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Legal actions begins at High Court over allegations of abuses in Sierra Leone

Pre-trial hearing takes place at High Court over allegations of human rights abuses by mining company in Sierra Leone

Posted on 01 December 2015

Law firm Leigh Day has confirmed that it is taking High Court legal action in the UK against iron ore producer Tonkolili Iron Ore Ltd (formerly a subsidiary of African Minerals Ltd) following allegations of human rights abuses against workers and villagers living near one of its mines in Sierra Leone.

Leigh Day say their clients' allege that the company, which had its headquarters on Stratton Street in London, was complicit in the false imprisonment, assault and battery, trespass and theft of property.

Allegations have also been levelled against the company in relation to its role in the fatal shooting by police of a 24-year-old female during a protest over working conditions and pay in 2012.

The pre-trial hearing at the High Court today heard arguments from lawyers representing the 142 claimants, who are mainly small scale or subsistence farmers and traders, in a bid to get compensation for their injuries sustained in two incidents in 2010 and 2012.

Tonkolili Iron Ore Ltd denies liability for the incidents which took place just outside the Tonkolili Iron Ore Ltd mining site outside Bumbuna town in the north of Sierra Leone.

The company claims that it has no vicarious responsibility for the actions of the police and that the English courts lack jurisdiction for events in Sierra Leone.

The High Court has heard arguments from the legal team at Leigh Day, who are representing the claimants, that a number of villages were taken over and hundreds of families relocated with minimal consultation in a move to allow African Minerals Limited to expand its operations.

One of the lead claimants claims that she was beaten, raped and miscarried as a result of violence in Bumbuna town in 2010. In court papers, she said:

“I remember seeing big AML trucks coming to work on our farms. They didn’t speak to anyone. We had already planted our produce and we gathered as a community and started grumbling. We were saying, how can these people come and work in our farms without saying something to us,”

Witness evidence alleges that villagers who had set up a roadblock, to stop the company destroying their farms and their livelihoods, were faced with police who opened fire on them.

She claims she was flogged by the police before being taken to the Tonkolili Iron Ore camp, she was two months pregnant at the time and lost her baby.

“We all wanted to stop AML from destroying our farmland so I was guilty just because I lived in the village,” she said.

In 2012 it is alleged that police used live ammunition to stop a protest staged by workers over low wages and unfair treatment resulting in a 24-year-old woman being shot dead while eight were wounded after police.

According to Human Rights Watch, hundreds of families were evicted from their land to make way for the mine near Bumbuna with minimal consultation with villagers.

Astrid Perry, a lawyer in the international claims team at Leigh Day who is representing the villagers, said: “the conduct of the defendant has caused a number of delays to the progression of these claims and we are pleased to finally get before the Court and have the plight of the claimants heard.

“We believe it is all too easy for multi-national companies to operate abroad in rural and isolated environments and entirely avoid liability for actions which negatively affect those impacted by their operations. I hope this case serves as a warning to companies that they will be held to account”.