MAC: Mines and Communities

Peru: Appalling abuses, charged against British company, go to court

Published by MAC on 2009-10-26

Monterrico Metals was among a raft of mining companies that managed to register on London's Alternative Investment Market (AIM) during the early years of the new millenium. This was despite a deplorable lack of due diligence being applied to their plans or provenance.

Last January, compelling evidence emerged that security forces had attacked and tortured local opponents to Monterrico's Rio Blanco copper project in Peru. See:

Although these egregious events occurred in August 2005, it took another three years before photographic evidence of them emerged; by which time Monterrico had been bought out by a Chinese consortium, headed by Zijin Metals.

Last week, victims of the murderous assaults launched a multi-millon pound suit for damages against the company (still listed on London's AIM) at the UK High Court.

Previously Monterrico had tried to transfer its assets outside of the UK to Hong Kong, but this move was blocked.


British mining company faces damages claim after allegations of torture in Peru

Ian Cobain, The Guardian

18 October 2009

A British mining company is facing a multi-million pound claim for damages after group of protesters were detained and allegedly tortured at an open cast copper mine that the firm is seeking to develop in the mountains of northern Peru.

In a case that will highlight growing tensions between powerful mining interests in Peru and alliances of poor subsistence farmers and environmentalists, the high court in London is to hear harrowing accounts of people held for three days at the remote mine near the border with Ecuador.

When the protesters marched to the mine they found armed police waiting for them. They say the police were being directed by the mine's managers - although its owner, Monterrico Metals, disputes this. After firing teargas at the protesters, the police detained 28 people and bound their hands behind their backs.

The detainees say noxious substances were sprayed in their faces before they were hooded, beaten with sticks and whipped. Two of the protesters were women who say they were sexually assaulted and threatened with rape.

A further three protesters were shot and wounded by police, and while there is no suggestion the mining company was responsible for this, the protesters claim one of those shot was left to bleed to death at the mine site. A postmortem examination found that he took about 36 hours to die.

Although Monterrico says it had no control over the police operation, lawyers for the protesters have taken statements from eyewitnesses alleging that the mine's manager was directing the police, and say that two of the corporation's executives had been in the area shortly before and during the police operation.

A Peruvian journalist who was detained along with the protesters has since been handed a series of photographs of the police operation, allegedly taken by a Monterrico supervisor, which the protesters say support their allegations of abuse by the police.

Several of the photographs were taken outside the mine's offices and show the bloodied protesters with their hands bound, while others show groups of blindfolded or hooded protesters herded together on the company's property. A number of the photographs show grinning police officers waving the female protesters' underwear.

One picture shows a farmer called Melanio Garcia, 41, lying on the ground, apparently alive but badly injured. Several other pictures, taken 30 hours later according to their time and date stamps, clearly show Garcia to be dead. The company says he was shot some distance from the mine.

On Friday Richard Meeran, a solicitor with Leigh Day, the London law firm bringing the high court case, obtained a freezing injunction which obliges the company to keep at least £5m of its assets in the UK.

Monterrico says a police officer was shot in the leg by the protesters, and that the demonstrators were detained because of this assault.

A spokesman said: "Monterrico vigorously denies that any of its officers or employees were in any way involved with the alleged abuses at the Rio Blanco mine in 2005 and that it considers allegations to the contrary made by the claimants to be wholly without merit."

The British mining corporation Monterrico's plan was to create Peru's second largest copper mine at Rio Blanco, a vast site in the Huancabamba mountains in the north-west of the country.

Peru is already the world's third-largest copper-producing nation, and the mine in the province of Piura was to have increased output by around a quarter, producing exports worth up to $1bn (£600m) a year for the next 20 years.

However, the corporation found itself in conflict with local farmers soon after its arrival in the region in 2001, and has struggled to develop the project.

At 18,858 acres (7,600 hectares), the mining concession covered a vast area, much of it covered by cloud forest that collects rainwater and feeds it into rivers flowing into the agricultural basins below. Farmers and environmentalists feared the rivers would become polluted and depleted, that the fragile eco-systems of the region would be severely damaged and that farmlands would be endangered.

In law, the corporation was required to obtain the consent of two-thirds of the local population before embarking on mining but - with the apparent encouragement of the government - it tried to press ahead without it.

This resulted in a series of violent confrontations.

In August 2005, a group of protesters marched to the mine to find police waiting for them. Twenty-eight of the protesters say they were detained, hooded with hands

Hundreds of people had converged on the mine from communities scattered across the region. Some had walked for several days to reach the site. Once there, they say, they were attacked by the mine's security guards and by contingents of the Peruvian federal police firing teargas.

Two protesters were shot in their legs, one man lost an eye to gunshot wounds and a farmer called Melanio Garcia, 41, suffered a fatal gunshot. Photographs [were] allegedly taken by a Monterrico supervisor, which the protesters say support their allegations of abuse by the police, show Garcia lying on the ground, apparently alive but badly injured. Several other pictures taken 30 hours later, according to their time and date stamps, clearly show Garcia to be dead.

The protesters - who have launched a multimillion-pound claim for damages at the high court in London - claim Garcia was left to bleed to death at the mine site. Monterrico says Garcia was shot some distance from the mine and it vigorously denies that any of its officers or employees were in any way involved with the alleged abuses at Rio Blanco.

The corporation says a police officer was shot in the leg by the protesters, and that the protesters were detained because of this assault.

Richard Meeran, of Leigh Day, the London law firm bringing the high court case, said the evidence of torture was incontrovertible and that it was inconceivable the company could have been unaware of what was happening on its site.

"The company must have been aware of the inhuman treatment of the victims during their three-day ordeal at the Rio Blanco mine," he said. "Yet there is no evidence of it taking any steps to prevent the harm. On the contrary, it would appear that the company was working in cahoots with the police. It is vital that multinationals are held legally accountable for human rights violations occurring at their overseas operations."

Meeran said the claimants' allegation was not that Monterrico was responsible for Garcia's shooting, but that it failed to provide him with medical assistance.

According to statements by three former mine employees, the police arrived by helicopter and were taken to the dining area where they received instructions directly from the mine's manager. This man is said to have warned them that they were at risk of being overrun and killed by the approaching protesters if they did not take "all necessary measures".

The security staff told police where to deploy, according to statements. One adds: "The commanding officers of the police did not speak in these briefings."

One of the former mine employees said in his statement that before the protest began the manager of the mine's security force gave orders to the police "pointing out strategic points of the operation on a map, for instance, geographical points, the rotation of the police personnel and the dangers they could encounter in each area. He also explained that they had to report every 10 to 15 minutes via the Motorola radio to the management of the mining company."

When the protesters arrived, he added: "The police shot teargas immediately. I saw the community members who wanted to talk but this was immediately denied and they were teargassed. After this clash the community members, who were about 500 or 600, retreated and stopped at about 15 metres from the police. It could be observed that among the protesters there were some children, young ladies, and elderly people. The community members raised the national flag, and sang the national anthem."

Both sides spent the night there, he added, and the next day around 30 of the protesters were detained.

Doctors from Physicians for Human Rights, a Massachusetts-based NGO, examined eight of the protesters, and found physical and psychological signs of the mistreatment they described.

In the aftermath, however, local authorities prosecuted several demonstrators in a manner that Peruvian human rights groups denounced as an attempt to criminalise legitimate protest. Some people, including a number of mayors, faced charges of terrorism and corruption. Many of those charges were later dropped.

Richard Ralph, the British ambassador in Lima at the time of the incident, later resigned from the diplomatic service and joined Monterrico as executive chairman. He expressed the firm's deep regret for what had happened, and has since resigned.

The company was bought by a Chinese consortium in 2007, but is still incorporated in London. It has yet to extract any copper from the mine.

A spokesman for the company declined to comment on detailed questions ahead of the case, but said: "Monterrico vigorously denies any of its officers or employees were in any way involved with the alleged abuses at the Rio Blanco mine in 2005 and it considers allegations to the contrary made by the claimants to be wholly without merit.

Last March Peruvian prosecutors accused the police of torture, but cleared Monterrico and its security guards of wrongdoing. In Lima, the National Coordinating Committee for Human Rights denounced that finding, and with the emergence of the photographs, human rights activists are pinning their hopes on a victory in the English courts.


Arana: Freezing of assets of Monterrico Metals will shine a light of the Majaz case

La Republica (Peru)

19 October 2009

The freezing of five million pounds of mining company Monterrico Metals' assets as part of the proceedings brought by 28 community members of Piura offers hope in the Majaz case, said Father Marco Arana.

"(This) offers hope that there can be justice in the country because we remember that it even involved a prosecutor who also appears in the pictures, seeing the wounded peasants, bound and with plastic bags on their heads, and  - instead of safeguarding the rights of residents - e appears to be acting under orders from the company, and then later, when the complaint was filed, he was released from all responsibility," he said on the Ideeleradio program "You Have No Right".

He noted that this case should be followed meticulously by the public so that events in Majaz not go unpunished. He said the Interior Ministry and police in particular must comply with existing rules under the Constitution protecting citizens.

He explained that this case was filed with the international charters, specifically in the UK, because all national legal options have been exhausted. In this regard, he said the freezing of the five million pounds of the mining company Monterrico Metals is an indication that there is a crime involved.

"Since Fujimori, there has been the possibility that private security companies could work under the orders, and in the pay, of mining companies, as we know the mining companies in Peru can hire private companies that use weapons of war that was found in the case of the mining conflict in Cajamarca and the FORZA company," he said.

It should be noted that to support the suit against the mining company Monterrico Metals, photographs were presented showing some residents of Huancabamba, as well as a journalist from Radio Cutivalú, Julio Vasquez, who were assaulted and tortured by members of the security of the Majaz mining camp  during a peaceful march in 2005. (With information from Ideeleradio)

$10 million of Monterrico Metals' Assets Frozen in Hong Kong for torture of villagers in Majaz.

La Republica (Peru) [unofficial translation]

11 September 2009

An order freezing assets of up to $10 million was granted by the High Court of Hong Kong against Monterrico Metals, a mining multinational based in England, Hong Kong, the Cayman Islands and Peru.

The order was requested by Peruvian citizens,tortured as part of a demonstration inside the premises of the Rio Blanco mine in Peru, owned by Monterrico Metals in August 2005.

The new freeze order is issued on the basis that,according to the English Court, Monterrico Metals' having its headquarters in Hong Kong made it possible for the company could transfer its assets outside the United Kingdom, rendering useless an existing asset freeze already imposed on the company in that country.

As is already known, in June 2009 a legal process was initiated in the English High Court, led by the British law firm Leigh Day & Co Solicitors on behalf of the victims, seeking compensation from Monterrico Metals and its Peruvian subsidiary Rio Blanco Copper SA.

The English High Court issued an order freezing  up to $12 million of Monterrico Metals' available assets in the UK.

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