MAC: Mines and Communities

Lawsuit against Tahoe Resources cleared for trial in Canada

Published by MAC on 2017-06-12
Source: Press releases (2017-06-12)

Lawsuit against Tahoe Resources cleared for trial in Canada, ‘Tip of the Iceberg’ with regard to risks

Press Release from Center for International Environmental Law - Maritimes-Guatemala Breaking the Silence Network - Mining Injustice Solidarity Network - MiningWatch Canada - Network in Solidarity with the People of Guatemala - http://miningwatch.ca/news/2017/6/12/lawsuit-against-tahoe-resources-cleared-trial-canada-tip-iceberg-regard-risks

12 June 2017

Ottawa/Oakland/Tatamagouche/Toronto/Washington D.C. - An investor alert released today warns that historic developments in the lawsuit against Tahoe Resources in Canada is just one indicator of serious risks surrounding its Escobal silver mine in Guatemala. On Thursday, June 8th, the Supreme Court of Canada denied Tahoe Resources leave to appeal, clearing the way for a civil lawsuit against the company to move to trial in British Columbia over violence at its project in Guatemala.

The investor alert was released by environmental and social justice organizations with longstanding relationships in Guatemala and outlines that the violent event for which Tahoe is being sued in British Columbia is only one of numerous unresolved human rights incidents that have plagued the project. Corruption allegations lodged against the Guatemalan authorities who granted permits for the mine, further places in question the company’s controversial flagship project. The high risk of ongoing human rights harms from this project, which has given rise to broad community opposition, has already affected investor confidence and should lead others to divest, concludes the alert.

“Throughout the lead up to commercial operations at the Escobal mine, a campaign of violence, criminalization and militarization was used by the company and the Guatemalan authorities to suppress widespread community opposition to this project. We are pleased that the lawsuit is heading to trial in Canada and hope that it will make investors think twice about continued association with Tahoe Resources,” remarks Lisa Rankin from the Maritimes-Guatemala Breaking the Silence Network.  

Between 2011 and 2013, some 100 people were legally persecuted for having organized community plebiscites over mining or participated in peaceful protests. In 2013, efforts to suppress opposition to the project included a government-imposed state of siege and an attack led by company security guards on peaceful protesters outside the mine site. Seven men were wounded when they were shot at close range as they ran away from the company’s security guards. Tahoe Resources is being accused of negligence and battery in this incident, which is the focus of the civil lawsuit now proceeding in British Columbia courts.

“The same Guatemalan previous government administration. The legitimacy and legality of the Escobal project is dubious at best,” commented Becky Kaump from the Network in Solidarity with the People of Guatemala.

In early April 2013, the Ministry of Energy and Mines (MEM) granted the company’s exploitation license, dismissing without consideration over 200 individual complaints from community members on the basis of environmental concerns. The lack of due process in this decision is subject to an ongoing battle in Guatemalan courts and persistent tension in local communities. Damage to homes from tremors believed to be caused by mine activities, as well as loss of water sources since mine operations began, have sparked protests, increasing discontent among residents.

“Billion-dollar pension funds in Europe have already divested from the company given the tremendous human rights harms and ongoing financial risks posed by the persistent local opposition to this project. It is time that other shareholders divest from Tahoe and respect the tens of thousands of community members who have – in the face of great danger – voiced their dissent to this to this project given their fears for their water, farms and peace in their communities,” concluded Jen Moore for MiningWatch Canada.

The Investor Alert can be accessed here. A complaint to the British Columbia Securities Commission over the company’s lack of transparency concerning these risks is available here.

Contacts:


Supreme Court of Canada declines to hear appeal by Vancouver mining company in Guatemalans’ lawsuit

Canadian Centre for International Justice (CCIJ) press release

8 June 2017

Ottawa - The Supreme Court of Canada today declined to hear an appeal by Tahoe Resources Inc. in a Canadian lawsuit brought by several Guatemalan men for injuries they suffered during the violent suppression of a peaceful protest at Tahoe’s mine in Guatemala.
 
Earlier this year, the British Columbia Court of Appeal rejected efforts by Tahoe to dismiss the case, and the Supreme Court’s action today leaves that judgment intact, clearing the case to go to trial in Canada. As is customary, the Supreme Court did not provide reasons for refusing to hear Tahoe’s petition.
 
The Court of Appeal ruled in January that the case should remain in British Columbia as a result of several factors, including evidence of systemic corruption in the Guatemalan judiciary, that pointed away from Guatemala as a preferable forum for the case. The Court of Appeal concluded that “there is some measurable risk that the appellants will encounter difficulty in receiving a fair trial against a powerful international company whose mining interests in Guatemala align with the political interests of the Guatemalan state.”
 
The plaintiffs are supported in Canada by a legal team comprised of Vancouver law firm Camp Fiorante Matthews Mogerman (CFM) and the Canadian Centre for International Justice (CCIJ). In Guatemala, they are represented by lawyers at the Guatemalan Centre for Legal, Environmental and Social Action (CALAS).
 
“Victims of abuses linked to Canadian companies operating abroad deserve justice in Canada,” said Amanda Ghahremani, Legal Director of CCIJ. “We are thrilled that the country’s highest court is allowing this important case to go to trial.”
 
Until recently, the legal doctrine of forum non conveniens had been an obstacle for foreign victims of corporate abuse seeking redress in Canadian courts. The doctrine gives courts discretion to dismiss a case in favour of a foreign jurisdiction in certain circumstances and had previously shielded Canadian companies, particularly in the extractive sector, from judicial scrutiny of their overseas operations.
 
Last October, Eritrean plaintiffs overcame a forum non conveniens challenge in their slave labour lawsuit against Vancouver-based Nevsun Resources Ltd. That lower court ruling is now on appeal and will also be heard by the BC Court of Appeal, in September 2017. 
 
“We have always believed that British Columbia is the appropriate forum for this case,” said Joe Fiorante, Q.C., a partner with CFM. “We are excited that the plaintiffs have the opportunity to pursue their claims here.”
 
In the Vancouver lawsuit, Tahoe faces claims of battery and negligence for the actions of its Guatemala Security Manager, Alberto Rotondo, and other security personnel in the April 2013 shooting, something the plaintiffs allege was a planned show of force to intimidate the local community and eliminate opposition to the Escobal mine.
 
Rotondo was criminally charged in Guatemala but less than two months before he was scheduled to go on trial, Rotondo escaped from house arrest and fled to Peru, his home country. The Guatemalan case, in which some of the victims were participating as civil parties, was suspended.
 
Today’s news from the Supreme Court of Canada comes just days after six police officers were convicted in Guatemala for their roles in allowing Rotondo to escape.
 
“The responsibility of the Guatemalan police in permitting the chief of security to flee shows the tremendous obstacles to accountability in Guatemala,” said Rafael Maldonado, Legal Director of CALAS. “We are very pleased that the Canadian courts have understood that justice in this case can only be assured in Canada.”

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Contacts 

Joe Fiorante, Q.C., +1-604-689-7555, JFiorante@cfmlawyers.ca (English only)
Rafael Maldonado, +502-5307-4250, rafamaldonado@calas.org.gt (Spanish only)
Matt Eisenbrandt, +1-604-363-5785, meisenbrandt@ccij.ca (English, Spanish)
Amanda Ghahremani, +1-514-915-0920, aghahremani@ccij.ca (English, French, Spanish)

For more information

CCIJ’s website


Communities maintain peaceful blockade to protest negative impacts of Tahoe Resources’ mine in Guatemala

NISGUA press release - http://nisgua.org/24-hour-peaceful-blockade-tremors-escobal-mine/

15 June 2017 

Since June 7, 2017, communities surrounding Tahoe Resources’ Escobal mine in southeastern Guatemala have maintained a 24-hour peaceful protest of mine-related traffic. They are denouncing the constant tremors they believe are the result of mining activities, the constant heavy truck traffic, and the increasing environmental impacts of the project, including the drying up of water sources.

Communities immediately surrounding the Escobal mine and others as far as the municipality of Casillas, have consistently denounced tremors, which have increased in frequency over the past number of months. The company regularly carries out underground mine blasting, which has caused damage to houses in some communities. On multiple occasions, communities in Casillas and local authorities have called on CONRED, the National Coordinating Body for the Reduction of Disasters, to visit the area and install a seismograph to measure the tremors and determine their cause. However, local confidence in CONRED’s willingness to carry out unbiased monitoring is waning as “official” results do not match what families are experiencing on a daily basis.

The blockade is located at the entranceway of Casillas, 15 kilometers down the road from Escobal, and has prevented mine-related vehicles from accessing the mine in the municipality of San Rafael las Flores. Tahoe’s subsidiary Minera San Rafael (MSR) relies on diesel-powered generators to provide the vast amount of electricity required for mining operations given that the company was denied access to the local power grid located in the neighboring municipality of Mataquescuintla. In 2012, residents from Mataquescuintla overwhelming rejected the presence of the mine and other resource extraction activities in the area and as a result, MSR was denied this critical resource.

Now, Mataquescuintla joins municipal authorities and community members in Casillas, Nueva Santa Rosa, Santa Rosa de Lima, and San Carlos Alzatate in publicly and peacefully denouncing Tahoe’s project. These same municipalities have also united to form a regional alliance (“mancomunidad”) in order to protect the river basin in the region and uphold the results of the referenda on mining. Individual communities in San Rafael las Flores, where the mine is located, have also joined the current protest, although the municipal authorities have not.

In a press conference on behalf of the regional alliance given at the resistance camp on June 11, Mataquescuintla’s Mayor Hugo Loy said, “If the seismic activity that is taking place in our subsoil is a result of mining operations, then we call on national and international bodies to intervene. Human rights and the right to life must be placed ahead of the right to material things…There are testimonies from people in Casillas and San Rafael las Flores that they feel tremors and that there has been structural damage to their homes. Mataquescuintla is no exception. Between five and six in the morning, we feel tremors as well.” 

Tahoe lacks social license to operate in Santa Rosa and Jalapa; legal right to operate in question

Despite Tahoe Resources’ claim that they enjoy broad support, the results of 16 referenda in the area show otherwise. While a pro-mining mayor in San Rafael las Flores prevented a municipal-wide referendum, every other municipality in the surrounding area – and many communities within the borders of San Rafael las Flores – have held referenda in which they rejected the presence of the mine. In addition to concerns about social discord, constant tremors, and the structural damage that mining blasts are having on people’s homes in the area, communities in resistance cite major environmental concerns as one of the many reasons for their opposition. The Escobal mine is located in a large agricultural-producing area and communities are reporting that the massive amount of water to sustain mining operations is already being felt in the region.

Other attempts to halt the Escobal mine have been unsuccessful. A 2015 decision by Guatemala’s Constitutional Court effectively suspended Tahoe’s exploitation license, yet operations continue. The decision by the country’s highest court ruled that the Ministry of Energy and Mines (MEM) bypassed due process when it dismissed, without consideration, the more than 200 complaints filed by individuals who stood to be impacted by Tahoe’s mine. According to Guatemalan law, a company cannot be granted an exploitation license as long as complaints are outstanding. Instead of halting operations to allow MEM to adequately address the environmental concerns, Tahoe plowed ahead, celebrating record profits as communities suffer the very same consequences they attempted to address before Tahoe began operations.

And it’s not only the environmental impacts that communities are feeling. Individuals and entire communities who have opposed the project to defend their water, land, and livelihoods, have suffered militarization, violence, and criminalization. Last November, when community members from La Cuchilla were protesting the cracks in their houses as a result of mining operations, the General Director of Minera San Rafael wrote a letter to the Ministry of Defense, appealing for government support in keeping the peace. This wasn’t the first time that Tahoe has called for an increased military and police presence in the region. In 2013, the Guatemalan government responded by enacting a state of siege, suspending several civil liberties, and carrying out a sweep of criminalization of movement leaders.

Multiple billion-dollar pension funds in Europe have already divested from the company given concerns about violence and human rights violations in relation to the project. In its 2014 Annual Report, the Council of Ethics for the Norwegian Pension Board recommended the exclusion of Tahoe Resources from their investments, stating the company ran an “unacceptable” risk of human rights violations at the Escobal mine and that acts of violence had resulted from the company’s presence in the region. Tahoe is also excluded from the Dutch pension fund Pensionenfonds (PGB). In 2016, this fund cited “human rights abuses in Guatemala” as cause for the exclusion. The fifth edition of Dirty Profits by the German organization Facing Finance listed Tahoe Resources as one of fourteen companies considered a dangerous investment. The article highlights the lack of respect for communities, violence and militarization

NISGUA has provided accompaniment and advocacy support to the communities impacted by Tahoe Resources’ Escobal mine since 2011. 

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