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Canadian miner loses appeal to move human rights lawsuit to Eritrea

Bisha mine. Photo by Nevsun Resources.

The British Columbia Court of Appeal upheld a 2016 ruling by the B.C. Supreme Court that dismissed an appeal by Nevsun Resources (TSX:NSU) to have a human rights case against the company moved to the Eritrea.

Both tribunals agree that the province’s court has territorial jurisdiction since Nevsun is a British Columbia company. They also consider that even though the practical and logistical difficulties of trying these claims in B.C. would be considerable, there is a real risk of corruption and unfairness in hearing the case in the East African country.

The case at hand was brought forward in 2014 by three Eritrean refugees. They accuse Nevsun of being “an accomplice to the use of forced labour, crimes against humanity and other human rights abuses at the [company’s] Bisha mine.”

They say that the Nevsun engaged two Eritrean sub-contractors and the military while building the mine’s facilities and that through the Eritrean National Service Program they were forced to work long hours, were confined in small spaces, were poorly fed and received little pay while under the constant threat of physical punishment, torture and imprisonment.

The plaintiffs have since been joined by some 50 other workers in their claims. They tried to bring the case as a representative action but the B.C. Supreme Court ruled in 2016 that each had to file their own claim.

Approached by different media outlets, Nevsun replied over email that it did not want to comment on matters that remain before the court.

In the statement, the company wrote: “The Bisha Mine is committed to safe and responsible operations that respect the interests of local communities, workers, stakeholders and the natural environment. There are contractual commitments in place that strictly prohibit the use of national service employees by Bisha’s contractors and subcontractors.”

Sixty-per-cent of Bisha, which is located 150km west of Asmara, is owned by the Canadian miner, while the other 40 per cent is owned by companies run by the Eritrean government. The mine started operations as a gold-silver producer in 2010 and three years later it underwent a $110-million expansion to switch to copper concentrate production from supergene ore.

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