Fighting Rights Abuses

Monterrico Mine Opponents Tortured in Peru

The English company Monterrico Metals hopes to create Peru’s second largest copper mine in the mountains of Rio Blanco, but has instead found itself in conflict with local communities since its arrival in 2001. Opponents fear that the mine will pollute and deplete the rivers, damage the fragile ecosystem, and endanger farmlands.

In August 2005, hundreds of people converged on the mine from communities across the region, some walking for several days. They were attacked there by the mine’s security guards, and by Peruvian police firing teargas and live rounds. Twenty-eight protesters were arrested and detained for three days at the mine installations, where they were tortured, including by being hooded with hands tied behind their backs, beaten with sticks, and whipped.

When photos emerged in 2009 confirming these claims, EDLC introduced the victims to solicitors at Leigh Day in London, a firm with an international reputation for pursuing violations of human rights. After traveling to Peru, the lawyers commenced proceedings in the High Court in London. The court ordered a freezing injunction for $8 million against Monterrico, ruling that the claimants had a “good arguable case.” The case was scheduled for trial in 2011, with the victims planning to call eighty witnesses to testify, but the company proposed and the clients accepted a settlement similar to what they would have sought at trial. This highly successful case marked the first time a corporation has been sued in Europe for torture.

Leading Vietnamese Environmental Defender Freed

Dr. Cu Huy Ha Vu is a Vietnamese lawyer, environmentalist, and pro-democracy activist. He became nationally known when he filed a lawsuit challenging construction of a resort on a cultural heritage site. When he next filed a lawsuit against the Prime Minister over the approval of a bauxite mining project, the case was dismissed only four days after it was filed. And when he challenged a decree disallowing class action lawsuits, he was promptly arrested.

Dr. Vu’s case quickly became a cause célèbre through the power of the internet, creating an unprecedented human rights challenge to the Vietnamese government. His family’s revolutionary credentials and his elite background made this Vietnam’s most high-profile political trial in decades. Nonetheless, at his 2011 trial, Dr. Vu was convicted of “anti-government propaganda” and sentenced to seven years in prison. He was transferred to a remote prison and locked in a small room with limited access to water and electricity.

The United States has strong trade ties with Vietnam, and the Vietnamese government is sensitive to the views of the U.S. government. Consequently, EDLC enlisted a team of lawyers at the prestigious WilmerHale law firm, who worked tirelessly on Dr. Vu’s behalf, pressing his case with the U.S. State Department and other policy makers. On April 7, 2014, Dr. Vu was finally released and arrived at the airport in Washington, D.C. where he was met by the legal team. After first serving as a fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy, he is now a scholar at the Northwestern School of Law, and is an outspoken critic of the anti-democratic policies of Vietnam.

The Murder of Sister Dorothy Stang in Brazil

On February 12, 2005, Sister Dorothy Stang , a seventy-three year old American nun, was murdered in the state of Para in the Amazonian rainforest by two men who shot her at point blank range. Sister Dorothy had moved to the rainforest decades earlier to help rural workers fight for control of their land. Her killing immediately attracted worldwide attention, and was likened to that of Chico Mendes, the famous Brazilian rubber-tapper whose murder in 1988 awakened the world to the destruction of the rainforest.

Suspicion as to the identities of the killers immediately centered on powerful local ranchers and logging interests. The Stang family in the U.S. requested EDLC’s help, and the Heller Ehrman firm was enlisted. The lawyers traveled to Brazil and met with high level government officials, prosecutors, and judges to urge them to fully investigate and prosecute the assassins. The gunmen were convicted, receiving sentences of twenty-eight years and seventeen years. The middleman who coordinated the assassination was convicted and sentenced to twenty-seven years. The trial of one of the two ranchers charged with ordering the killing resulted in a conviction and sentence of thirty years.

Numerous re-trials of these men took place over the years. The rancher who masterminded the killing was finally convicted in 2010, and sentenced to thirty years. The convictions of the five individuals involved in Sister Dorothy´s murder are historic achievements and a blow against the tradition of impunity for human rights violations in lawless Para state, sometimes described as the “epicenter” of impunity in the Americas.