(Adds Nevsum statement, paragraph 6)
Oct 6 A Canadian court ruled on Thursday that a
lawsuit against Nevsun Resources Ltd by Eritreans who
say they were forced to work at the company's Bisha mine can
proceed in British Columbia, but not as a single case, according
to a copy of the judgment seen by Reuters.
The Vancouver-based miner argued that the case should be
dismissed and that any lawsuit should be heard in Eritrea, not
Canada, an argument the court rejected.
But the judge granted an application by Nevsun asking the
court to find that the case could not continue as a
representative action, similar to a class action, noting that
the six workers named in the case made slightly different
allegations. The Eritreans will need to file separate lawsuits,
which could make the case more complex and expensive.
Joe Fiorante, one of the lawyers representing the workers,
said he was not concerned about that part of the decision.
"We're reviewing that aspect of the decision but the case
will certainly go forward," he said. "This is a big win for us."
Nevsun said it is studying the ruling and considering an
appeal of the decision that the action can proceed at all.
If Nevsun loses at trial, the company could be forced to pay
compensation for "severe physical and mental pain and
Nevsun says its mine is a model development. In legal
filings, it said the Eritrean military never provided labor to
the mine. Even if it did, the company argues, Nevsun was not
directly responsible for employing the workers.
In affidavits filed with the court, six men, who have since
left Eritrea, said they were forced to work at Bisha from 2008
to 2012 and that they endured harsh conditions at the Eritrean
gold, copper and zinc mine, including hunger, illness and
physical punishment at the hands of military commanders.
They said they were conscripts in the country's national
service system when they worked at Bisha, working not for Nevsun
directly but for government-owned construction firms
subcontracted to build the mine.
Some workers backed up the company in affidavits, saying
they worked at the mine voluntarily and never experienced
The United Nations has said Eritrea's national service
program is "similar to slavery in its effects" - an allegation
the government rejects. Eritrea, ruled by a former Marxist
guerrilla leader since its independence from Ethiopia, sees
conscription as crucial to its security.
(Reporting by Allison Martell in Toronto; Editing by Peter
Cooney and Grant McCool)