VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Foreign workers who have accused a Canadian company of human rights abuses at an African gold mine will have their case heard in Canada’s legal system.
The Supreme Court of British Columbia in a judgment this week is allowing three refugees to file a civil lawsuit against Nevsun Resources, which owns a controlling interest in the Bisha gold mine in the East African nation of Eritrea.
Joe Fiorante, one of the lawyers representing the group, said it’s the first time that foreign claimants have been able to file a lawsuit in Canada against a Canadian company over allegations of human rights abuses that took place abroad.
“From the plaintiffs’ perspective, it is a big victory,” he said. “For us, this is a green light to proceed with the case on the merits. This will give our clients the chance to pursue the allegations in court and a chance to vindicate their rights.”
None of the allegations have been proven in court.
Nevsun issued a statement saying it’s studying the decision and is considering filing an appeal. The company said it’s confident its subsidiary operates the mine according to international standards of workplace conditions, health, safety and human rights.
The three men involved in the case — Gize Araya, Kesete Fshazion and Mihretab Tekle — have since fled Eritrea and plan to be in Canada by the time the case goes to trial, he said.
The original notice of claim filed with the court almost two years ago contends Nevsun entered into a commercial relationship with Eritrea, a repressive, one-party state. The documents allege that during forced labor at Bisha, the plaintiffs were subjected to “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, as well as harsh working conditions including long hours, malnutrition and forced confinement for little pay.”
The notice alleges Nevsun must have been aware by 2008 of credible, published reports of the abuses.