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Sarah Knuckey (Lawyer, Center for Human Rights and Global Justice, New York University School of Law) before the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development (FAAE)

by Sarah Knuckey (Lawyer, Center for Human Rights and Global Justice, New York University School of Law)Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development (FAAE)

Mr. Chairperson and committee members, like Mr. Giannini, I avail myself ofthe parliamentary privilege.

     Mr. Chairperson, we have documented allegations of grave human rights abuses--killings, rapes, beatings--by security personnel employed by Canadian companies. The seriousness of these alleged abuses and the absence to date of accountability point clearly to the need for a bill like Bill C-300, which would create an independent mechanism to receive and examine complaints by victims.

    In the course of our work, we have interviewed more than 250 individuals, including alleged victims, witnesses, family members of alleged victims, local residents, local and international civil society, health officials, government officials, police, mine staff, and current and former PJV security guards. We have also reviewed medical and police records.

    In Porgera, poverty drives locals to trespass on what is now mine property. Certainly, some of the cases of use of force by PJV's guards have likely been justified, either in the defence of property or of life. However, I would like to share with you today accounts of rapes we have documented that have been especially brutal and that are, of course, without any possible justification.

    Numerous accounts of rapes show a similar pattern. The guards, usually in a group of five or more, find a woman while they are patrolling on or near mine property. They take turns threatening, beating, and raping her. In a number of cases, women reported to me being forced to chew and swallow the condoms used by guards during the rape.

    Most of the women told me that they did not report the rapes for fear of retribution. Those who had stated that the police took no action. If a woman's family finds out about the abuse, she is often further shunned. In no cases were the women aware of any investigation, prosecution, or punishment of the alleged perpetrators.

    I would like to highlight for the committee one particular incident that a 25-year-old woman reported to me in March this year. Her account went as follows.

    She resided just a few minutes' walk from the mine and often went there to look for gold. She used the money she made from selling it to buy basic necessities, such as clothing and food, for members of her family. In 2008, five PJV security guards caught her while she was on mine property. She told me that the guards asked her if she wanted to go home or if she wanted to be sent to jail. When she replied that she wanted to go home, they said that they would rape her first.

    She explained to me that she tried to run, but that they held her, tore off her shorts, tore off her shirt and her underwear, and threw her down on the rocks. She said that each of the five took turns raping her while the others guarded the road. They pointed their guns at her and threatened to shoot if she tried to escape. They beat her legs and hit her with stones. They held her head down with the butt of a gun. She showed me the scars on her shoulder and hand, which she told me were the result of struggling during the rapes.

    A male relative of hers stated that he witnessed part of this attack and reported it to police, but they appear to have taken no action.

    This is just one example of many cases of alleged abuse that we have documented. Security guards have themselves recounted to me abuses that they have either witnessed or committed. In fact, during one of my trips to PNG in 2006, I witnessed a guard yelling at a local woman that he had raped many women, and he was calling for her to come near him so that he could rape her too.

    Mr. Chairperson, committee members, we have documented serious and consistent allegations of grave human rights abuses at a mine owned and operated by a Canadian company. Allegations date back nearly 20 years, and violence appears to be ongoing. Despite the seriousness of these allegations, little has been done to investigate.

    But the victims have a right to have their complaints investigated in a transparent, comprehensive, and independent manner. Bill C-300 is a step in the right direction in providing an independent venue to which victims may complain. Importantly, the bill also has the potential to deter and prevent future incidents of brutal violence by promoting accountability for the actions of Canadian companies overseas.

    Thank you.


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