Papua New Guinea: Police raids around Porgera gold mine

The Porgera gold mine is located in the highlands of Papua New Guinea. It is one the largest in the country and has operated since 2006 as part of the Porgera Joint Venture (PJV).PJV is 95 per cent owned by subsidiaries of the Canadian Barrick Gold Corporation (Barrick), the largest gold mining company in the world; the provincial government owns 2.5 per cent, and the remaining 2.5 per cent is owned by landowners from within the “special mining lease” (SML) area. Within the SML there are also a number of villages too.

In February 2009 a local Member of Parliament and some Porgera leaders wrote to the Chairman of the National Parliamentary Committee on State of Emergency about law and order problems and calling for the government to declare a state of emergency in the Porgera-Lagaip area, and finance members of the Mobile Squad (an elite section of the PNG constabulary) to be based at a site outside to help curb illegal mining activities. Police and members of the Mobile Squad were deployed to the area as part of ‘Operation Ipili’. PJV agreed with the police that it would provide the Mobile Squad with food, accommodation and fuel.

Between April and July 2009, police officers raided some of these villages as part of Operation Ipili. Houses, belongings, gardens and livestock were destroyed and people were forcibly evicted. Wuangima village was the most heavily affected, where at least 130 building were destroyed. Wuangima was inhabited by families from the Uape, Lakima and Wangalo sub-clans. The adult residents of Wuangima had been born there and in turn were raising their own children.

Residents who lived through the police raid told Amnesty International that: “on 27 April the police entered Wuangima from several vantage points, effectively surrounding the houses. Many residents fled in fear for their lives when they saw the heavily armed Mobile Squad police setting fire to houses...other residents were...away from their homes when the police raid began and were shocked to find their houses burned down when they returned. Residents who remained in their houses at the beginning of the police raid reported that the police pointed their weapons directly at them and threatened to shoot them if they did not immediately leave”.

The national government, following the forced evictions, did not provide displaced residents with any assistance, alternative accommodation and food. Many villagers have had to rely on relatives for shelter, leading to cramped living conditions. For women the hardship has been felt more acutely since traditionally they are the providers of food for their family. One woman told Amnesty International: “I am a bit ashamed because my wontoks [relatives] have to provide for my family.”

Moreover, as the villagers used their gardens as a source of subsistence, the evictions have cut them off from this source. The land where they have temporarily relocated to is not suitable for gardening and many fear returning back to Wuangima. Some parents have removed children from school in order to help the family buy food, which previously they could grow themselves. 

Barrick and PJV claimed that nobody was made homeless or suffered during the evictions because the site was not a permanent settlement and those people found there could either move in with relatives nearby or return to areas of the country from which they came from. They “denied that police carried out any forced evictions and that there was no evidence that the police had “used any force during this operation to remove unlawful structures; the buildings destroyed by police were not houses, but merely temporary huts; people were not living in these buildings, but using them as staging posts for illegal activity”.

Significant evidence exists to the contrary, including testimonies from residents and religious leaders, photographs of the area before and during the burning as well as physical evidence of the remains of houses with solid wooden frames and traditional woven walls. Furthermore, Amnesty International: “visited Porgera, inspected the burned remains of houses and spoke to many of the people directly affected by the forced evictions, including villagers who had previously occupied the area”.

For more information on how natural resource extraction is adversely affecting minorities and indigenous communities around the world, read MRG's report State of the World's Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2012.

References:

Undermining rights: forced evictions and police brutality around the Porgera Gold Mine, Papua New Guinea, Amnesty International 2010.

http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/cerd/docs/PapuaNewGuinea_11March2011.pdf 

Electra Babouri

Photo: Indigenous people in Papua New Guinea bring in a boat full of fruit. Credit: Hernán Pérez Aguirre.

No Associated files

Date: 27/06/2010

Countries:

Papua New Guinea

Categories:

State of the World's Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2012
Refugees/Displacement/Migrants
Natural resources
Land Rights

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