Fighting Rights Abuses
Tintaya Mine Protestors Tortured in Peru
History repeats itself
In 2009, EDLC investigated claims by twenty-eight Peruvian activists that they had been kidnapped and tortured at a mine site owned by Monterrico Metals, an English company. EDLC enlisted lawyers from Leigh Day, the law firm that has pioneered international corporate liability litigation, who filed a case against the company in the High Court in London and obtained an order freezing $8 million of the company’s assets. After a massive legal battle, Monterrico fully compensated the victims. In 2012, EDLC was shocked to learn of what sounded like a similar series of events at another mine in Peru (Tintaya), owned by another English mining company (Xstrata). EDLC again contacted Leigh Day, which again sent a legal team to Peru to investigate.
Xstrata’s Tintaya mine
In 2006, mining giant Xstrata purchased the Tintaya open pit copper mine in Espinar, Peru. For many years, there has been a dispute between the community and the mine over issues including pollution, land rights, and social responsibility. The previous mine owner had established a dialogue table with the local community. According to many in the community, when Xstrata took over, the company failed to abide by those arrangements.
The 2012 protests
Relations deteriorated, and starting on May 21, 2012, a general strike against the company was called by a local organization. The company had earlier entered into a paid security agreement with the police- permissible under Peruvian law- and hundreds of police officers were called in, many of whom appear to have been based at a barracks and police station within the mine site itself.
One week later, a massive protest resulted in many protestors being wounded and several killed. One of the victims was shot in the head with a tear gas canister, which caused him to become paraplegic and require constant assistance from his parents. Community members claim that security forces unlawfully detained protestors, making them stand for prolonged periods in stressful positions in the freezing cold, subjecting them to racial abuse, and beating and threatening to kill them. As a result of those actions, many suffered serious long-term physical and psychological injuries, as documented by Physicians for Human Rights (PHR), which prepared medico-legal reports on the victims’ injuries. Extensive film footage and images of the protests appear to show mine employees coordinating with the police, and provide strong supporting evidence for the victims’ claims.
In 2013, Leigh Day filed a lawsuit on behalf of twenty-two Peruvians in the High Court in London against Xstrata and its subsidiary that owns the mine. The victims claim that they were subjected to human rights abuses, unlawful detention, and mistreatment by police and security personnel affiliated with or directed by Xstrata during the protests. In particular, they claim that Xstrata paid the police and provided officers with food, accommodation, equipment and vehicles; encouraged the police to mistreat the protesters; controlled an intelligence-gathering network that was shared with the police; paid the police to conduct surveillance of community members; and discussed the possibility of fabricating evidence relating to assaults that were carried out by the police.
Xstrata challenged the jurisdiction of the court, and argued that the case would require an English Court to decide the lawfulness of the acts of the police of a foreign country. The Court of Appeals subsequently issued a decision in another case that would appear to defeat this defense.
In July 2016, a court hearing was held concerning Xstrata’s initial failure to disclose an email sent by the CEO of its global copper business to its senior South America manager (who later deleted it) a month before the protests. The email proposed a “direct, proactive and strong approach” to confront community representatives, to whom the CEO referred as “sons of whores.” The judge concluded that the email was “clearly relevant and disclosable”; that it was “possible to see that the Claimants would have grounds for arguing that those subjected to [the CEO’s] influence might be prepared to facilitate, connive in or otherwise encourage the unlawful acts of the Peruvian police if such acts are established”; and that the justifications provided for non-disclosure were “troubling.”
In January 2018, the Court used a hyper-technical statute of limitations interpretation of Peruvian law to dismiss the case, even though Xstrata failed to raise the argument until years into the litigation and on the eve of trial. Leigh Day has asked the Court of Appeals for leave to appeal.
EDLC Programs in Action
Ethiopian Land Rights Activist Freed
Okello Ochalla was imprisoned in 2014 on charges stemming from his work challenging agricultural “land grabs” while Governor of an Ethiopian state. He was granted asylum by Norway in 2009, but while on a trip to the Sudan, he was kidnapped by Ethiopia- one of the world’s least democratic countries- to face charges for his mere membership in an opposition organization the government deems “terrorist.”
A team of lawyers recruited by EDLC prepared a legal report challenging the misuse of the anti-terrorism law and other human rights violations. The report attracted considerable media attention, and the Ethiopian Ambassador initiated a meeting with the Oakland Institute, EDLC’s partner in the case.
On April 27, 2016, Okello was sentenced to nine years on lesser (non-terrorism) charges, dramatically less than is usually imposed. The Oakland Institute and EDLC continued to urge the U.S. government to pressure Ethiopia to grant amnesty. On February 14, 2018, Okello Ochalla was freed, and returned to Norway.