March 24, 2023

A group of Tanzanian villagers is suing Canadian mining giant Barrick Gold over alleged police killings, torture and other abuses at a gold mine in northwest Tanzania.

The lawsuit, filed Wednesday in the Superior Court of Justice of Ontario, Canada, accuses the world’s second-largest gold miner of being complicit in extrajudicial killings by police guarding its North Mara facility, located about 30 km (18 mi) from the Kenyan border.

The plaintiffs include relatives of five men killed by Tanzanian police assigned to the mine, according to the file. Nine of the plaintiffs were beaten or shot by police, she said.

The claim states that residents routinely enter “waste areas” in the North Mara to recover rocks with small amounts of gold, which they process and sell. Police have responded violently to people entering the mine, the lawsuit says.

It also claims that Barrick “has had effective and practical control” over the Tanzanian police stationed at the mine and that the company’s security arrangements with the police effectively make them the “heavily armed and private security force” of the mine. mine.

“The action by the plaintiffs, who are members of the indigenous Kurya community among whose villages in northern Tanzania the mine has been built, concerns brutal murders, shootings and torture which they claim were committed by the police in charge of protect the mine,” RAID, a corporate watchdog, said in a statement on Wednesday.

Plaintiffs accuse Barrick Gold of being complicit in abuses in Tanzania [File: Chris Helgren/Reuters]

A Barrick Gold spokesman told Reuters news agency that the company had received a copy of the legal action and that it “is riddled with inaccuracies.”

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The spokesperson said the lawsuit “attempts to bring claims against Barrick Gold Corporation in Ontario based on alleged actions by the Tanzanian police, despite the fact that Barrick does not exercise any control or direction of any kind over the Tanzanian police.”

“We intend to vigorously defend ourselves against these allegations in the appropriate forum,” he said.

This is the first case brought against Barrick Gold in a Canadian court for alleged violations abroad. It comes after the country’s top court in 2019. ruled that Canadian company Nevsun Resources Ltd could be sued in Canada for alleged forced labor and other abuses at a mine in Eritrea.

For years, Canadian companies have been accused of being complicit in or failing to investigate or prevent alleged rights abuses and environmental damage in their operations outside the country.

Canada “is home to nearly half of the world’s publicly traded mining and mineral exploration companies,” says Natural Resources Canada, a federal ministry, on its website.

The work of companies abroad accounts for most of the profits. In 2020, 730 Canadian mining and exploration companies had assets in 97 foreign countries, valued at $150 billion (CAD$188.2 billion), the ministry reports.

While Canada created the office of the Canadian Responsible Business Ombudsman (CORE) to monitor business practices involving Canadian companies in mining and other sectors, advocates say the government must do more to rein in abuses.

Wednesday’s claim against Barrick Gold is the seventh human rights case brought by foreign plaintiffs against a mining company in Canada since 2010, according to the Canadian Corporate Responsibility Network.

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“We stand in solidarity with these plaintiffs and will closely follow the case. At the same time, we are calling on Ottawa to step up and pass a law to prevent abuse from happening in the first place,” Emily Dwyer, the group’s policy director, said in a statement.

Anneke Van Woudenberg, Executive Director of RAID, also welcomed Ontario’s lawsuit, saying: “Tanzanian communities have had no choice but to turn to Canadian courts for justice and an end to the culture of violence in the mine”.

“This case is an important test of whether Canada is prepared to hold its own companies to account for wrongdoing, or whether its legal commitments to human rights are set aside when it comes to people harmed by Canadian companies operating abroad. ”, he said in a statement. statement.