Amnesty’s legal team after presenting at the Supreme Court . From left to right: Jennifer Klink, Paul Champ, Penelope Simons
This October, Eritrean plaintiffs reached an out of court settlement in their major corporate accountability lawsuit against Canadian mining company Nevsun Resources. The confidential agreement was reached after years of legal wrangling that spanned three continents.
The case, filed in British Columbia in November 2014 by former mine workers Gize Yebeyo Araya, Kesete Tekle Fshazion and Mihretab Yemane Tekle, alleged that Nevsun was responsible for benefitting from gross human rights abuses such as slavery and forced labour, torture, and crimes against humanity during the construction of its copper, zinc and gold mine in Eritrea.
The Bisha mine is located due west of Asmara, halfway to the Sudan border. Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2963950
“After nearly six long years of litigation, we are celebrating the news that this case has finally been settled”, says Ketty Nivyabandi, Secretary General of Amnesty International Canada. “We are in awe of these brave individuals who shared their horrific experiences of forced labour, slavery, and torture, despite facing numerous legal barriers along the way. We hope this conclusion will send a strong message to all Canadian mining companies that they will be held accountable for human rights abuses associated with their operations anywhere in the world.”
Nevsun fought against the case being heard in Canada all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada. Amnesty International was granted intervenor status in the appeal hearing and, together with the International Commission of Jurists, presented arguments about the right to an effective remedy under international law for victims of corporate human rights abuses. In a landmark ruling, the Supreme Court dismissed Nevsun’s appeal and allowed the case against the company to proceed in BC. The Court affirmed that customary international law is part of Canadian law, and as a Canadian company, Nevsun can be held accountable in Canada for serious allegations of this nature.
Why is this significant?
Foreign plaintiffs harmed by Canadian companies face immense barriers to justice when they attempt to bring lawsuits before Canadian courts. For many years, Canadian courts declined jurisdiction to hear corporate abuse cases, instead ruling that these cases should be heard in the country where the alleged harms occurred. In states without an independent judiciary, such as Eritrea, the idea that a case against a powerful foreign company for human rights harms could proceed fairly and without interference is highly unlikely. Therefore, the decision of Canada’s highest court to allow a case to be heard against a company for gross human rights abuses overseas is both significant and welcomed by Amnesty International.
The settlement is protected by a confidentiality agreement and the full facts of the case will not be heard in court, leaving us with many questions about the role Canada played in supporting Nevsun’s bid to establish the Bisha mine in Eritrea as well as the decisions taken by the company to proceed with a joint venture with the Eritrean government. But the fact that the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the case could proceed, coupled with the confidential settlement, send a clear message to Canadian companies that there will be consequences for contributing to, or benefitting from, human rights abuses at operations abroad.
Nevsun was acquired by Zijin Mining Group Company in late 2018.
Please join Amnesty Canada in congratulating the former workers on their settlement and their stellar legal counsel in advancing this important case for corporate accountability in Canada. We wish the workers and their families good health and healing as they recover from their horrific experiences and thank them for their courage and tenacity in pursuing a corporate accountability lawsuit of this magnitude.
For more information about the case, please see our Legal Brief on Nevsun Resources Ltd v. Gize Yebeyo Araya et al.
To learn more about advancing the right to remedy for corporate abuses of human rights, please read Amnesty’s publication, Injustice Incorporated, which documents the struggles of people around the world to hold powerful foreign companies accountable for serious human rights abuses.