BC Court of Appeal Ruling: A Breakthrough for Corporate Accountability for Human Rights
BC’s Court of Appeal today gave the green light to hearing an important corporate accountability lawsuit against Nevsun Resources. The Court of Appeal ruling allows the 3 Eritrean men who filed the lawsuit against the company for modern slavery, torture, forced labour and crimes against humanity to have their day in court. Nevsun’s Bisha mine was constructed using state-contracted companies and the Eritrean military, which used forced labour under what the plaintiffs describe as abhorrent conditions. The men described hunger, illness and harsh punishment as some of the conditions they endured while building the mine.
Eritrea is known as one of the most repressive regimes in the world, with no working constitution, rule of law or independent judiciary. The lawsuit alleges that by entering into an agreement with the Eritrean regime, Nevsun expressly or implicitly supported the government’s widely-known – and greatly feared - conscription policy and therefore became an accomplice to forced labour, crimes against humanity and other human rights abuses at the Bisha mine.
Nevsun argued that the case should not be heard in a Canadian court but rather in Eritrea. However, Justice Mary Newbury wrote in her ruling that there was little chance at all for a fair hearing in Eritrea amid a legal system that caters primarily to the wishes of the President of Eritrea and his military supporters.
The ruling Canada parallels a similar decision in June, 2017 to allow a lawsuit against BC-based Tahoe Resources for negligence and battery for the shooting of 7 protestors in 2013 to proceed. The rulings are significant because they allow people with allegations of corporate human rights abuse to have their cases heard in Canada where access to documents, a functioning legal system and a possibility for justice exist.