Tonkolili Iron Ore lawsuit (re complicity in violence against villagers in Sierra Leone)

In 2015, 142 villagers from Sierra Leone filed a lawsuit in UK High Court against the mining firm Tonkolili Iron Ore Ltd. And its parent company African Minerals, alleging complicity in police crackdowns in Sierra Leone in 2010 and 2012. 101 claims were settled, leaving 41 left to proceed in court. In 2018, the UK High Court ruled African Minerals was not liable. 

 

On 30 November 2015, the law firm Leigh Day filed a lawsuit in the UK High Court on behalf of 142 villagers against the mining firm Tonkolili Iron Ore Ltd and its parent Iron_Mine_Credit_Martin_Tuchscherer_panoramio_via_wikicommonscompany African Minerals, alleging complicity in police crackdowns in Sierra Leone in 2010 and 2012.  In 2010, the villagers protested against the clearing of farmland to facilitate the mining operations.  In 2012, mine workers organized a strike protesting against working conditions at the mine site.  The lawsuit claims that the company encouraged the police to use violence to quell protests on these two occasions.  Allegations include the company’s complicity and direct involvement in assault, false imprisonment, rape and murder.  The plaintiffs claim compensation for injuries, loss and damage allegedly caused during the two incidents.

The company denied responsibility for police actions and claimed that UK court lacked jurisdiction over events taking place in Sierra Leone.  However, the Court agreed to hear the case based on the fact that Tonkolili Iron Ore is a former subsidiary of the UK-based African Minerals.

By January 2017, 101 claims were settled, leaving 41 left to proceed in court.  In October 2017, Leigh Day requested anonymity for six claimants' witnesses.  On 29 January 2018, the court agreed to grant anonymity for security reasons, and the investigation commenced.  In February 2018, a UK High Court judge travelled to Sierra Leone to hear the victims who were unable to obtain UK visas.

On 19 December 2018, the UK High Court ruled that African Minerals was not liable.

In March 2020, The Court of Appeal of England and Wales upheld the high Court’s verdict that African Minerals was not liable for complicity in police crackdowns in Sierra Leone in 2010 and 2012 which were linked to the defendant’s iron ore mine. The judge did note that if African Minerals had owed a duty of care, it would have breached it for failing to follow recognised minimum standards set out in the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights. 

News:

"UK Mining Firm Accused of Rights Abuses in Sierra Leone", VOA, 19 Feb 2018
“Sierra Leone villagers recount abuse in UK mining firm case”, news24, 7 Feb 2018
“British High Court Judge Adjudicates the African Minerals Case in a Freetown Court!”,The Organiser, 3 Feb 2018
“UK mining company faces landmark High Court case over alleged worker abuse in Sierra Leone”
, Independent, 29 Jan 2018
“Mining company accused over deadly police crackdown in Sierra Leone”, The Guardian, 26 Dec 2017
“Villagers in Sierra Leone are suing iron ore mining company African minerals”, The Sierra Leone Telegraph, 1 Dec 2015
“Sierra Leone villagers sue mining company in London high court”, The Guardian, 29 Nov 2015

Leigh Day:

“How Sierra Leonean farmers got their day in Court”, Leigh Day, 31 Jan 2018
“Landmark High Court case begins over alleged abuses by UK-based mining company in Sierra Leone”, Leigh Day, 26 January 2018
“Legal Actions Begins at High Court Over Allegations of Abuses in Sierra Leone”, Leigh Day, 1 Dec 2015

Court documents:

Kalma et al. v African Minerals et al., High Court of Justice, Queen's bench Division, 19 Dec 2018
Judgement granting anonymity to witnesses - Kalma et al. v African Minerals et al., High Court of Justice, 29 Jan 2018

Get RSS feed of these results

All components of this story

Article
19 May 2020

UK: NGOs request Supreme Court to hear case against African Minerals for complicity in human rights abuse at mine in Sierra Leone

Author: RAID & CORE

"Rights Groups Request UK Supreme Court to Hear Case On Corporate Abuses" 18 May 2020

RAID and the UK Corporate Responsibility Coalition (CORE) have officially lodged a letter with the UK Supreme Court requesting it to hear a case involving corporate human rights abuses by a British-based company, African Minerals Ltd, at its iron-ore mine in Sierra Leone. The letter was filed under Rule 15 of the Supreme Court Rules, which permits civil society groups to make submissions in the public interest to the Court.

The letter supports an application by the Sierra Leone victims for permission to appeal an earlier ruling by the Court of Appeal which absolved African Minerals despite its role in the abuses. 

The case, Kadie Kalma & others v. African Minerals and others, concerns claims by local residents harmed during two violent security operations in 2010 and 2012. African Minerals paid, transported and accommodated the police as they brutally attacked residents, some of whom were protesting the mine for taking over their farms.

The Trial Judge found that, in the course of the police operations, “many villagers were variously beaten, shot, gassed, robbed, sexually assaulted, squalidly incarcerated and, in one case, killed.” African Minerals failed to take steps to ensure that the police did not use the extensive assistance the company provided in perpetrating such serious human rights violations.

Yet both the Trial Judge and Court of Appeal found against the victims. The Court of Appeal agreed with the Trial Judge that the company did not intend the human rights violations or owe local residents any duty of care, even though it assisted the police knowing that they were violently attacking residents.

RAID and CORE said that if the Court of Appeal’s judgment stands it threatens to deprive communities of necessary protection and could severely undermine efforts to hold British companies to account for human rights abuses.

Read the full post here

Article
23 March 2020

UK Appeals Court rules African Minerals cannot be held liable for police's human rights abuses at iron mine in Sierra Leone

Author: Andrew Denny, india Jordan, Olga Owczarek, Suzanne Spears, Allen & Overy LLP

"Mining company not liable for unlawful acts of Sierra Leonean police," 19 Mar 2020

The Court of Appeal of England and Wales has upheld the High Court’s verdict in Kadie Kalma & ors v African Minerals Ltd & ors [2020] EWCA Civ 144. This is an important case for businesses exposed to human rights risks through their reliance on third parties, particularly state security forces, in relation to their operations abroad. The finding in this appeal confirms the limits on the circumstances in which a company can be held liable for harms caused by such third parties...

The claims were brought by 142 individuals who alleged that they had been harmed by the Sierra Leonean Police (SLP) during two major outbreaks of unrest and violence connected to the defendants’ iron ore mine. The incidents involved beatings, shootings, robbery, sexual assault and one death. Although the acts alleged took place on Sierra Leonean soil, the English court agreed to hear the case because the actual iron ore producer (the third defendant, Tonkolili Iron Ore Limited) was previously a subsidiary of African Minerals Ltd (AML), which had its head office in London before going into administration in 2015...

...the judge did find that, had AML owed a duty of care, it would have breached that duty in at least some of the respects alleged by the claimants. In particular, the judge criticised AML for having failed to follow the “recognised minimum standards” set out in the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights (VPs) to reduce the risk of human rights abuses in communities located near the mine site. Specifically, as recommended by the VPs, AML should have carried out a security and human rights risk assessment, had in place a crisis management plan, engaged more with the SLP, and taken further steps to reduce the risk of the SLP using excessive force and mistreating people.

 

Read the full post here

Article
24 December 2018

Sierra Leone abuse claimants lose UK court case

Author: Expatica

Sierra Leoneans seeking damages from a mining company they accused of complicity in a police crackdown voiced disappointment…after losing a landmark legal case [against Tonkolili Iron Ore Ltd] in a British court…

“The legal team is now reviewing the judge’s findings and will be advising the clients in early January as to the prospects of appealing the judge’s findings,” [law firm Leigh Day said in a statement]…

British courts agreed to hear the lawsuit because the…producer was previously a subsidiary of African Minerals Ltd (AML), which was headquartered in London before it went into administration in 2015.

The case was particularly unusual as the judge, Mark Turner, conducted some court sessions in Sierra Leone itself to hear evidence of the alleged abuses.

But the ruling…found that “the claimants have not succeeded in establishing liability in respect of any of the basis upon which they have sought to bring their claims”…

Lawyers for the claimants had alleged that the company effectively oversaw policing of its mine and surrounding areas where protests turned deadly in two incidents in 2010 and 2012…

Tonkolili Iron Ore Ltd, which is now a subsidiary of China-based Shandong Iron and Steel Group Co. Ltd, denied liability for the incidents…

Read the full post here

Lawsuit
19 December 2018

Kadie Kalma & Ors v African Minerals Ltd & Ors [2018] EWHC 3506 (QB)

Author: UK High Court of Justice, Queen's Bench Division

[Full text of the judgment rejecting African Minerals’ liability].

Read the full post here

Article
23 February 2018

British judges conclude hearings in Sierra Leone on UK mining company accused of rights abuses

Author: Nina de Vries, VOA (USA)

"UK Mining Firm Accused of Rights Abuses in Sierra Leone", 19 Feb 2018

Hearings have wrapped in Sierra Leone from claimants accusing mining company Tonkolili Iron Ore of human rights abuses. The allegations against the company, formerly a subsidiary of African Minerals Limited (AML), cover incidents in 2010 and 2012 in the northern region of Tonkolili in Sierra Leone. Kelly Conteh, one of the witnesses, knows he is lucky to be alive. He was one of the people shot in a police crackdown in 2012 on the outskirts of Bumbuna where AML was based. The company's workers were protesting low wages and working conditions...Conteh told a British judge in Freetown this month that he had overheard police talking about how much money AML was paying them in order to stop the protest. Other witnesses reported seeing police in AML vehicles as they arrested people and alleged that AML workers beat residents during the 2010 protest. The Sierra Leone Human Rights Commission made similar allegations in a report it published on the 2012 incident. Legal counsel for AML in Freetown declined to comment on the allegations, when asked by VOA...Thirty-three witnesses testified in Freetown. Those who are claimants are seeking monetary compensation. Many witnesses were denied visas to travel to London, where the bulk of the trial is taking place. It's believed this is the first time a British high court has travelled overseas to hear a case of alleged human rights abuses by a U.K.-based company, according to Leigh Day, the law firm representing the local residents filing the lawsuit.

 

Read the full post here

Article
7 February 2018

Sierra Leone villagers recount abuse in UK mining firm case

Author: News24 (So. Africa)

A British court heard testimony of the alleged complicity of a British mining company in police brutality including rape...in an unusual hearing held in Sierra Leone.  Hearings in the civil case, brought by 142 claimants seeking damages from Tonkolili Iron Ore Ltd, began...in Freetown, in what is believed to be the first time the British High Court will be heard overseas...British courts agreed to hear the lawsuit because the iron ore producer was previously a subsidiary of African Minerals Ltd (AML), which was headquartered in London before it went into administration in 2015.  The court heard testimony from a woman who said she was picked up by police and company workers at her village near the mine while selling oranges in Bumbuna, northern Sierra Leone, in 2010...The claimants argue that the company effectively oversaw policing of its mine and surrounding areas where protests turned deadly in two incidents in 2010 and 2012.  Villagers allegedly set up a roadblock to stop the company from incurring on their land in 2012, only to be faced with police who opened fire...Tonkolili Iron Ore Ltd, which is now a subsidiary of China-based Shandong Iron and Steel Group Co., Ltd, denies liability for the incidents...

 

Read the full post here

Article
3 February 2018

British High Court Judge Adjudicates the African Minerals Case in a Freetown Court!

Author: The Organiser (Sierra Leone)

British High Court Judge has made legal history as he travelled to Sierra Leone as part of a lawsuit against mining giant African Minerals.  This is the first time a British judge has sat in a Sierra Leone court to try a lawsuit against the African Minerals Limited subsidiary company called Tonkolili Iron Ore in northern Sierra Leone.  The six-week hearing has already began and it involves African Minerals subsidiary, Tonkolili Iron Ore, which faces allegations of human rights abuses against workers and villagers living near one of its mines in Salone.  Mr Justice Turner and the legal teams for both claimants and defendants are already in Sierra Leone and for a fortnight in a makeshift courtroom which has been created in a hotel room in the capital Freetown.  More than 140 claimants from Sierra Leone are suing Tonkolili Iron Ore, a former subsidiary of African Minerals, which had its headquarters in Britain over allegations that the company was complicit with the local police, whose officers are alleged to have falsely imprisoned, assaulted and raped local residents during two incidents in 2010 and 2012.  Tonkolili Iron Ore has however denies these accusations.  Lawyers for the claimants told the court that if proceedings did not relocate to Sierra Leone, it would be impossible for the villagers to put their case directly as travelling to London would be prohibitively expensive and it would also be difficult to obtain visas...

Read the full post here

Article
31 January 2018

How Sierra Leonean farmers got their day in Court

Author: Martyn Day and Liberty Bridge. Leigh Day

...The Claimants allege that the mine owners instructed the Sierra Leonean police force to use excessive violence to quell both these otherwise peaceful protests. The allegations include that they were shot, beaten, arbitrarily arrested, subject to sexual violence and tortured.

The Defendants deny these allegations. 

...The 6 week trial is taking place in both London and Sierra Leone. Mr. Justice Turner will travel to Sierra Leone for weeks 2 and 3 of the trial where he will sit as a Special Examiner.

Civil Procedure Rule 34.13 provides for the appointment of a Special Examiner. This rule makes provision for when a party wishes to take evidence from a witness who does not reside in the UK. 

...The majority of the [claimants'] visas were subsequently rejected and so the Special Examiner appointment proceeded. Permission had to be requested from the Sierra Leone government...

...It is a credit to the UK judicial system - so often called the 'gold standard' - that persons from anywhere in the world and any background can get their day in court in pursuit of justice against a UK based company, and on an equal footing to a billion dollar mining-giant.

Read the full post here

Article
29 January 2018

Kalma et al. vs. African Minerals Ltd. et al. - Judgement granting anonymity to witnesses

Author: High Court of Justice (UK)

Download the full document here

Article
29 January 2018

UK mining company faces landmark High Court case over alleged worker abuse in Sierra Leone

Author: Shafi Musaddique, Independent (UK)

A landmark High Court case against a UK mining company accused of abusing workers and villagers near one of its mines in Sierra Leone starts on Monday.

Tonkolili Iron Ore... is alleged to have been complicit in rape, assault, false imprisonment and the murder of a protestor by police, in incidents occurring in 2010 and 2012. The High Court is expected to hear allegations that Tonkolili played a role in the fatal shooting by police of a 24-year-old woman, killed after a protest over pay and conditions.

...Leigh Day, the law firm representing the claimants, said abuses started after the company forced hundreds of families out of their villages to make way for mines. According to Human Rights Watch, villagers received minimal consultation from the company on its plans to expand near Bumbuna in the north of Sierra Leone.

Tonkolili denies responsibility for the incidents against workers and villagers. It claims that the responsibility solely lies with the Sierra Leone police.   

Read the full post here