Class Action Suit Against Bougainville Cooper Dismissed By U.S. Court

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Rio Tinto accused of ‘war crimes, cultural devastation, environmental rape’

By David Lornie

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (PNG Post-Courier, July 1, 2013) – Rio Tinto, the parent company of Bougainville Copper Limited (BCL), has emerged victorious in a long-running court battle against victims of the 10-year Bougainville War.

The international mining giant operated the controversial Panguna copper mine in Central Bougainville until it was closed in 1989 as a result of growing landowner dissatisfaction with the social and environmental impacts of the mine.

A 10-year secessionist war on Bougainville ensued, which reportedly claimed up to 20,000 lives.

On Friday (Saturday PNG time) the majority of an 11-judge panel of the Ninth US Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed the class action against Rio Tinto which had alleged the company was responsible for war crimes, cultural devastation and environmental rape.

Steve Berman of US law firm Hagens Berman who represents the Bougainvilleans told Post-Courier by email, "the court has dismissed the case, unjustly so in our view."

He added: "We are considering re filing with many individuals as plaintiffs rather than a class action. We would assert claims of assault, battery, murder, conspiracy."

The case, known as "Sarei versus Rio Tinto", alleged that "Rio’s conduct violated customary international law, including prohibitions against destruction of the right to life and health, and prohibitions against racial discrimination and war crimes.

"Rio’s conduct violated the settled standards for the protection of human rights and the environment recognised by customary international law and United States legal precedent."

In the landmark court case, the plaintiffs were seeking remedy under the Federal Alien Tort Claims Act, a US law that had been used to litigate against companies accused of abusing human rights worldwide.

However, that law’s international clout was restricted by the April 17 decision in the Kiobel V Royal Dutch Petroleum Co case – a Nigerian lawsuit alleging crimes against humanity by the oil company. The majority of judges in that case declared the Statute was designed in the main to cover International law breaches within the US.

This has now impacted on the Sarei V Rio Tinto case which was discontinued on Friday as a result. This has now impacted on the Sarei v Rio Tinto case.

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