Beyond the Headlines: Porgera in Crisis,
In May 2009, Jethro Tulin was interviewed on the CBC’s As it Happens, reporting about the fact that over 300 houses were burnt down by police next to Barrick’s Porgera Mine in Papua New Guinea (PNG). The news hit the front page of newspapers in PNG, citing Jethro’s interviews from North America. Even the Sydney Morning Herald – the largest newspaper in Australia – ran an entire series of feature articles on the Porgera situation, while Amnesty International and the Coalition on Housing Rights and Evictions both made public statements condemning the house burnings.
Surprisingly, Barrick admitted that “It [was their] understanding that the police tore down approximately 50 temporary shacks,” never apologizing for this gross human rights abuse or their role in provoking it. According to a follow-up report by Amnesty International, during the evictions three women were reportedly raped, people were beaten, and there was no prior warning or resettlement plan in place.
However, the most shocking story that never made the headlines was the fact that the PNG police force burnt down the village two times following the April burnings – once on June 23 and again in July 2 – after the villagers rebuilt houses in the same area.
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.
The landowner’s main plight asks for resettlement out-side of the Special Mining Lease area, to a location where they can live a subsistence lifestyle while having basic infrastructure (roads, schools, and a hospital) provided for them. It seems a small price to pay in exchange for a land rich with gold.