Kesete Tekle Fshazion files suit in a B.C. court against Nevsun Resources mine
Eritrea regime has 40 per cent stake in mine, is accused of crimes against humanity by UN
By Lisa Mayor, Andrew Culbert, CBC News Posted: Feb 12, 2016 1:15 PM ET Last Updated: Feb 13, 2016 12:21 PM ET
The allegations filed by three former Eritrean conscripts in B.C.’s Supreme Court accuse Nevsun Resources of being “an accomplice to the use of forced labour, crimes against humanity and other human rights abuses at the Bisha mine.”
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The lawsuit contains untested allegations of beatings, torture and cruel and inhuman treatment of workers at the hands of the Eritrean government. Nevsun denies the allegations.
“We’ve done extensive investigations,” Todd Romaine, Nevsun’s vice-president of corporate social responsibility, told the fifth estate. “There’s no corroborating claims to support any of the allegations being made.”
Nevsun went into business in Eritrea in 2007, operating a mine in the mineral-rich area near the town of Bishia in central Eritrea. In that first year of production alone, Nevsun reported revenues of $548 million US.
Its Bisha mine is 40 per cent owned by the Eritrean regime, a brutal dictatorship that the UN Commission of Inquiry on Eritrea accused of human rights violations that may constitute crimes against humanity in a special report last June.
Eritrea’s President Isaias Afwerki, once a freedom fighter, has been criticized by a former U.S. ambassador to Eritrea as “an unhinged dictator.”
‘Not of my own free will’
In 1995, Afwerke introduced military conscription to Eritrea. This means that everyone in the country under the age of 50 is forced to serve in the military for an indefinite period.
In affidavits filed before the B.C. Supreme Court in 2015, three men allege human rights abuse and conscripted military labour in the construction of the mine. These claims could not be independently verified.
The fifth estate tracked down two of these men in a refugee camp in Ethiopia.
One of them, Kesete Tekle Fshazion, says that while he was officially released from the military in 2003, he “remained effectively under the control of the Eritrean military,” until he fled for Ethiopia in 2012.
Fshazion says he started working at the Bisha mine at the end of 2008.
“The entire time I worked at the Bisha mine, I was not there of my own free will,” he said, in his affidavit filed in October 2015.
“I believed that I could not refuse the assignment to the Bisha mine because if I had refused, the authorities would have detained me and I would have been severely punished.”