Human rights advocates in Papua New Guinea raised alarm following shocking accusations of violence leveled at police by villagers residing near the Porgera Joint Venture Gold Mine owned by Barrick Gold, the world's largest gold mining company. The police stand accused of taking part in a pre-dawn operation Saturday where villagers said 150 houses were torched.
The Akali Tange Association claimed that the police mobile unit rampaged through the Wangima village in an early-morning attempt to forcefully evict residents. Eyewitnesses claim that no warning was given, nor were any eviction notices presented prior to the onslaught. Eight young school-aged girls were allegedly gang-raped during the raid, yet their whereabouts are presently unknown. Six men also faced harsh beatings during the raid.
Representatives of Barrick claim that the mine had “been advised that the police operation targeted illegal activities and was conducted under warrants issued by the Porgera District Court,” yet that they had received no prior warning of the police operation.
However, activists have expressed skepticism that the mining firm had no knowledge of the police raid, especially given the relatively frequent nature of house burnings in Wangima — which lies within Barrick's mine lease area. Additionally, MiningWatch Canada noted in a statement that “police who guard the mine are housed, fed, clothed and paid by the mine which is 95 percent owned by Barrick (Niugini) Ltd., in turn, 50 percent owned by Barrick Gold.”
McDiyan Robert Yapari, the leader of Akali Tange Association, claimed that a local police officer revealed to him that the raid came under orders from Barrick. Yapari said the officer said, "The Company gave us orders and that we had no choice but to follow their directives. We are here working for money and if we don’t follow orders, we will not be paid our daily allowances."
The weekend incident is far from the first time the Canadian mining firm stands accused of committing horrendous abuses against the people of the region. In 2009 and 2014, similar incidents were condemned by Amnesty International and the Coalition on Housing Rights and Evictions.
In 2013, protestbarrick.net editor Sakura Saunders underscored the systemic nature of police abuse in Papua New Guinea in a report on abuses connected to the gold mining company, “This is the true tragedy with Porgera. Here, abuses can’t be confined to a few isolated incidents, but a structure of impunity that terrorizes residents who resist it. Here, the crisis does not exist only in moments, but is tied to an environment that is over run with waste, toxic dust, landslides and tailings, creating hazards that take lives on a regular basis.”