On Friday the Canadian Supreme Court is due to release its judgement in the case being brought by three Eritreans who say they were forced to work on Nevsun’s Bisha mine.
It is a critical judgement, which could have ramifications for Eritreans worldwide as they challenge the system of indefinite conscription, known as National Service.
Here is the background.
Nevsun lawsuit (re Bisha mine, Eritrea)
In November 2014, three Eritreans filed a lawsuit against Nevsun Resources in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. They allege the company was complicit in the use of forced labour by Nevsun’s local sub-contractor, Segen Construction (owned by Eritrea’s ruling party), at the Bisha mine in Eritrea. Nevsun, headquartered in Vancouver, has denied the allegations. This lawsuit is the first in Canada where claims are based directly on violations of international law.
The plaintiffs, Gize Yebeyo Araya, Kesete Tekle Fshazion and Mihretab Yemane Tekle, claim that they worked at the Bisha mine against their will and were subject to “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment”. They allege that they were forced to work long hours and lived in constant fear of threats of torture and intimidation. Nevsun has rejected the allegations as “unfounded” and declared that “the Bisha Mine has adhered at all times to international standards of governance, workplace conditions, and health and safety”.
In October 2016, the Supreme Court of British Colombia rejected Nevsun’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit and ruled that the case should proceed in British Colombia as there were doubts that the plaintiffs would get a fair trial in Eritrea. Nevsun appealed the decision.
In November 2017, the British Columbia Court of Appeal rejected Nevsun’s appeal to dismiss the suit, thereby allowing the case to proceed in Canadian courts. The court also allowed claims of crimes against humanity, slavery, forced labour, and torture to go forward against Nevsun. This decision marked the first time an appellate court in Canada permitted a mass tort claim for modern slavery.
On 19 January 2018, Nevsun filed an application with the Canadian Supreme Court asking for permission to appeal the British Columbia ruling. On 14 June 2018, the Supreme Court allowed Nevsun to appeal the November 2017 decision, giving the company another chance to argue against the lawsuit going to trial on 23 January 2019.
– “Supreme Court decision on Vancouver mining company could have international human rights impact, expert says“, The Star Vancouver, 25 June 2018
– “Vancouver-based mining company granted Supreme Court appeal in ‘conscripted labour’ case“, The Star Vancouver, 22 June 2018
– “Nevsun appeals to Canada Supreme Court in Eritreans’ forced labor lawsuit“, Reuters, 26 Jan 2018
– “Court allows Eritrean mine workers to sue Nevsun“, Nelson Bennett, Business in Vancouver, 6 Oct 2016
– [Video] “Nevsun in Eritrea: Dealing With a Dictator“, CBC Radio-Canada, 12 Feb 2016
– [FR] «Une minière canadienne nie des allégations de travail forcé en Érythrée », Radio-Canada, 23 novembre 2014
– “Nevsun Denies Accusations of Human-Rights Abuses at Eritrea Mine”, Michael Gunn & Firat Kayakiran, Bloomberg, 21 Nov 2014
– “Nevsun Resources faces lawsuit over ‘forced labour’ in Eritrea”, Jeff Gray, Globe and Mail (Canada), 20 Nov 2014
Canadian Centre for International Justice (CCIJ):
– “Vancouver court clears way for slave labour lawsuit against Canadian mining company to go to trial“, 6 Oct 2016
– “Eritreans file lawsuit against Canadian mining company for slave labour and crimes against humanity”, 20 Nov 2014
– [FR] « Des Érythréens intentent un recours contre une compagnie minière canadienne pour l’usage de main d’œuvre servile ainsi que pour des crimes contre l’humanité », 20 novembre 2014
– “Appeal court confirms slave labour lawsuit against Canadian mining company can go to trial“, 21 Nov 2017
Camp Fiorante Matthews Mogerman [Counsel for the plaintiffs]
– “Plaintiffs’ Submissions on Forum Non Conveniens“, 17 Dec 2015
– “Plaintiffs’ Submissions on the Representative Proceeding“, 17 Dec 2015
– “Plaintiffs’ Submissions on Customary International Law“, 15 Dec 2015
– “Plaintiffs’ Submissions on the Act of State Doctrine“, 14 Dec 2015
– “Notice of Civil Claim“, 20 Nov 2014
Siskinds [Co-counsel for the plaintiffs]
– “Siskinds co-counsel in lawsuit against Nevsun Resources“, 20 Nov 2014
Fasken Martineau DuMoulin LLP [Counsel for the defendant]
– “Nevsun’s Chambers Brief on Customary International Law“, 1 Dec 2015
– “Nevsun’s Chambers Brief on Forum Non Conveniens“, 23 Nov 2015
– “Nevsun’s Chambers Brief on the Act of State Doctrine“, 23 Nov 2015
– “Nevsun’s Chambers Brief on the Representative Proceeding“, 23 Nov 2015
– “Nevsun’s Response to Civil Claim“, 13 Feb 2015
– Webcast of the hearing before the Supreme Court of Canada, 23 Jan 2019
– Araya v. Nevsun Resources. Reasons for Judgment, Justice Abrioux, Supreme Court of British Columbia, 6 Oct 2016
– Araya, Gize v. Nevsun Resources Ltd.[payment required], Vancouver law courts, 20 Nov 2014.
– Gize Yebeyo Araya, Kesete Tekle Fshazion and Mihretab Yemane Tekle v Nevsun Resources Ltd and Earth Rights International, Court of Appeal for British Columbia, 21 Nov 2017