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High Court hearing in indigenous Peruvians' human rights claim against mining giant Xstrata

A hearing in the High Court in London will take place later this week over allegations that potentially relevant documents have been withheld or deleted

4 July 2016

On 8 July 2016, there will be a hearing in the London High Court in a case brought by 22 indigenous Peruvians who allege human rights violations perpetrated by the Peruvian Police for which they allege Xstrata Ltd (London) and its Peruvian subsidiary, Xstrata Tintaya S.A should be held liable.

Two of the protestors were killed and a number of them were severely injured, assaulted and unlawfully detained by the Peruvian police during a protest at the Tintaya copper mine in May 2012.

At the time the mine was owned by Xstrata Tintaya S.A. (renamed Companía Minera Antapaccay S.A.), a subsidiary of the London-based Xstrata Limited, which became part of Glencore Xstrata plc in 2013. There has been a long history of dispute between the local population and the Mine.

The 2012 protest followed the breakdown of negotiations between the two, efforts by organisations such as CAFOD to diffuse tensions having been unsuccessful. The claimants allege that the Peruvian police, whose attendance was requested by the mine, used excessive force [1], which the companies ought to have anticipated from the past poor human rights record of the police, including at mining-related protests [2].

The claimants allege that the companies paid the police and provided them with logistical assistance, equipment and vehicles and encouraged the police in the mistreatment of the protesters, and that the companies failed to take sufficient measures to ensure that the protesters’ human rights were not violated.

The allegations are strenuously denied by the defendant companies who maintain that police protection was necessary because thousands of protesters, many armed with traditional slingshots and stones, were marching towards the Mine.

The companies also maintain the police operate independently and that the companies have no control over the behaviour of the police.

The case is well advanced, UK proceedings having been instituted in May 2013. There has been an ongoing dispute between the parties over the adequacy of disclosure of internal company documents which the claimants argue is essential for a fair trial.

The claimants allege that potentially relevant documents have been withheld or deleted, an allegation that the companies completely dispute. This will be the focus of the hearing on 8 July.

At a previous hearing in February 2016 the companies argued that the expenditure required to provide more extensive documentation was disproportionate in comparison with the monetary value of the claims, “proportionality” being an important principle in the 2014 reforms to the civil costs regime.

The court confirmed the importance of the principle but noted that “the very fact that lives were lost and serious injuries occurred is enough to weigh heavily in the balance even if the damages recoverable are relatively modest. The court further noted that the companies subscribe to the Voluntary Principles and that “something more than lip-service to those principles is demanded” [3].

[1] The claimants allege the police used live ammunition, beat, kicked and punched protesters, made protesters stand for prolonged periods in stress positions in the freezing cold and subjected them to racial abuse.
[2] In recent years, the occurrence of conflicts between indigenous communities and multinational mining companies has become a significant issue in Latin America. In 2011, Leigh Day successfully settled claims on behalf of 33 Peruvian protesters who alleged that they were tortured by the Peruvian police after protesting at the Rio Blanco copper mine owned by UK company Monterrico Metals Plc in August 2005.
[3] The Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights is a set of principles that acts as guidance to extractive sector companies on how to minimise the risk of human rights abuses at their operations. The companies claim that human rights training was given to some of the police.
Footage appearing to show police shooting protesters at close range can be seen here: https://youtu.be/ttGv22k84z4

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