Survivors of Mining Company’s Violence Bring Fight to North America
Papua New Guinean human rights defenders call for accountability for abuses at Barrick Gold mine
December 11, 2017, New York City—Women’s rights activists from Papua New Guinea brought their decade-long struggle for justice for sexual assault—committed by employees of Canadian mining giant Barrick Gold—to the United States and Canada this past month. With the assistance of the Columbia Law School Human Rights Clinic, the activists are working to build an international solidarity network in the absence of action by both the company and the Canadian government to adequately address their communities’ needs.
“Over one hundred women came forward to report that they were sexually assaulted by the mine’s guards,” said Everlyn Gaupe, director of Porgera Women’s Rights Watch, an NGO she founded to advance women’s rights. “While the company created a remedy mechanism for the assaults, it was very flawed, and we women are seeking adequate compensation, medical and psycho-social assistance, and full accountability.”
Gaupe and a fellow activist, Lely Kesa of local NGO Akali Tange Association, traveled for nearly a month throughout Canada and the United States, building solidarity and raising awareness about the issues impacting their communities back home in Porgera. During their visit, Gaupe and Kesa spoke at an international conference and policy meeting in Ottawa, explaining the effects of Canadian extractive industries on women and girls. They also spoke at a workshop on extractives, land, and gender at Columbia University, traveled to Boston for trainings, and attended NGO meetings in Washington, D.C.
Gaupe and Kesa met with other indigenous leaders—an opportunity that showed not only the commonalities of human rights abuses by extractive companies across the world, but also the variety of tactics that communities have used to secure their rights in the face of abuse from international companies.
“We were able to share and learn the common struggles of indigenous groups around the world,” said Kesa. “We have acquired a lot of skills and knowledge for our own human rights advocacy in Porgera, and we are excited to use those back home.”
This visit is the latest step in efforts by members of the Porgeran community to seek justice. Porgeran groups have investigated and reported on alleged abuses, conducted advocacy to the company and to their government, prepared complaints to the United Nations, and traveled to Canada several times. Earlier this year, Gaupe attempted to bring her case to Barrick Gold’s Annual General Meeting in Toronto, but was denied the right to speak at the meeting.
“Having Everlyn and Lely here, to hear them speak and see them work, was incredibly powerful,” said Nia Morgan ’19, a student in the human rights clinic who worked closely with Gaupe and Kesa during their travels. “The visit was much more than a knowledge sharing experience; it was transformative activism in motion.”
The Columbia Law School Human Rights Clinic works to advance human rights around the world, and to train the next generation of strategic advocates for social justice. The clinic works in partnership with civil society organizations and communities to carry out human rights investigations, legal and policy analysis, litigation, report-writing, and advocacy.