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

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.

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

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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…

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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].

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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.

 

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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...

 

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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...

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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.

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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.   

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Article
26 January 2018

Landmark High Court case begins over alleged abuses by UK-based mining company in Sierra Leone

Author: Leigh Day

A six week hearing will begin on Monday 29 January in the High Court against iron ore producer Tonkolili Iron Ore Ltd, whose parent company African Minerals Ltd was previously headquartered in the UK, following allegations of human rights abuses against workers and villagers living near one of its mines in Sierra Leone.

It is believed to be the first time a UK High Court hearing will travel to an overseas country in which the human rights abuses are alleged to have taken place by a UK-based company.

...The decision to hold part of the hearing was taken after a number of witnesses were unable to obtain visas to attend trial in the UK and the judge agreed it was important for this evidence to be taken in person rather than by video link.

142 claimants from Sierra Leone have taken the legal action... over claims the company was complicit in the activities by the police of false imprisonment, assault and rape during two incidents in 2010 and 2012.

Allegations will also be heard against the company in relation to its role in the fatal shooting by police of a 24-year-old female... during a protest over working conditions and pay during the 2012 incident.

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Article
27 October 2017

UK High Court hears evidence in lawsuit against African Minerals over alleged complicity in killings & eviction of villagers in Sierra Leone

Author: Rebecca Ratcliffe, Guardian (UK)

" Mining company accused over deadly police crackdown in Sierra Leone ", 26 Oct 2017

 ...The multimillion pound case against Tonkolili Iron Ore Ltd, formerly a subsidiary of African Minerals Ltd [AML], has been brought by London law firm Leigh Day on behalf of 41 people from Bumbuna, in the north of Sierra Leone...

AML is also accused of complicity in false imprisonment, assault and battery, trespass and theft of the claimants’ property. The allegations relate to two incidents: the police response to protests by local people against an alleged landgrab by the firm in 2010, and the police response to a workers’ strike in 2012...According to witness statements, the police acted under instructions from the company during the strike.

The mining company declined to comment on the allegations. In January 2017, 101 claims relating to the case were settled. On Thursday, Leigh Day will ask for anonymity for a number of individuals giving evidence. The hearing will also consider whether the court should travel to Sierra Leone to hear evidence, or whether witnesses should speak through video link...

[Also refers to Shell]

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