Guatemalan women sue Canadian mining company

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The Fenix Mine in Guatemala
The Fenix Mine in Guatemala

In Canada, eleven indigenous Guatemalan women are in the process of taking a multinational mining company to court. The women allege that in 2007, police officers, soldiers, and private security personnel attacked their village of Lote Ocho, in eastern Guatemala, and burned dozens of homes in a bid to drive the community from their ancestral land. Several days later, the women say they were repeatedly raped by men linked to the mine, including some wearing uniform, and it this incident that is the subject of the court proceedings. Two other lawsuits – involving the killing of a community activist, and a shooting that left a young man paralysed, both in 2009 – have also been filed.

The lawsuits are being brought against Hudbay Minerals, who owned the Guatemalan subsidiary Compañía Guatemalteca de Niquel (CGN) from 2008 to 2011. CGN operates the Fenix Mine, an open pit nickel mine, and one of the largest nickel mines in central America. Hudbay Minerals claims that as far as they are aware, the community was legally evicted from their land by the Guatemalan authorities.

The case has the potential to be precedent setting, with lawyers alleging that Hudbay was negligent in it's monitoring of its Guatemalan subsidiary. The court proceedings are the first time that foreigners have been able to pursue a Canadian company in the Canadian courts. In November the women travelled to Guatemala for the first “discovery” phase of the proceedings, which saw them facing hundreds of questions from lawyers.

The outcome of the lawsuit could have a big impact on the mining industry in Canada. Canada is home to over 50% of the world's publicly listed mining companies, and the outcome of the lawsuit – which could take many years – will indicate in what ways companies are legally liable for the actions of their subsidiaries abroad. Campaigners are hoping that this case, and others like it, will provide new avenues to hold multinational companies operating via subsidiaries overseas.

Cory Wanless, one of the lawyers for the women, told CBC radio that Hudbay is claiming "the parent company isn't responsible for the subsidiaries actions… they're also arguing and, frankly, I find this a bit shocking, but that the the rapes didn't happen at all.” He added “The mining industry didn't actually think that it was possible that lawsuits could be brought in Canada, and now they know that that's actually a real risk, and the hope of our clients … is that as Canadian mining companies go out into places like Guatemala in the future they look over their shoulder… they know that there is a potential risk that if they don't behave properly, they can be sued in Canadian courts."

Two other Canadian companies are also facing similar allegations; Nevsun Resources are accused of using conscripted labour in Eritrea, while Tahoe Resources are facing allegations that they are implicated in violence against protesters in Guatemala.

 

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