Canada: Supreme Court affirms that Eritreans can seek redress against Canadian Company for human rights abuses

The ICJ today welcomed the judgement of the Canadian Supreme Court in the Case of Araya v, Nevsun, which allows a civil lawsuit by a group of Eritrean plaintiffs to proceed against Canadian company Nevsun Resources Ltd. for its alleged involvement in forced labour, slavery, torture and other serious human rights abuses against plaintiffs.

The ICJ together with Amnesty International-Canada intervened in the case as a third party, arguing that Canada’s common law should be read in a manner consistent with the right to an effective remedy for human rights violations under international law and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

“This judgment is a landmark achievement for workers and other victims of human rights violations as well for international rule of law and justice,” said Carlos Lopez, Senior Legal adviser at the ICJ.

“The Supreme Court of Canada has shown that misapplied legal doctrine should not stand in the way of people’s right to effective remedy and reparations,” he added.

In the case, the Supreme Court of Canada  rejected the company’s contention that the “act of state doctrine” would preclude the case from going forward.

The Court concluded that this doctrine is not in fact part of Canadian law.

The company also contended that the allegations of breach of customary international law  could only be applicable to States and not to the company itself.

The Court, however, held that customary international law, including customary human rights law, is part of Canadian law and could apply to Nevsun as a corporate entity.

In a significant victory for the plaintiffs and other similarly situated alleged victims, the Supreme Court has allowed the case to proceed, dismissing jurisdictional and procedural objections from Nevsun.

The proceedings before the Supreme Court originated in an appeal by the defendant company Nevsun Resources Ltd against the British Columbia Court of Appeal’s judgment of 2017 which upheld the rights of claimants to sue in Canada.

The claim filed in 2015 argued that Nevsun Resources was involved in various ways in the practice of forced labour, slavery, torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and crimes against humanity at the Bisha mine (picture) against hundreds of Eritreans who were conscripted into the Eritrean National Service Programme and forced to working in the mine operated jointly by Nevsun and Eritrean State companies.

The claimants were allegedly forced to work in the Bisha mine and fled the country to find refuge in Canada, where they sued Nevsun.

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