A Canadian-owned gold company says it is giving cash payments and other compensation to 14 women who were sexually assaulted by police and security guards at its controversial North Mara gold mine in Tanzania.
African Barrick Gold, a subsidiary of Toronto-based Barrick Gold Corp., says it spent two years questioning more than 200 people in an independent investigation of the sexual-assault allegations, which were first disclosed by Barrick in 2011.
"Fourteen women are presently receiving remediation packages," the company said in a statement to The Globe and Mail on Thursday.
"Although the exact components of each package depends on the individual claimant, they have included cash compensation, sponsored employment to provide job training, financial and entrepreneurial training, education expenses for claimants' children, relocation expenses, home improvements, health insurance for claimants and their families, and counselling services."
In a statement, the London-based Barrick subsidiary described the 14 women as "victims" of sexual assault, not just complainants.
The case began when about 10 women alleged that they were arrested at the North Mara mine site and sexually assaulted by company security guards or Tanzanian police. The incidents occurred over a period of several years before their public disclosure in a company statement in May, 2011. The women told the investigators that they were taken to holding cells and threatened with imprisonment if they refused to have sex with the police or guards.
The company said it found the complaints "credible" and "highly disturbing." It launched its own investigation by a team of experienced experts, and it turned over its findings to the Tanzanian police, although on Thursday it was unable to say whether the police will lay criminal charges against the perpetrators.
The North Mara gold mine has been increasingly controversial in recent years after Tanzanian police were implicated in the killing of local villagers who "invaded" the site in search of waste rock containing tiny bits of gold.
Barrick Gold has also been embroiled in controversy over a series of gang rapes by security guards at its Porgera gold mine in Papua New Guinea. An investigation by Human Rights Watch concluded that the attacks were "brutal" and "extreme." As many as 170 women were raped at the Porgera mine, activists say.
Catherine Coumans, a researcher at MiningWatch Canada, an Ottawa-based non-profit organization, said African Barrick has kept too much secrecy over the North Mara sexual assault cases. The statement on Thursday is its first disclosure about the investigation since 2011, and it fails to disclose key details of the investigation and the compensation, she said.
In a separate development, a British court has criticized African Barrick for launching a "pre-emptive strike" against a group of Tanzanian villagers who had filed a lawsuit against the company after six of their relatives were killed by police at the gold mine and several others were injured. The lawsuit alleges that the company is responsible for the deaths because the police are an "integral part" of the mine's security and operate under an agreement with the company.
The ruling by the High Court, issued earlier this month, said the company had acted in haste by launching a legal tactic that the court described as "a Tanzanian torpedo" to force the lawsuit to be heard in a Tanzanian court, rather than a British court.
Leigh Day, the British law firm representing the Tanzanian villagers, said the villagers were served with legal papers "out of the blue" after the mining company quietly launched a court case in Tanzania seeking to declare that it cannot be held responsible for the actions of the police.
"These papers demanded that our clients, who do not have Tanzanian lawyers, promptly appear before a court that is some 1,200 kilometres and a two-day bus ride away from where they live," the law firm said.
The firm obtained an injunction to prevent the company from proceeding with its Tanzanian case against the villagers, and later the company dropped the Tanzanian case.
In its statement on Thursday, the company said it had "no intent to make a pre-emptive strike." It also noted that the British courts had criticized some aspects of the original lawsuit against the company by the villagers.