Roundtable

#WeBelieveSurvivors of Barrick Gold

Toronto-based mining company Barrick Gold, whose abysmal record of human rights abuses and environmental degradation are documented at ProtestBarrick.net, is the largest gold mining company in the world. In April 2017, two women affected by Barrick’s Porgera Valley mine in Papua New Guinea visited Toronto to attend the company’s annual general meeting (agm). They came to speak directly to shareholders about sexual violence and murder in their community, to implicate mine employees and security, and to demand compensation and justice.

Everlyn Guape and Joycelyn Mandi of Porgera Women’s Rights Watch Association have been organizing around sexual violence perpetrated by Barrick as well as working in their communities to shift the legal and cultural barriers that prevent women from sharing their stories of sexual violence. Everlyn and Joycelyn were interviewed by Ellie Ade Kur (co-founder of Silence Is Violence, an organization that aims to radically alter the culture of institutional violence on university campuses across Canada), for the program #WeAreUofT on ciut 89.5fm in November of 2017. 1 They invited Sakura Saunders of ProtestBarrick.net and Mining Injustice Solidarity Network and Catherine Coumans of MiningWatch Canada to join the conversation and help connect their experiences at home with the University of Toronto, Peter Munk, and Canadian politics.

After the interview, Joycelyn and Everlyn attended Barrick Gold’s agm, but their applications to speak as proxies were denied. Instead, they had Catherine Coumans read their statements as they stood next to her. Security tried to push them to the back of the room, to prevent them from sitting near Catherine, but this strategy of silencing these survivors backfired as media covered the incident. 2

Today, we are talking about Toronto-based mining company Barrick Gold. It is the largest gold mining company in the world, founded by University of Toronto alumni Peter Munk, whose name appears on the university’s School of Global Affairs.

We’ve got incredible women in studio from the company’s mines in Papua New Guinea here to discuss their organizing around sexual violence at the hands of Barrick employees and mine security, as well as their work in their communities, from gaslighting tactics to the legal and cultural barriers that prevent women from sharing their stories of sexual violence.

Today, we’re looking at the forces that silence victims of abuse and the courageous women who have self-organized with other survivors to tell their stories and demand accountability.

First off, what exactly is Barrick Gold?

Everlyn: Barrick Gold is a gold mining company that has done things in my community, my village, that shouldn’t be done. The Barrick Gold mine, owned by a Canadian, has caused much destruction in my community. It has taken our gold, destroyed our environment and land, and its employees gang-raped us.

As I’m talking here, the killings, the gang rapes, and the chemical waste that the Barrick Gold mine is sending down into our rivers is ongoing and it’s killing us. Three cases of rape happened last week. Village houses were burned down last March, and a human rights activist was jailed on Friday for telling the truth. I don’t want Barrick mining my village.

Can you talk about how Barrick Gold has changed your community?

Joycelyn: Barrick Gold is destroying my community. Barrick hasn’t done anything good in our community. We are suffering. Kids are playing beside chemically-polluted water. Men are killed. Men are panning for gold in the chemically-polluted water. Security guards are chasing and beating up people. Kids try to run away from the security guards, and they fall down and they break their legs and arms. Some strange things are happening in our community and village.

Both of you do a lot of organizing around sexual violence and violence in your community from mine staff and security, and that takes an incredible amount of courage. I’m wondering if you can talk about where you’re coming from and how you got involved in the organizing that you do.

Everlyn: I come from the village where the actual gold mining is done. Mining surrounds the villages. We have no other land to go to. We face all the problems that Barrick has created. By looking at these bad things that Barrick has done, I took the initiative to stand up for my rights and my peoples’ rights to speak out to the public. Also, it’s very fortunate to have the Canadian Human Rights Watch in Porgera, where I became their interpreter and I translated English to my fellow villagers. In that way, I gained the courage to work, talk, and get along with Canadians. And I gained confidence to talk about myself. It’s time I speak out the truth about what happened to me when I was a child in high school.

I was on my way to school and the security guards were passing through taking the road to my village. On my way, the security guards caught me and beat me up with my small sister who was 14 years old. I was 18. We were walking towards our village, and the security guards were seizing the local villagers who went panning for gold. We were caught in there. I ran fast, but my little sister was small and weak. I saw the security guards get a hold of her, so I had to go back to help her. And I was caught also. We were struggling, but they beat us, they made sure that our muscles were beat up to the point that we couldn’t stand and fight back. And beside the red water, the smelly waste mine tailings, five security guards raped us, and we were left unconscious.

Joycelyn: As for myself, I’m a landowner of the Mount Warukari, the highest gold mountain that Barrick has. And my land was destroyed because of mining. We had to move to another village, and the biggest dumpings were going on there, so we had no land for cultivating and no fertile lands for growing food. The only way for us to survive was to go and pan for gold in the waste dumping from Barrick’s waste rocks. The biggest tailings come through my village. We go there to find a way to survive because we have no fertile lands for planting our gardens.

When we go there, security comes and tries to chase us away. Barrick’s personal security guards come to chase us away. There is rape and killing. That’s how I got raped, by Barrick’s security guards chasing me. It’s very hard for me to express what has really happened to me, but that’s how I got involved.

I’d like to talk about the organizing and the activism you’ve done in your own communities. You’ve both expressed these experiences of violence and abuse and witnessing these gross violations of human rights at the hands of mine staff and security of Barrick Gold. When people come forward with experiences of sexual assault, when they accuse mine staff or security of sexual violence, how are they treated by Barrick Gold and

what happens?

Everlyn: Barrick doesn’t really care. Barrick thinks that we are lying. When the raped women come, we send them to the hospital for testing to get a medical report showing the evidence of rape. If it happens beside the river there is evidence such as dust and red sand.

We register their names and give them counselling. I have experienced it already, so from these experiences we try to give counselling to the ladies who are coming forward with experiences of sexual violence. We have gone through basic counselling, so we try to give basic counselling to the women. We also register their names and go through the grievance process at Barrick.

How many women would you say your organization has helped?

Everlyn: My organization, Porgera Women’s Rights Watch Association, is made up of 119 women. And 119 women have received an unfair remedy from Barrick. Eleven women, with their lawyers at Rights International, received $250,000 each, which is far more than us; we received $50,000 each. We also have the miss-out ladies, who are still out there. They haven’t had a chance of getting a remedy.

And there are more to come. Some are hiding from their families, friends, husbands, and relatives because our custom is very strong and complex. If they see that women are being raped, they will not respect us. We will lose our respect. We will not be qualified to perform some of the responsibilities that we do in our villages. So in my organization, we’ve talked and engaged with 119 women who have already received the unfair remedy. I’m here in Toronto at the Barrick agm to ask Barrick for fair remedy, which will be equal to that of the 11 women.

You’re both in Toronto for the Barrick Gold AGM where you will get to speak to folks on Barrick Gold’s board of directors, to people like Peter Munk. I’m curious about what are you planning to say.

Everlyn: I’m planning to introduce myself, that I’m from Porgera, Papua New Guinea where Barrick Gold does its gold mining. I will tell them what Peter Munk has done to me and my people, the destruction and environmental loss, and the air pollution because the villages are surrounded by the mining and we breathe the air. We are in direct contact with the waste that Barrick is throwing into our villages, our gardens, our creeks. Rivers have been covered with waste. I will tell Barrick, the shareholders, and the directors what they have done to my land, and my people. They have our precious gold which is non-renewable. If we lived as we lived before, it would be much better. Because of the gold, it has done away with our customs and our traditional ceremonies that we used to do before.

The next thing is the land. We have a land shortage. Where will we go? Porgera is a little place, and it’s covered by the waste dam and mining activity. People around the mining area are disturbed by the mining activity, machine noise, and smoke that pollutes our air. Now we have no more land to go to and collect our firewood from. The wild flowers no longer exist. The birds, frogs, and fish that we catch in our creeks, the beautiful creeks that we used to have in our villages, no longer exist. They’re all washed down by the waste dam. The waste dam has been rebuilt two times. These two dams have washed down all our land. We have no other place to go.

On top of that, our men are being killed. Some of our mothers have given birth to dead babies or babies with abnormalities. In December 2016, in Joycelyn’s village, a villager gave birth to a child with two heads. Barrick stopped funding the hospital, so the hospital closed and the baby died on the way. Some are born without legs. Some mothers have cervical and uterine cancer, they die young. They die during their first childbirth. We suspect it’s due to the chemicals thrown into our waters. Thirty years of mining and 30 years of suffering. Raping me has added another burden to my life. I really hate Barrick.

Joycelyn: I will tell Barrick what has happened to me and other women. All of us got raped. I will ask Barrick: What do you think about this? Is it good behaviour what your personal guards are doing to us local women while you are happy getting our gold as we suffer? Why is Peter Munk not concerned about us local Indigenous people who are affected so badly? Why is he doing such things and not responding?

So, Catherine, I want to give you a chance to jump in. Just your thoughts and comments on some of the conversation.

Catherine: I’ve been to Porgera a number of times. I know the places they’re talking about, I know the people, and it’s heartbreaking. I want Canadians to understand a few things. This is not like a mine you would find in Canada. Yes, it’s a Canadian gold mining company. You might think that they would behave abroad in the same way that we would expect them to behave here, but that is not the case. This is a hellhole of a mine. This is a mine that does not contain any of its waste. All of its tailing material, which is the end product of the mining process, contains a lot of chemicals. This operation uses cyanide to get the gold out, and there’s mercury in the tailings. All of this waste is just dumped into the environment. Porgera is in the mountains, in the highlands of Papua New Guinea. It is dumped into a river system that runs 800 kilometers down to the sea. That entire river system, which runs near the villages, is contaminated by the waste from this mine. These people are literally surrounded by toxic waste. The tailings are dumped into the environment, and the waste rock is dumped into the environment.

When they talk about moving between villages that used to be connected with paths, they now have to cross these waste dumps. These waste dumps are not only toxic, but they’re very dangerous because it’s fast flowing material. People have actually lost their lives just being swept away by this waste. Two schools dropped into the waste and flowed downstream. This is dangerous and toxic from a health and safety perspective.

This is not a normal situation. In Canada, this would be illegal. No mine in Canada can dump their waste directly into river systems like this. People have to cross this waste. Children and families have to cross this waste to get from one village to another, to get from a village to their agricultural plots. This is what they need to survive. They also have to cross the waste to get to school. And just by stepping into the waste area, they are exposed to the security of the mine, because from that moment on, they are officially called trespassers, even though the waste is trespassing onto their land. The horrible stories we’ve heard are of the mine security, which is private security hired by the company.

The company also has a memorandum of understanding with the Papua New Guinea state, and under it, the police are brought to Porgera to operate as guards and security for the mine. So, there’s both public security guards and private security guards, both of which are being accused on a regular basis of gross violations of human rights against the local people. Once people step into that waste, they are subjected to abuses by these security forces. Men can be shot and killed. Women are subject to being raped, gang-raped, brutally beaten. A lot of the rapes have been of very young children.

Another thing Everlyn and Joycelyn were talking to us about was the loss of their traditional livelihood because the waste in the mine now takes up so much land. This is a very mountainous area. There’s not a lot of land. If you have to go up too high in the mountains, you get to a point where you can’t grow gardens anymore. The land and water that people need to survive has been destroyed. This is well-documented by engineering firms and others who have said that these people should be relocated, but they’re not being relocated. They’re still living there. The alternative livelihood is to actually go into these waste flows and to pan for gold.

Some of the women I interviewed were young girls who were going into the waste flows to get gold in order to pay their school fees. These were children who were then gang-raped. Because rape is such a terrible thing in this culture, once women have been raped, it’s very hard for them to speak out. In fact, the first few times I went to Porgera, it was only the men who were telling us that the women were being raped. Only recently, women themselves have come forward. It’s important to understand that Everlyn is among 119 women who were finally able to put pressure on the company. For years, Barrick just denied that this was happening, and finally enough reports were filed and enough evidence was gathered that they had to admit it. Barrick then agreed to pay a very small amount of remedy to 119 women. That amount of remedy was not sufficient. The women were not consulted on the remedy that they received, and they had to sign legal waivers to receive that remedy. There are so many more women who have not received any remedy. They’ve brought their cases forward to the company through the grievance mechanism, and they’re not getting any response, which is the case with Joycelyn’s claim.

I would like to shift the discussion now to talk about what you’re doing in Toronto, why it’s important that both of you are here, and the significance of both of you being at the University of Toronto. I want to go to Sakura because you’ve done a lot of organizing with Protest Barrick and the Mining Injustice Solidarity Network. What is the connection between Barrick Gold and the University of Toronto?

Sakura: Peter Munk is the founder of Barrick Gold and was for a very long time its chairman and ceo. He is also a major donor to the University of Toronto, and developed the Munk Centre for International Studies. Marketa Evans, a former director of the Munk Centre, created the Devonshire Initiative whereby development Non-Governmental Organizations (ngos) recieve money from mining companies as a form of Corporate Social Responsibility (csr). The Devonshire Initiative actively undermined civil society institutions within Canada that were trying to create some kind of accountability for Canadian mining companies.

For example, in 2009 a Liberal mp introduced Bill c-300 to the federal parliment, which proposed creating a mining ombudsperson to investigate claims of abuses happening all over the world at Canadian-owned mine sites. Bill c-300 also proposed that if mining companies were found to be committing human rights violations or breaching environmental norms, the Canadian government would divest monetary and diplomatic support. While the proposal was limited in scope, it was a positive step forward, long-fought for by civil society and human rights groups in Canada. But the Devonshire Initiative undercut these efforts and the bill eventually failed. In its place, the initiative redirected international development money away from more critical civil society organizations toward ngos within the Devonshire Initiative. What’s worse is that instead of having an ombudsperson with the power to investigate and impose sanctions on these companies that are proven to be abusing human rights, they created a csr councillor, who would be able to investigate these companies, but only if they got permission from the companies themselves. Of course, the first csr councillor was Marketa Evans, the director of the Munk Centre.

Later, the Munk Centre was expanded into the Munk School of Global Affairs with an additional $35 million grant from Peter Munk. I should put that $35 million in quotes because it wasn’t really $35 million. It wasn’t a lump sum donation. It came in at a trickle and Peter Munk got to decide how a lot of the money was used. For example, around $250,000 a year is used on a branding strategy for the school, much of it directed by Munk or a designate. In addition to the fact that this money is coming in at a trickle, $15 million of this so-called grant to the University of Toronto can be cancelled up to one year after Peter Munk dies. And it can be cancelled based on the Peter and Melanie Munk Foundation’s opinion of whether the school is meeting its goals. The contract that Peter Munk signed with the university outlines how Peter Munk or someone from the foundation gets to meet with the director of the Munk School every year. It also says that Munk can name the directorship, chairs, and fellowships that his funds go toward.

We’ve seen just how this Munk money can directly impact politics. For instance, the Munk School offered Liberal Party leader Michael Ignatieff an exit strategy from politics with a job at the Munk School. Months later he publicly went against his own mp’s Bill c-300. And we see that even the appointment of the new President of the University of Toronto, who oversaw Ignatieff’s grant and the approval of his contract with the Peter Munk Foundation, was approved without even going through the governing council; it was just approved by a handful of people. Meanwhile, David Naylor, the former University of Toronto president, went right on to Barrick’s board after he left the university.

We can see how there are a lot of ties between the university and this company that is responsible for so many gross human rights violations; and not only responsible, but guilty of actively blocking investigations to find out the truth.

One of the questions I want to ask is about this waiting period. Harvard Law, New York Law School, MiningWatch, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch: all of these organizations conducted interviews with the victims, and the entire time Barrick Gold was denying that this was happening. They would even go so far as to say that “It’s disgusting that you would even accuse Barrick of such horrible things.” I want to know what it was like in this waiting period before Barrick was forced to acknowledge these wrongs and introduce this insufficient remedy. What was this waiting period like and were the women afraid of their stories getting out?

Everlyn: It was really hard for all of us to see it out. Inside of me was the thing that happened to me. It was killing me for ages. Me and the others, we could talk easily, go village by village, and we would ask them, “Please come and speak out.” Many of the women didn’t, they didn’t want to come and testify, and some of them have given us their real names but most of them did not. They gave first names only. They didn’t want to come forward. They felt comfortable talking to me, so we had to pull it out, register their names, and get these things done. But it wasn’t easy for us to speak up.

Sakura: And Joycelyn, it’s happening now where Barrick ignored the first complaints, then gave 119 women some remedy, and now they’re going back to ignoring victims again. You represent 80 women victims who never received remedy from Barrick. What has your experience been like going to the company with the women you are working with?

Joycelyn: It was very hard for me and my colleagues. We couldn’t really speak out. It’s our custom that we don’t talk about rape. If we talk out, then we get bad names in our community villages. So we just kept it in ourselves, in our hearts. I was raped, and then some 15 minutes later, two of my colleagues came and they got me. So I told these two women, “You saw what happened to me, but please don’t let the story out. Let’s keep it a secret, it’s very embarrassing.” I told them, and then I couldn’t stay in my village. I went out to another district. I stayed there until some women got remedy. Many women can’t really speak out, but now I think they are ready and willing to speak out about what has happened and tell the world that they are really affected by what Barrick’s security guards had done to them.

Sakura: I wanted to say something about a comment that Peter Munk made to The Globe and Mail, the largest newspaper in Canada. He said he couldn’t be held responsible, his company couldn’t be held responsible for the rapes because gang rape was a cultural habit in Papua New Guinea. He said it’s not politically correct to say this, but obviously what Everlyn and Joycelyn are saying is a different story. You’re saying that women are afraid to tell their experience because of how society will treat them, but what he’s saying is that this is normal and that this happens all the time. His comments are just racist.

Just to build off that last question, Everlyn and Joycelyn, when you are both here at the University of Toronto, a school that has Peter Munk’s name on buildings, on the School of Global Affairs, the Peter Munk Cardiac Centre, what is it like for both of you, knowing that these are spaces that celebrate not only Peter Munk but also Barrick Gold?

Everlyn: We are not happy seeing the name of Peter Munk in hospitals and the university. This Canadian company has stolen our valuable gold. Peter Munk should have done something for the people who own the valuable gold, but instead he has done bad things to us. After listening to our stories, Human Rights Watch has written so much about the rapes, killings, and abuses that have been going on. These stories should have forced Munk to look back on his life and think, “I shouldn’t have taken gold out of these Indigenous peoples’ lands, and I should give something back to them.”

Joycelyn: It’s very hard for me to talk, because I’m not happy. Comparing my own community, my village, the environement, with the air in Toronto, it’s very hard for me to express.

Sakura, you have arranged a speaking tour for Everlyn and Joycelyn in Toronto, New York, and other locations. Can you talk about the events you are arranging and the speaking tour?

Sakura: We have teamed up with Silence is Violence at the University of Toronto, who have also been holding the university’s feet to the fire, to host a speaking event. This whole business of trying to sweep sexual violence under the rug is something that we experience here as well. When women experience rape and when they out their abusers, people say, “Why are you bringing that up? You’re ruining this man. Why are you ruining this person?” People blame the victim, because they’re speaking their truth. While it doesn’t necessarily happen here in as brutal terms as it does in Papua New Guinea, there’s still a lot of solidarity that can be created through sharing the stories of Joycelyn and Everlyn. People can relate to your stories because of how they weren’t believed when they told their stories. They had nothing to gain and everything to lose by telling their truth.

My purpose is to create bonds of solidarity and trust through these relationships and to end violence against women. One of the things that we are doing is collecting cellphones with cameras, so that Joycelyn and Everlyn can bring them back to Papua New Guinea and distribute them to women there to document their own stories and be empowered in their advocacy, so this stops happening. Nobody wants this to happen anymore, and the more people that you tell, the more people that will be invested in seeing justice. It’s one of the ways that we create relationships and create a larger community of people that want to see an end to these kinds of abuses.

Catherine: MiningWatch is involved in bringing Everlyn and Joycelyn to Canada. It’s hard to overstate the significance of the fact that we have been involved in the Porgera human rights issues for over 10 years now. In 2008, 2009, and 2010 there were men who were organizing in the community and were willing to come to Canada and speak at the agm. They were the first to say security guards were killing local men and raping local women. The company knew this the whole time, but denies it. What is significant now is that the women are organizing and have reached a point where they are willing and ready to speak for themselves. That is important, that they come themselves and tell their own stories. One of the places that they will be going to speak truth to power is Barrick’s agm, and stand in front of the directors and shareholders, and speak about what is happening to them, the fact that these issues are ongoing. Some of the women have received some remedy, but it’s not enough for them to put their lives back together, and other women have never received any remedy at all and are being ignored. Barrick is going into the same denial phase again.

Everlyn and Joycelyn also need to be in Canada to speak to our legislators. They will be meeting with mps, because it’s incredibly important that we in Canada respond to what Canadian companies are doing overseas. We have a responsibility to create laws in Canada to hold our companies accountable here for what they are doing overseas. They will meet with mps and civil servants who are supposedly involved in issues of human, Indigenous, and women’s rights so that they also become educated. They will also try to hold some public meetings, which is important so that average Canadian citizens understand what is happening. They will meet with some ngos that are focused on women’s issues so they can build solidarity with other ngos working on the types of issues they’re involved with. They will be going to the un in New York to the Permanent Forum for Indigenous Peoples. Part of the importance of doing these tours and having people come and speak for themselves is that they build connections which empower them and strengthen their work when they go back home to their community. •

Notes

1

2 “Sex Assault Survivors Silenced at Barrick Shareholders Meeting,” Now News, May 2, 2017. https://nowtoronto.com/news/sex-assault-victims-silenced-at-barrick-gold-shareholders-me/.

  1. #WeAreUofT airs Tuesdays from 11am-12pm and is produced by Robert Fajber. You can listen to episodes online at soundcloud.com/weareuoft. ↩︎
  2. “Sex Assault Survivors Silenced at Barrick Shareholders Meeting,” Now News, May 2, 2017. https://nowtoronto.com/news/sex-assault-victims-silenced-at-barrick-gold-shareholders-me/ ↩︎