a company is “off the rails” include “bad press,” “sabotage” and “increasing crime in the area of operations.”
“The assaults perpetrated against women at the Porgera mine were horrific and we are determined to do everything possible to ensure they are never repeated,” Barrick spokesperson Andy Lloyd said in an emailed statement.
The company plans to review the findings of the Harvard-Columbia report. Lloyd declined to comment on whether Barrick will pay equal compensation to the women.
At the end of October, Barrick told its shareholders it was “on track to achieve $2 billion in cash flow improvements by the end of 2016.” The company is struggling to pay down its debt, and recently announced it is selling off non-core assets.
Barrick said recent drought conditions at the Porgera mine are not expected to impact production this year, with an expected yield of 450,000 ounces of gold in 2015. At a price of $1,125 an ounce, that could fetch the company more than $500 million this year alone.
Knuckey is hoping that by presenting the women’s stories before the UN, Barrick might be compelled to pay them compensation they deem adequate, but there are no guarantees.
“We’ve seen the company take a number of very positive actions in the last couple of years,” Knuckey said. “The company has publicly committed to uphold human rights, it has publicly committed to fully comply with the right to remedy, and so we expect that when they are able to hear directly from the women themselves and from their perspective the unfairness of the process that they went through, that we would hope that the company would see that the right thing to do here by the women that were raped by its guards over the last decade, would be to give them equal remedies.”
Follow Hilary Beaumont on Twitter: @hilarybeaumont