Lawyers seek Barrick’s support in case against African subsidiary

Lawyers seek Barrick’s support in alleged murder case against African subsidiary

African Barrick’s North Mara mine, Tanzania’s largest gold producer, has been a flashpoint of clashes between locals and security forces for many years.

A group of Tanzanian villagers who are suing African Barrick Gold (LON:ABG) in a U.K. court, alleging the miner was complicit in the killing of six locals by police, have asked parent-company Barrick (NYSE, TSX:ABX) to “live up to their corporate responsibility and human rights commitments.”

In an e-mailed statement, London-based law firm Leigh Day’s partner, Shanta Martin, who is representing the Tanzanian claimants, said that impoverished people who dare to sue multinationals often face incredible obstacles to having their claims heard by an independent arbiter.

The lawyer, who is in Ottawa this week, said that on Nov. 19 her clients will seek orders from the English court requiring African Barrick to hand over internal documents considered "key" and take other steps to get the case to trial.

“Barrick Gold Corporation says it respects human rights wherever it does business and recognizes the dignity of the people they interact with every day,” the statement says.

But it adds that at the North Mara operations of Barrick's majority-owned subsidiary, poverty-stricken locals tempted onto the mine to scratch out rocks for tiny amounts of gold are “regularly being shot at with live ammunition.”

Deadly record

African Barrick’s North Mara mine, Tanzania’s largest gold producer, has been a flashpoint of clashes between locals and security forces for many years.

In May 2011, five men were shot and killed when a group of locals stormed the mine, an incident referred to in the suit. The company said at the time the clash happened after an invasion of the mine.

Then, in August this year, two civil society groups, claimed they had received reports that as many as 10 people have been killed this year as a result of “excessive force” by police and security guards.

A spokesman for African Barrick confirmed to The Globe and Mail that “fatalities” have occurred in clashes at the mine site this year, but declined to estimate how many. It is up to the Tanzanian police to release the information, he told the Canadian newspaper.

North Mara sits in the middle of a group of seven villages, which are home to 70,000 people, most of whom live in poverty and prospect for specks of the precious metal in the waste dumps and pits of the mine as a way of survival.

London’s High Court sees a steady trickle of claims against multinationals operating in developing countries. While in the U.S. such cases would typically be sent to the country in which the alleged act occurred, British courts follow European Union legal directives, which allow litigants to sue in the country in which the company is domiciled.

Last year African Barrick paid compensation to 14 women who were sexually assaulted by police and security guards at the mine.

Lawyers seek Barrick’s support in alleged murder case against African subsidiary