MAC: Mines and Communities

Canada's Supreme Court says Nevsun must face "slavery" charges

Published by MAC on 2020-02-29
Source: MiningWatch Canada (2020-02-29)

And do so in Canada itself

After years of attempts by Nevsun and the Eritrean regime to escape accusations of using forced labour at its Bisha mine, Canada's Supreme Court this week ruled that the company should answer the charges in Canada, where it is listed. [For earlier article, see: Nevsun faces court action]

We join one of MAC's co-founders, MiningWatch Canada, in hailing this important move in bringing justice to Eritrean workers.

Supreme Court of Canada Rules To Allow Slave Labour Lawsuit Against
Nevsun Resources To Proceed*

Company's appeal is dismissed; court affirms that government involvement
does not absolve companies of responsibility, and that customary
international law applies to companies.

MiningWatch Canada media statement

February 28 2020

Ottawa - In a judgment released today, the Supreme Court of Canada has
ruled that a lawsuit brought against Nevsun Resources Limited by former
mine workers regarding the use of forced labour at its Bisha mine in
Eritrea should be heard in British Columbia – not in Eritrea, as the
company had argued.

The non-governmental organisation MiningWatch Canada was an intervener
in the case, and was represented by Andrew Cleland and Trudel Johnston &
Lespérance.

MiningWatch spokesperson Jamie Kneen said, “We are greatly encouraged by
this ruling. We intervened in this case because it is important that the
victims of abuse in connection with Canadian mining operations
internationally should be able to seek justice in Canada, and we are
very happy that the Supreme Court has moved the law firmly in this
direction.”

The Supreme Court of Canada ruling is a final rejection of efforts by
Nevsun, based in British Columbia before it was acquired by Zijin
Mining, to argue that a lawsuit brought by three Eritrean men who allege
they were forced to work at the company’s Bisha mine in that country
should not be heard in Canada.

“Canada’s extractive industry must be held accountable when it
participates in human rights violations or other forms of wrongful
conduct in the Global South – this decision is a major step in that
direction,” said Jean-Marc Lacourcière of the Trudel Johnston &
Lespérance law firm.

The plaintiffs, who are Eritrean refugees, allege that as military
conscripts, they were forced to work for an Eritrean military contractor
at the Bisha gold-copper-zinc mine, in violation of international laws
against forced labour, slavery, and torture, and that Nevsun was
complicit in their treatment.

Nevsun had claimed that since the Eritrean government is accused of
carrying out the actual alleged abuses, the ‘act of state’ doctrine in
the common law, which protects the sovereign rights of governments over
their internal affairs (in this case, Eritrea’s treatment of its own
citizens), means that Canadian courts should defer the matter to
Canadian diplomatic channels, and that any legal case should only take
place before the courts of Eritrea.

MiningWatch had argued against this interpretation of the ‘act of state’
doctrine. “While this case does implicate foreign state conduct, it is a
private civil dispute and does not engage the Canadian government’s
conduct of foreign affairs,” said Kneen. “We also argued that this view
acknowledges the need to provide access to justice, and complements
Canadian policies for promoting corporate accountability.”

Kneen added that foreign victims already face serious difficulties in
bringing civil claims, and Canadian courts and policy-makers should be
focused on trying to facilitate access to justice for them. “It’s hard
enough for victims – and their lawyers – to find the resources to pursue
a claim, without having to overcome additional obstacles,” he said.

* The judgment dismissing Nevsun's appeal may be found on the Supreme
Court of Canada web site.

For more information: Jamie Kneen, cell (613) 761-2273

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