Barrick Australia sues Papua Niugini to hold onto lucrative Porgera gold mine

July 14, 2020: Canadian company Barrick Gold announced on July 10 that its Australian subsidiary, Barrick Australia Pty Ltd, is invoking the investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) provisions of a bilateral investment treaty between Papua New Guinea (PNG) and Australia over the PNG government’s refusal to grant an extension of the company’s expired permit at the controversial Porgera Joint Venture gold mine in the PNG highlands.

The company intends to seek compensation through the World Bank’s International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID).

In 2017, Barrick applied for a 20-year mine lease renewal and in March of this year PNG’s National Executive Council refused the company’s application. The PNG National Court had allowed the mine to continue operating after its 30-year lease expired in August 2019 while awaiting a final decision by the government on the application for the new lease. Barrick Niugini launched a judicial review of the government’s decision in the PNG National Court on April 28, claiming lack of procedural fairness among other things. Court-ordered negotiations failed, and the court is now set to rule on Barrick’s petition later in July.

Barrick is now turning to international arbitration before the PNG court has even ruled on the case, which looks like an attempt to pressure the PNG court.

The Porgera mine has long been implicated in serious human rights abuses against neighbouring Indigenous Ipili and Engan peoples. Amnesty International and MiningWatch Canada have reported on excessive use of force by mine security, including killings, rapes and gang rapes, regular house burnings by mine security and police, and chemical spills leading to injuries of men, women, and children. The dumping of waste rock and tailings in the river valleys has contaminated an 800 kilometre-long river system and creates dangerous conditions for villagers who must cross the river.

A 2018 report by human rights experts documented these abuses and recommended that the company compensate the Indigenous people. The ISDS case is an attempt to deflect this responsibility and instead claim that the company deserves compensation.

Since 2008, MiningWatch Canada and Porgerans themselves have repeatedly brought the abuses directly to the attention of Barrick’s board of directors and shareholders at the company’s annual general meetings, including this year. “The company’s response is always one of shooting the messengers and denial, rather than a serious effort to address the harm the mine has imposed on Porgerans,” says Catherine Coumans of MiningWatch Canada. “By now it really should not be a surprise to any of the company’s directors or investors that Barrick is not welcome in PNG anymore.”