Nevsun lawsuit (re Bisha mine, Eritrea)

In 2014, three Eritreans filed suit against Nevsun Resources in Canada alleging the company was complicit in the use of forced labour by their sub-contractor at the Bisha mine in Eritrea. Nevsun rejected the claims as unfounded and declared the Bisha mine has adhered to international standards of labour requirements. The case is ongoing. 


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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.

On 28 February 2020, the Canadian Supreme Court dismissed Nevsun's appeal and ruled that the lawsuit can proceed. Notably, the Court held international norms can be applied to the plaintiff's case. Nevsun argued the case should be thrown because domestic courts are precluded from assessing the acts of foreign governments. This argument was rejected by the Court. 

- "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

- "Nevsun Comments on B.C. Lawsuit", 6 Oct 2016
- "Nevsun Comments on B.C. Lawsuit", 21 Nov 2014

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


- Nevsun Resources Ltd. v. Araya Judgment,Supreme Court of Canada, 23 Jan 2020                                                   - 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      



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Author: Jérôme Blanchet-Gravel, Sputnik News

"Travail forcé en Érythrée: «Les minières étrangères savent que les États africains sont dépendants»", 9 mars 2020

La Cour suprême du Canada a statué qu'une minière canadienne pourrait être poursuivie pour des violations des droits de l'homme en Érythrée. Une avancée, selon Fodé-Moussa Keita, professeur en sciences politiques et expert des minières canadiennes en Afrique, pour qui les peuples africains restent démunis face au secteur minier. Entrevue...

...Pour Fodé-Moussa Keita, professeur de science politique au Collège de Valleyfield au Québec, la situation a peu évolué en dix ans: les minières étrangères en prennent toujours à leur aise sur le continent africain...

«Que Nevsun perde un jugement au Canada pour des activités en Érythrée aurait été impensable à l’époque. Dans le passé, il y a eu beaucoup d’autres cas où des entreprises canadiennes s’en tiraient en invoquant les mêmes arguments que Nevsun. [...] Sans vouloir défendre Nevsun, ces entreprises mènent des activités dans des États africains qui n’ont pas toujours les moyens de faire appliquer leurs propres lois. En revanche, les lois et codes miniers des États africains comme le Ghana peuvent être aussi stricts qu’au Canada. Les entreprises étrangères devraient donc savoir à quoi s’en tenir», souligne l’expert...

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12 March 2020

Canadian Supreme Court Allows Corporate Liability for International Law Violations

Author: Preston Lim, LawFare

On Feb. 28, the Supreme Court of Canada rendered a landmark judgment in the case of Nevsun Resources Ltd. v. Araya. This case raised a largely unexplored question in Canadian law: whether plaintiffs can bring civil claims in Canada for human rights violations committed abroad. As Justice Rosalie Abella wrote in the opening of her majority judgment, this appeal involved “the application of modern international human rights law, the phoenix that rose from the ashes of World War II and declared global war on human rights abuses.”

And the facts of the case are indeed grisly. The plaintiffs, refugees from Eritrea, claimed that Nevsun Resources, a Canadian mining company based in British Columbia, had been complicit in breaches of international human rights law—including forced labor, slavery, and torture, by the Eritrean government...

In its appeal, Nevsun argued that the plaintiffs’ claims should be struck without consideration of the merits, on the basis that (a) the act of state doctrine applied, such that Canadian courts lacked subject-matter jurisdiction over any of the plaintiffs’ claims, and (b) there existed no separate cause of action in Canadian tort law for breaches of customary international law.

In a closely divided decision, the Supreme Court dismissed Nevsun’s appeal. Formally, this allowed the plaintiffs’ claims to proceed on the basis that Nevsun had not met the standard for a motion to strike by showing that it was “plain and obvious” that the claims could not succeed...

The majority and dissenting opinions agreed that through the doctrine of adoption, customary international law is automatically incorporated into Canadian law in the absence of conflicting legislation...Similarly, the majority and the dissenting opinions agreed that certain norms of customary international law “prohibit conduct regardless of whether the perpetrator is a state.”

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4 March 2020

Judgment from the Supreme Court of Canada in Nevsun Resources v. Araya

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2 March 2020

Canadian Supreme Court rules Canadian courts can hear case against Nevsun Resources for human rights abuses allegedly committed in Eritrea

Author: AFP (Published by The Guardian)

"Canada mining firm accused of slavery abroad can be sued at home, supreme court rules"

A Vancouver-based mining company can be sued in Canada for alleged human rights abuses overseas including allegations of modern slavery, Canada’s supreme court has ruled.

The decision means three Eritreans who filed a civil suit against Nevsun Resources in British Columbia can continue their case in a lower court. It also creates new legal risks for Canadian firms operating abroad – notably in the resources and clothing sectors – as companies previously could only be held liable in foreign jurisdictions in which alleged abuses occurred. The plaintiffs claimed they and more than 1,000 others had been conscripted through Eritrea’s military service into forced labour to construct Nevsun’s Bisha gold, copper and zinc mine in the east African nation between 2008 and 2012, and subjected to violent, cruel and inhuman treatment. In court documents they alleged being forced to work 12 hours a day, six days a week, being beaten with sticks, and being bound and left to bake under the hot sun.

The trio later escaped Eritrea and became refugees. Nevsun argued that the case should be thrown out on the basis of the act of state doctrine, which precludes domestic courts from assessing acts of foreign governments. But that was rejected by a majority of the justices on the top bench. The supreme court also held that international human rights law – notably fundamental tenets called “peremptory norms” that are so important they are considered universal – may be applied to this case. “Violations of peremptory norms are serious violations of rights that are important to everyone, everywhere. They need to be strongly discouraged,” the court said in a statement.

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Author: Timothé Matte-Bergeron, Radio-Canada

Une poursuite intentée contre une compagnie minière canadienne pour violation des droits de la personne pourra être entendue en Colombie-Britannique, même si les actes allégués ont eu lieu en Érythrée, a tranché la Cour suprême du Canada...

Vendredi, les juges du plus haut tribunal du pays ont débouté l’entreprise Nevsun Resources, établie à Vancouver, qui plaidait que les cours canadiennes n’ont pas compétence pour entendre le recours civil intenté par trois réfugiés érythréens...

Ces derniers affirment qu'ils ont été forcés au travail, battus et torturés alors qu’ils travaillaient dans la mine Bisha, en Érythrée, dont la majorité des parts sont détenues par Nevsun Resources...

Aucune de ces allégations n’a été prouvée en cour. La compagnie minière nie avoir recouru à des conscrits de l’armée érythréenne, dont certains, selon une enquête des Nations unies, sont enrôlés de force par l’État pour un service militaire à durée illimitée, assimilable à de l’esclavage...

À sept juges contre deux, la Cour suprême du Canada a rejeté la position de Nevsun Resources, qui plaidait qu’un tribunal canadien ne peut se prononcer sur les actes d’un État étranger...

Dans une décision plus serrée, à cinq contre quatre, les juges confirment l’incorporation du droit international dit coutumier en droit canadien, qui interdit l’esclavage, le travail forcé et les traitements cruels et inhumains, et ouvrent la porte à son utilisation lors d'un recours civil...

Cette décision crée un précédent important en matière de responsabilité des compagnies minières canadiennes à l'étranger...

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15 April 2019

Canadian courts wrestle with questions of cross-border accountability for human rights abuses

Author: Whitney Eulich & Sara Miller Llana, The Christian Science Monitor

"When mining companies work abroad, should justice follow them home?" 9 April 2019

Canadian mining firms account for 40 percent of large mining operations in Latin America, and there have long been accusations of abuse at their operations on the ground... A decade ago, Canadian courts were reluctant to try these cases domestically, says Ian Binnie, a former Canadian Supreme Court justice... “I think that the judges are becoming more sensitive to the fact that if they refuse jurisdiction in Canada, assuming the head office is here, that these people won’t have any redress and will be left without a remedy..."

... Proceedings against three Canadian companies have been breaking new legal ground... Hudbay Minerals faces three distinct cases... Another case alleges that security personnel at Tahoe Resources, in... Guatemala, opened fire on demonstrations in 2013. The British Columbia Court of Appeal ruled that the case could proceed in Canada, and it is now before the trial court there... A third case involves Nevsun Resources Ltd., which has been sued for alleged complicity in a government subcontractor’s use of forced labor at a mine in Eritrea, worked by conscripts in the repressive country’s national service system. The Supreme Court of Canada is weighing whether Canadian courts should recognize civil claims based on breaches of customary international law, and whether the case can proceed...The Canadian government has responded to pressure for better business conduct abroad by creating a new ombudsman position last January... Many are concerned that the office does not have a sufficient mandate to investigate abuses. “They want what they call joint investigation, so the company has to agree to the investigations,” says Professor Imai, from York University, of mining companies. 

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24 January 2019

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

"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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Author: Timothé Matte-Bergeron, Radio Canada

« Travail forcé en Érythrée : une minière canadienne devant la Cour suprême du Canada », 23 janvier 2019

La Cour suprême du Canada tient des audiences mercredi dans une cause concernant une compagnie minière dont le siège est à Vancouver, Nevsun Resources, et des réfugiés érythréens qui exigent réparation pour la violation alléguée de leurs droits fondamentaux par la compagnie.

L'affaire pourrait créer un précédent important en matière d'imputabilité des compagnies minières canadiennes à l'étranger...

Dans une poursuite déposée en 2014 devant la Cour suprême de la Colombie-Britannique, trois réfugiés érythréens affirment avoir été forcés de travailler à la construction de la mine Bisha en Érythrée, détenue à 60 % par Nevsun Resources. Ils allèguent que leurs droits fondamentaux ont été violés par la compagnie et qu’en plus de les forcer au travail, on les a battus et torturés.

Des documents...suggèrent que de hauts dirigeants de Nevsun Resources étaient au courant que certains travailleurs de la mine ont été recrutés de force...

Nevsun Resources nie ces allégations, et conteste depuis le début des procédures la compétence qu’ont les tribunaux canadiens d’entendre la cause, plaidant qu’elle doit être entendue en Érythrée...

C’est sur la question de la compétence des cours canadiennes que se prononcera la Cour suprême du Canada...

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24 January 2019

Top court weighs precedent-setting case of human rights breaches at Canadian mine in Eritrea

Author: Kathleen Harris, CBC News

The Supreme Court of Canada heard arguments today in what could be a precedent-setting case for Canadian companies that do business abroad... B.C.-based mining company Nevsun Resources Ltd. is being sued for its alleged complicity in the forced labour, slavery and torture of workers at the Bisha gold, zinc and copper mine in Eritrea... Nevsun lawyer Mark Andrews said today it is "beyond debate" that the fundamental complaint is about the conduct of Eritrea, and warned of the dangers of having a Canadian court pass judgment on the acts of a foreign state.

... Last year, the Liberal government announced new initiatives to strengthen Canada's approach to responsible business conduct for Canadian companies operating abroad, including a new office of the Canadian Ombudsperson for Responsible Enterprise. A year later, the position remains vacant... NDP MP Peter Julian has proposed a private member's bill that would give the Federal Court authority to hear civil cases involving alleged human rights abuses involving Canadian companies operating abroad.

... Paul Champ, a lawyer for Amnesty International Canada... said the case points to a "new problem" that has emerged in the last 20 years about corporate responsibility amid increased globalization. "Broadening activities by corporations have not been addressed thus far, and it's our submission that this is how the common law must evolve to address that problem," he said.

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