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Archive for April, 2015

 

A group photo of Porgera community women and men who say they were raped or<br /><br />
violently abused at the gold mine owned by Barrick Gold Corporation.

A group photo of Porgera community women and men who say they were raped or violently abused at the gold mine owned by Barrick Gold Corporation. 

Eleven women and girls who were raped, gang-raped or violently molested in the Papua New Guinea Highlands have reached an out-of-court settlement with the world’s biggest gold miner, having refused to accept the “insulting” compensation paid to 120 fellow victims of the company’s security guards.

“It would be like accepting lollies as compensation,” one of the 11 told Fairfax Media. Identified only as Jane Doe 10, she was 14 when she and two teenage friends were raped in 2010 at the Porgera mine, owned by the Barrick Gold Corporation.

The Porgera community says security guards and mobile police at the mine have raped more than 200 women and girls over the past two decades. It says men and boys have been beaten, shot and killed for entering the open pit or tailings dumps or going near the mine’s property.

The 11 women were preparing to sue Barrick Gold in the United States, convinced they would be unable to find justice in PNG. The human rights group EarthRights International had been scheduled to file a lawsuit late last month in Las Vegas because the Toronto-based miner has major operations in the state of Nevada.

But the women reached an undisclosed settlement which is likely to be well above the 21,320 kina ($10,430) they say Barrick offered most of them. The settlement also covered the families of three people allegedly killed in violence at the mine.

Barrick says 90 per cent of the women who came forward with allegations accepted packages ranging from 23,040 to 32,740 kia under a “remedial framework” established in October 2012. It says the payouts were determined not by Barrick but an independent group of PNG women’s advocates, and they were at “the upper end of civil court judgments in sexual assault and rape cases” in the country.

These women had to agree never to seek further damages, a provision condemned by MiningWatch Canada, which investigated the abuses – as did Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and legal clinics at Harvard and New York University law schools. But Barrick said the UN High Commission on Human Rights reviewed the remedial framework and the legal waiver was consistent with UN guiding principles.

The mine’s ever-expanding waste dumps, EarthRights says, give impoverished Porgera women and girls little option but to enter the company’s property to scavenge for remnants of gold or to cross the site to reach agricultural land, commercial areas, schools and other villages.

The oldest of the Porgera 11, now aged in her 80s, alleges she was raped many times. Jane Doe 10, now 19, is the youngest, along with another girl who was also 14 when they and an older teenager were seized by three mobile policemen at the mine.

The officers each raped one of the girls. One officer has died but two are awaiting sentencing this month for their crimes.

“I brought disgrace to my community and my parents,” Jane Doe 10 said, speaking through an interpreter. When she returned to school she had been mocked, such is the social stigma associated with rape. She promptly left school and gave up on an education. She married young but, when her husband learned about the rape, he assaulted her and abandoned her with their young child.

The remedial framework compensation package was very low by local customary standards, say Jane Doe 10 and another of the 11 women, Jane Doe 2. To accept it would “add disgrace to the disgrace”, Jane Doe 10 said.

Jane Doe 2 was collecting firewood near the mine’s tailings dump when two security guards raped her. She said they threw her against sharp stones and she still carries the injuries. Her husband’s response to the rape was to beat her and abandon her.

Then security guards at the mine raped her daughter, also near the dump.

“We are both victims,” Jane Doe 2 said, “and now I am finding it difficult to look after my kids as well as my daughter’s.

“I treated Barrick as one of my sons. I have given my land to Barrick. But in return Barrick has not shown any respect … so now I am going to file a lawsuit,” she said on the eve of the aborted action in Las Vegas.

Mother and daughter say they still have no choice but to return to the scene of their rapes to find scraps of gold.

In 2008, EarthRights says, Barrick’s chief executive wrote in a letter to Porgeran leaders that claims of gang rape were “most distasteful, to say the least as you know these allegations to be untrue”.

Asked if it was slow to accept the abuses, Barrick’s vice-president, communications, Andy Lloyd, told Fairfax Media: “When allegations first surfaced, the company attempted to investigate the claims but was unsuccessful in identifying victims or perpetrators.

“When Human Rights Watch came to us with credible information, we acted immediately, terminating the employees implicated in the assaults and handing over all information to the PNG police. We regret that we were unable to uncover these assaults sooner.”

Barrick bought the mine in 2006 and many assaults predate its arrival. However, a local human rights activist, Karath Mal Waka, from the Akali Tange Association, who acted as translator for Jane Doe 2 and Jane Doe 10, says sexual assaults persist. He says an eight-year-old was raped recently at the mine.

Mr Lloyd replied: “There have been no cases of Barrick employees involved in sexual assaults since 2010. We are aware of an incident similar to the one you are describing, however it did not occur on the mine site and it did not involve a Porgera Joint Venture employee.”

Asked about the shooting of men and boys – which a local association has put at 14 deaths in the past 10 years – Mr Lloyd said: “The mine’s security guards do not carry lethal ammunition.”

Mr Waka says more than 100 rape victims – girls and women, many married – were not covered by the remedial framework and he wants Barrick to reopen that program for them. Mr Lloyd was unaware of any extra claims and said the framework was advertised widely over many months.

The amount to be paid to the 11 women is not known. It is unlikely to approach the hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars that juries in the US can award to rape victims.

When Fairfax Media covered the story in February 2011, one woman described how she and three others were raped by 10 security personnel, one of whom forced her to swallow a used condom that he had used while raping the other victims.

A 26-year-old woman was allegedly raped while collecting native vegetables near the mine in January 2011 – after Barrick had taken action. Because she resisted, her genitals were repeatedly burnt with a hot rod, the Porgera Alliance alleged.

Jethro Tulin, executive officer of the Akali Tange Association, said before the settlement: “Barrick has been raping our wives and daughters and killing our fathers, brothers and sons for years.”

Catherine Coumans, of MiningWatch Canada, said: “Barrick tried to push the problem under the rug for many years despite regular reports of human rights abuses committed by its security forces, documented by numerous researchers and human rights organisations.”

In a joint statement after the settlement, Barrick and EarthRights International said: “All claimants are pleased with this resolution.”

Mr Lloyd said Barrick took action at all of its mines around the world after after the Porgera allegations came to light, and it had “zero tolerance” for human rights abuses.

“Since then, thousands of employees have undergone human rights training, we implemented a new global human rights policy, we have carried out human rights training for local police forces [including in PNG], we have formed a partnership with White Ribbon to carry out awareness and prevention programs aimed at stopping violence against women in communities where we operate.

“In PNG, we worked with leading human rights experts to develop the remedy program, perhaps the first of its kind ever implemented by a mining company. We are also funding community-based initiatives … to combat violence against women.”

Barrick is negotiating to sell the Porgera mine. Any liabilities from future victim claims would remain with the mine, Mr Lloyd confirmed.

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Garissa: hostages reportedly in hiding

Kenya: Faculty members and students hide as armed police confront the masked gunmen who stormed the campus early on Thursday, says Robert Alai Onyango, a Kenyan blogger who claims to be speaking to hostages at Garissa University.

Garissa, Kenya:  Kenya’s Interior Ministry said at least 147 students were killed in an attack led by al-Shabaab Islamists on a university in eastern Kenya.

Troops and police killed four members of the militant Islamist group and are rescuing the remaining hostages, Interior Minister Joseph Nkaissery said on television.

Kenyan officials have accounted for 518 of 850 students on the campus, about 145 kilometres from Somalia, where the group, linked to al-Qaeda, is based.

A Kenya Defence Force soldier runs for cover near the perimeter wall of Garissa University College.

A Kenya Defence Force soldier runs for cover near the perimeter wall of Garissa University College. Photo: Reuters

“This is the saddest attack that has happened in the history of Kenya,” Nkaissery said.
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Somalia’s al-Shabab Islamist group claimed responsibility for the attack, saying it had released Muslims while killing some Christians and taking many others hostage inside.

“We sorted people out and released the Muslims,” Sheikh Abdiasis Abu Musab, al-Shabab’s military operations spokesman, said.
Kenyan police officers take cover outside the Garissa University College during the attack. It’s unknown how many students have been taken hostage.

Kenyan police officers take cover outside the Garissa University College during the attack. It's unknown how many students have been taken hostage.

Kenyan police officers take cover outside the Garissa University College during the attack. It’s unknown how many students have been taken hostage. Photo: AP

“There are many dead bodies of Christians inside the building. We are also holding many Christians alive. Fighting still goes on inside the college.”

President Uhuru Kenyatta ordered the police to speed up the recruitment of police officers to help battle the Somali-based militants after the attack Thursday. Al-Shabaab has escalated the number and deadliness of attacks since 2011 when Kenya sent troops to fight them in Somalia. The group killed 67 people in a multi-day siege of a popular mall in Nairobi, the capital, in 2013.

“My government has undertaken appropriate deployment to the affected area and is fully in charge of the situation,” Kenyatta said. “This is a moment for everyone throughout the country to be vigilant as we continue to confront and defeat our enemies.”
Kenya Defence Force soldiers patrol the perimeter wall where the Islamists are holding hostages and executing Christians at a campus in Garissa.

Kenya Defence Force soldiers patrol the perimeter wall where the Islamists are holding hostages and executing Christians at a campus in Garissa.

Kenya Defence Force soldiers patrol the perimeter wall where the Islamists are holding hostages and executing Christians at a campus in Garissa. Photo: Reuters

The militants may have chosen the university as a “soft target, an area with a big population,” Emmanuel Kisiangani, a Nairobi-based senior researcher at the Institute for Security Studies, said by phone.

“Al-Shabaab usually come up with attacks when they are perceived to be at their weakest point. I think they did this as part of the agenda to assert themselves,” he said.

The death toll in a university attack in northeastern Kenya rose to at least 147 on Thursday, with another 79 wounded, but the siege was almost over, Kenya’s Interior Minister Joseph Nkaissery said.
Students of the Garissa University College get out of a house where they were taking shelter from an attack by Islamist gunmen in Garissa, Kenya.

Students of the Garissa University College get out of a house where they were taking shelter from an attack by Islamist gunmen in Garissa, Kenya.

Students of the Garissa University College get out of a house where they were taking shelter from an attack by Islamist gunmen in Garissa, Kenya. Photo: AP

Nkaissery cautioned that “the operation is ongoing, anything can happen.”

At the same press conference in Garissa, Kenyan Police Chief Joseph Boinet said the east African country has introduced a dusk to dawn (6.30pm – 6.30am) curfew for four regions near Somalia border as a security precaution.

Some students were trapped inside the college campus, the Centre said. The wounded were all taken to hospital, with four in a critical condition. Most had gunshot wounds.
Heavy gunfire and explosions were heard and siege was coming to an end as Kenyan forces moved into the Garissa University College.

Heavy gunfire and explosions were heard and siege was coming to an end as Kenyan forces moved into the Garissa University College.

Heavy gunfire and explosions were heard and siege was coming to an end as Kenyan forces moved into the Garissa University College. Photo: Google Maps

“We have 49 casualties so far, all with bullet and (shrapnel) wounds,” said a doctor at Garissa hospital.

Kenyan troops have killed two gunmen from a gang of Somalian Al-Shabab Islamist fighters who stormed a university.

“Two of the terrorists have been killed and the security forces are doing their best to free the hostages,” Interior Ministry spokesman Mwenda Njoka said earlier, with “security agencies intensifying the rescue operation”.
A Kenya Defense Force soldier stops a boy from moving in the direction where Islamists are holding hostages on a campus in Garissa.

A Kenya Defense Force soldier stops a boy from moving in the direction where Islamists are holding hostages on a campus in Garissa.

A Kenya Defense Force soldier stops a boy from moving in the direction where Islamists are holding hostages on a campus in Garissa. Photo: Reuters

Heavy gunfire and shouts from inside the building where hostages were believed to be held were heard by journalists with the Kenyan troops, as soldiers continued to battle the insurgents as darkness fell, over 12 hours after the attack began.

Soldiers told a journalist at the scene that they had heard screaming from inside the building, including shouts of “Allah hu Akbar”, or “God is the greatest” in Arabic.

One suspected gunman was earlier arrested as he tried to flee the campus.
Medics help an injured person at Kenyatta national Hospital in Nairobi, Kenya, after being airlifted from Garissa.

Medics help an injured person at Kenyatta national Hospital in Nairobi, Kenya, after being airlifted from Garissa.

Medics help an injured person at Kenyatta national Hospital in Nairobi, Kenya, after being airlifted from Garissa. Photo: AP

Police and soldiers surrounded and sealed off the university and were attempting to flush out the gunmen, Police Chief Boinet said in a statement.

“The attackers shot indiscriminately while inside the university compound,” Mr Boinet said, adding that police had been guarding the university’s four hostels at the time.

One student who fled, Njeri Maina, said three assailants entered the university’s main accommodation building carrying assault rifles and grenades.
Students gather and watch from a distance outside the Garissa University College after an attack by Islamist gunmen.

Students gather and watch from a distance outside the Garissa University College after an attack by Islamist gunmen.

Students gather and watch from a distance outside the Garissa University College after an attack by Islamist gunmen. Photo: AP

They shouted in Arabic, then Swahili, telling everybody to lie down before they opened fire, she said by phone.

“I managed to lock myself in a nearby toilet and leave the building through the back entrance after security forces started engaging the attackers,” Maina said.

A policewoman at the scene said two security guards at the campus had been killed and many students remained trapped inside the campus in Garissa, nearly 400 kilometres east of Nairobi.
Local residents donate blood at Garissa hospital after the attack.

Local residents donate blood at Garissa hospital after the attack.

Local residents donate blood at Garissa hospital after the attack. Photo: AP

“Two guards who were manning the gate at the university have been killed,” she said. “We can hear gunshots from inside the compound but at this point we can’t tell who is shooting at who or what.”

A Kenyan blogger and student, Robert Alai, based in Nairobi, told Fairfax Media he had spoken by phone to three teacher friends who were hiding on the campus. “The attackers were shooting at anyone in sight, inside the college,” he said.

Mr Alai said the attackers may also have used grenades. “Most of the people I’ve spoken to are scared,” he said.
A Kenya Defence Forces tank arrives at Garissa University College.

A Kenya Defence Forces tank arrives at Garissa University College.

A Kenya Defence Forces tank arrives at Garissa University College. Photo: AP

“We heard some gunshots and we were sleeping so it was around five and guys started jumping up and down running for their lives,” an unnamed student said.

Witnesses recount horror of attack

An explosion followed by gunfire woke students at Garissa’s Moi University in Kenya before dawn on Thursday morning.

At around 5:30 am an unknown number of masked gunmen began an assault by tossing explosives at the main gate before storming a nearby girl’s hostel.

More than 800 students attend the university and sleep in dormitories on the sprawling campus on the outskirts of the town in northeast Kenya.

“We were sleeping when we heard a loud explosion that was followed by gunshots and everyone started running for safety,” said student Japhet Mwala.

“There are those who were not able to leave the hostels where the gunmen headed and started firing, I am lucky to be alive because I jumped through the fence with other students,” said Mwala.

Another student, Katherine – who did not want to give her full name – said that when she first heard the explosion and gunfire, “we thought that it was power problems”.

But soon the horror of being caught up in the latest attack by the Al-Qaeda aligned militants from neighbouring Somalia dawned on her.

‘We thought warning was April Fool’

“We started running away,” she said. Katherine and other students fled their hostels and ran to nearby fields where they hid as the gunfire continued.

Rosalind Mugambi also fled to the fields with other students and “bullets following us”. She said some of her friends were injured by the gunfire.

“We saw some blood stains and they were shot,” she said.

Students said that notices had been posted around the campus warning that an attack was possible.

“There were reports of an attack the whole week and even the university administration was informed,” said Nicholas Mutuku.

“But it is like everyone didn’t take it seriously, because it was not the first time such reports were emerging.”

Some who saw the warning notices a day ahead of the attack thought they were an April Fool’s prank.

“Yesterday there were those notices, but as it was April 1, we just thought that it was fooling,” said Katherine.

Christians separated from Muslims

Al-Shabaab, which seeks to impose its own harsh variant of sharia law, had separated Muslims from Christians in some of its previous raids in Kenya, notably late last year in attacks on a bus and at a quarry.

Its repeated raids, together with attacks on churches by home-grown Islamist groups, have in recent years strained the historically cordial relations between Kenya’s Muslim and Christian communities.

Thursday’s attack also marked a setback in a drive by President Uhuru Kenyatta to persuade foreigners the country is safe to visit.

On Wednesday, he urged Kenyans abroad to help woo tourists back despite the wave of militant violence, criticising a warning from Australia of a possible attack in Nairobi and an advisory from Britain urging its citizens to avoid most coastal resorts.

Kenyatta was due to address the nation about the Garissa attack later on Thursday.

Grace Kai, a student at the Garissa Teachers Training College near the university, said there had been warnings that an attack in the town could be imminent.

“Some strangers had been spotted in Garissa town and were suspected to be terrorists,” she said.

“Then on Monday our college principal told us … that strangers had been spotted in our college … On Tuesday we were released to go home, and our college closed, but the campus remained in session, and now they have been attacked.”

Al-Shabaab had previously carried out attacks in Garissa, which lies around 200 kilometres from the porous Somali border.

Many Kenyans living in the crime-ridden frontier regions blame the government for not doing enough to protect its citizens from the militants.

Having declared it would punish Kenya for sending troops into Somalia to fight it alongside African Union peacekeepers, it was also responsible for a deadly attack in 2013 on the upscale Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi.

Reuters, AP, AFP

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