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Commentary: MiningWatch Canada asserts case against Nevsun Resources for allegations of forced labour in Eritrea should be heard in Canadian courts

Author: Jamie Kneen, MiningWatch Canada, Published on: 24 January 2019

"Can slave labour charges against Canadian company be heard in Canada? Supreme Court of Canada hears arguments today," 23 Jan 2019

[T]he Supreme Court of Canada is hearing an appeal by Nevsun Resources Limited... of lower court rulings that accusations against it regarding the use of forced labour at its Bisha mine in Eritrea should be heard in British Columbia, not Eritrea... The plaintiffs, who are Eritrean refugees, allege that as military conscripts, they were forced to work for an Eritrean military contractor at Nevsun’s Bisha gold-copper mine, in violation of international laws against forced labour, slavery, and torture, and that Nevsun was complicit in their treatment... Nevsun also claims that since the Eritrean government is accused of carrying out the actual alleged abuses, the “act of state” doctrine in the common law, which protects the sovereign rights of governments over their internal affairs (in this case, Eritrea’s treatment of its own citizens), means that this should be a diplomatic case, not a legal one.

MiningWatch Canada... think[s] that though this case does implicate foreign state conduct, it is a private civil dispute and does not engage the Canadian government’s conduct of foreign affairs. We also argue that this view acknowledges the need to provide access to justice, and complements Canadian policies for promoting corporate accountability. In addition, if the act of state doctrine is applied, it must be in a manner that accounts for the difficulties that foreign victims may face in bringing civil claims.

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