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Barrick security guards and a Tanzanian police officer face off against local villagers who have invaded Barrick's gold mine at North Mara, Tanzania.The Globe and Mail

A fresh wave of allegations from Tanzania, along with a court-ordered review of thousands of company documents, is keeping alive an issue that has haunted Barrick Gold Corp. ABX-T for more than 15 years: police violence at its North Mara gold mine.

In its annual report last month, Barrick described the human-rights controversies as “legacy situations” that it was remedying with new management and new systems. But it continues to face questions about police abuses, despite its many promises to clean up the seemingly intractable problem.

In an order last month, the High Court of Justice in London told Barrick’s subsidiaries to disclose a long list of documents, e-mails, medical records, radio transmissions and video recordings about police shootings and other security-related violence at its North Mara mine in Tanzania.

Since Barrick acquired the mine in 2006, scores of local villagers have reportedly been killed around North Mara after entering the site in search of waste rock from which tiny bits of gold can be extracted.

Barrick Gold faces new allegations of police violence around Tanzania mining site

In the latest court case, 10 villagers are seeking damages for alleged abuse by police and security guards leading to deaths or injuries at North Mara and its surrounding villages.

The list of documents that Barrick’s companies must search or disclose is so lengthy that it took nine pages in the court order to summarize. It includes, for example, any documents from 2013 to 2019 containing key words such as violence, kill, death, injure, shotgun, launcher, hand grenade, Beretta and Glock.

Barrick’s subsidiaries could be required to review 60,000 to 120,000 documents at a cost of about $2.8-million, according to estimates by lawyers and legal filings in the court case. In total, Barrick’s lawyers said its court costs could add up to nearly $11.5-million, depending on how the trial is conducted.

For more than a decade, The Globe and Mail has been reporting on police-related violence at North Mara. In 2011, for example, it reported that a Tanzanian legal-rights group had found that 19 villagers were killed by police and security guards at North Mara over an 18-month period. Barrick said some of the deaths may have been caused by conflicts among the villagers.

In a separate incident in 2011, Barrick said Tanzanian police had killed seven villagers and injured 12 others after hundreds of people invaded the mine. Police officials said it was self-defence. And in a report in 2016, a Tanzanian government inquiry said it had heard that the police had killed 65 people and injured 270 in the period since Barrick acquired the mine.

While the British court case will cast a spotlight on deaths and injuries at North Mara from 2014 to 2018, a human-rights group is alleging that the police violence has continued this year.

The British-based group, Rights and Accountability in Development (RAID), reported last month that Tanzanian police had killed four villagers and injured seven others around the North Mara mine site in the period since Barrick took direct control of the mine from its African subsidiary in September, 2019.

In the weeks since that report, RAID says it has learned of two additional deaths and two further injuries allegedly caused by police at North Mara. The latest cases took place over the past 10 weeks, it said.

A former security officer at North Mara, who worked at the mine for many years, said he often witnessed abuses by Tanzanian police against trespassers at the mine site. “On a regular basis, you’d see them beating up intruders with big long sticks, shooting them, just abusing them,” he told The Globe in an interview.

He said he witnessed dozens of incidents in which the police fired live ammunition at trespassers, including three shootings that caused deaths. The incidents were always reported to the mine’s management, the former officer said.

The Globe is withholding the name and other details of the former security officer because he fears reprisals for speaking out without authorization.

Barrick representatives did not reply to multiple e-mails from The Globe seeking comment on the reported deaths and the comments by the former security officer.

In its annual report last month, Barrick said it had “zero tolerance for human-rights violations” in any of its operations. “Human rights is an area we feel strongly about,” it said.

In a separate report in December, the company said it had “radically repaired” its community relations at North Mara and established “clear boundaries” with the police.

In response to the deaths and injuries reported by RAID last month, Barrick said the alleged violence by the police had occurred outside the mine’s perimeter. It said the police were not under Barrick’s supervision.

The company, however, has signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the Tanzanian police at North Mara, and RAID says about 100 to 150 police are paid, fed, accommodated and equipped by the mine to provide security around the site.

According to the former security officer, a police liaison officer was always stationed in the mine’s security control room, day and night, and the mine called on the police to enter the mine almost every day. The security officer said that, under the MOU, police needed permission to enter the mine site, although on many occasions they entered even without it.

The police themselves were involved in corruption at the mine, stealing fuel and accepting bribes from some trespassers, he said.

The mine’s security staff gave training to the police on rules for the use of force and how to respect human rights, but the police often ignored the training, he said.

He once showed the police a video of what they should not do. It showed the police chasing trespassers into a pit, watching them fall about 10 metres, and then continuing to throw stones at them. He said they were not bothered at all by the behaviour in the video.

“They just sat there and laughed and thought it was highly entertaining. That’s their mindset. That’s the way they police.”

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