The four-day hearing follows a BC Supreme Court decision made last year. Under the October 2016 ruling, a civil lawsuit brought by former conscripts at the company’s Bisha copper-zinc mine in Eritrea will be heard in Canada.
Nevsun continues to argue that the case should be heard in Eritrea. Its push to dismiss the case and hold any lawsuit in Eritrea was rejected last year because the judge believed “there [was] a real risk that the plaintiffs could not be provided with justice in Eritrea.”
The three refugees allege that they were “subjected to forced labour and abuse” at the Bisha mine, including beatings and torture at the hands of the Eritrean government, CBC reported.
If the former workers are successful, it will be the first time for foreign claimants to file a lawsuit in Canada against a Canadian company for allegations of human rights abuses that occurred abroad.
Nevsun, which has a 60-percent interest in the Bisha mine through its Eritrean subsidiary, Bisha Mining Share Company, denies the allegations and claims that the Eritrean military never provided laborers.
“There are contractual commitments in place that strictly prohibit the use of national service employees by BMSC’s contractors and subcontractors,” the company said when it commented on the case in 2016.
The Eritrean government owns the other 40-percent interest in the Bisha mine through Eritrean National Mining Company (ENAMCO). According to Nevsun, it commissioned a human rights audit of the mine in 2015 in partnership with ENAMCO.
Nevsun says the Bisha mine has over nine years of reserve life, and is generating revenue from both copper and zinc concentrates containing gold and silver by-products. The company’s other project is the Timok copper-gold deposit in Serbia.
At close of day Monday, Nevsun’s share price was down 37.11 percent year-to-date on the TSX and 31.72 percent on the NYSEMKT.
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Securities Disclosure: I, Melissa Shaw, hold no direct investment interest in any company mentioned in this article.