11/21/2014 08:50 EST | Updated 01/21/2015 05:59 EST

Ex-Workers Sue Vancouver Mining Company Over Alleged Human Rights Abuses

Nevsun Resources
VANCOUVER - A Vancouver-based mining company says allegations of human rights violations at the Bisha open pit mine in northeastern Africa are unfounded and it will defend itself from a civil suit filed this week in B.C. Supreme Court.

Nevsun Resources Ltd. says it will "vigorously" defend itself from the civil suit filed Thursday by a lawyer representing three former employees.

The suit alleges forced labour and other crimes against humanity were perpetrated by the company and its local sub-contractor in the Bisha Mine in the East African country of Eritrea.

The three former employees, who are not in Canada at this time, allege in a statement of claim they worked under threat of "physical punishment, torture and imprisonment."

A statement of claim contains allegations not proven in court.

Nevsun's chief executive, Cliff Davis, said that audits by the company and third parties indicate the mine has always met international standards for workplace conditions, health and safety.

"We are confident that the allegations are unfounded," he said in a release issued Friday.

"We are committed to ensuring that the Bisha Mine is managed in a safe and responsible manner that respects the interests of the local communities, workers, national governance, stakeholders, and the natural environment."

The release adds that Nevsun strives to ensure its presence in Eritrea has "positive social and economic impact," and notes it has created "meaningful employment" for thousands of local people.

Nevsun has a 60 per cent ownership stake in the copper and gold mining operation.

One of the lawyers for Gize Araya, Kesete Fshazion and Mihretab Tekle said the plaintiffs filed the suit in British Columbia because it's the only place they believe they have a chance of getting access to justice.

The legal action alleges a host of mistreatment, including tying up workers before leaving them in the baking sun and beating people with sticks while ordering them to roll in the hot sand as forms of discipline.

The court document contends Nevsun entered into a commercial relationship with a repressive, one-party state even while it must have been aware of credible published reports of abuses in the country.

"During the period of forced labour 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," said the document.

"They worked under the constant threat of physical punishment, torture and imprisonment."

Forced labour, slavery, torture, cruel or degrading treatment and crimes against humanity are prohibited under international law, and such provisions are also incorporated into Canadian law.


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