A planned side event is due to take place by Australian and Canadian mining companies at the Palais de Nations in Geneva on Thursday, 8 March 2018. Nevsun Mining Resources (Canada), Bisha Mine Share Company (40% owned by the Eritrean government and 60% by Nevsun), and Danakali Limited (Australia), are in partnership with the Government of Eritrea. Nevsun has been exploiting gold, copper and zinc. Danakali is exploring potash, and its first production is anticipated in late 2018.
The three partners seek to portray themselves as responsible employers, and are attempting to highlight procedures they claim to have instituted to ensure respect of the rights of those working at their respective mines. However, Nevsun is currently a defendant in a lawsuit in Canada initiated by over 70 victims of forced labour who were made to work in Bisha mine. The allegations against Nevsun include forced labour, torture and other violations.
That Eritrean youth are forced to toil for years in the indefinite national conscription programme under appalling conditions is common knowledge. Neither Nevsun nor Danakil can claim to be ignorant of this, as the issue has been reported on frequently by Eritrean and international human rights organisations, and by the Special Rapporteur and Commission of Inquiry on Eritrea, both of which were mandated by the Human Rights Council. The reports have been unequivocal in stating Eritrea’s national service regime is akin to slavery.
The Eritrean government stands accused of committing crimes against humanity since 1991. Nevsun and other companies in partnership with this government continue to host events with “human rights” in their title whilst they ignore the gross and egregious violations underway in the country, including those occurring in their businesses. When such companies operating in Eritrea organize events that include discussions on human rights, the aim is clearly to distract from their complicity in crimes perpetrated by the Eritrean government. Talk of environmental sustainability or other philanthropic initiatives cannot erase the abuse suffered by those experiencing forced labour, and neither does it offset the corporate responsibility of these companies.
The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights clearly state that business enterprises have a responsibility to “respect human rights” and “avoid infringing” on “internationally recognized human rights – understood, at a minimum, as those expressed in the International Bill of Human Rights and the principles concerning fundamental rights set out in the International labour Organization’s Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work.” (Guiding Principles 11 and 12).
Respect for human rights should not be dependent on whether the government of Eritrea fulfils its own human rights obligations, particularly when ample documentation exists regarding the absence of rule of law after nearly 27 years of authoritarian governance.
Nevsun and Danakali are hosting this side event in the same building where the Commission of Inquiry on human rights in Eritrea revealed its findings regarding crimes against humanity. These crimes continue to this day, and forced labourers are used in every government-owned project, including mining.
Through such corporate events the Government of Eritrea is attempting to improve its image and to distract the international community from the gross violations it continues to commit, which include indefinite forced labour, enforced disappearance, torture, incommunicado detention, and persecution. Moreover, the former mine workers had to evade a shoot-to kill border policy in order to flee the country.
Whilst these companies may count on the course of justice being a lengthy process as they amass profits at the expense of Eritrean citizens, it is a matter of urgency that their activities are exposed and condemned, and that they are discouraged from using platforms provided by institutions such as the UN to divert attention from the grave international crimes that are occurring in the country. The UN and other international organisations, must show that they remain committed to the promotion and protection of human rights, and to addressing gross violations wherever they may occur.
Herewith below the links to a Report by HRW and Articles on the use of forced labour in Eritrea and the lawsuit against Nevsun:
Hear No Evil
Forced labour and Corporate Responsibility in Eritrea’s Mining Sector
We were forced to work at Western-run mine, say migrants who fled Eritrea
Appalling Work Conditions at Bisha-Nevsun Mining Project, Eritrea
Canadian firm to face historic legal case over alleged labour abuses in Eritrea
The slaves of Eritrea
Canadian mining company Nevsun has been accused of using forced labour to build a mine in Eritrea. How could something like that happen in the modern business world?