Working with everyone to advance human rights in business.
View this email in your browser

Corporate Legal Accountability Quarterly Bulletin - Issue 17, June 2015

Welcome to our Corporate Legal Accountability Quarterly Bulletin -- highlighting a specific topic each quarter, as well as key developments in corporate legal accountability.  The Corporate Legal Accountability hub on our website provides objective, concise information about lawsuits against companies in which human rights abuses are alleged .
This bulletin and previous issues are available in English, French, Russian and Spanish.

Quarterly Highlight: Human Rights Defenders & Legal Harassment

I may be jailed for writing a book on human rights abuses.”  Investigative journalist Rafael Marques’ book detailing human rights abuses in Angola’s diamond mining industry implicated army generals and their private security company.  Shedding light on these abuses resulted in conviction on nine criminal defamation charges against Marques in May 2015 and a suspended prison sentence aimed at silencing his work.  As we reported earlier this year in our Annual Briefing, human rights defenders (HRDs) all over the world face not only physical threats, but also legal threats as their opponents try to shut down their work.  These legal threats are particularly severe for HRDs working on business and human rights because they face threats from pro-business governments as well as from businesses themselves.  Danilo Chammas of Justiça nos Trilhos stated in his recent interview with the Resource Centre: "One of the greatest challenges has to do with the asymmetry of power between the private corporation in charge of the project and the State that supports it, on the one hand, and the populations impacted by it, on the other."  We see no evidence of these legal threats diminishing; if anything, they seem to be on the rise.  This trend is a particularly insidious for two reasons: First, these threats divert HRDs’ limited resources from their core work and are costly and time-consuming to defend.  Second, legal threats and penalties against HRDs have a patina of legitimacy, by involving the government and usually the courts.  They are not as readily identifiable as illegitimate intimidation and threats as other actions against HRDs, such as threatened violence

Criminalising protest: Last month, a Myanmar court sentenced six HRDs to four years in prison for protesting the Letpadaung copper mine.  These individuals had been protesting a mine run by a Chinese company accused of land grabbing and environmental damage.  Similar defamation cases have been filed in Thailand and Mexico.  In Guatemala, HRDs have noted the criminalisation of protests particularly those against large infrastructure projects.  In April, Cecilia Mérida testified before the World Bank detailing how protestors opposed to the Bank-financed Cambalam dam have been illegally detained and imprisoned.  Legal attacks have been employed by both the Guatemalan Government as well as the dam's Spanish developer – Hidro Santa Cruz. 

Retaliatory lawsuits: There have been two recent cases in which companies have sued NGOs in response to human rights claims filed against the companies.  In April Vinci sued Sherpa in France for defamation in response to a lawsuit Sherpa filed against the company alleging use of forced labour in Qatar.  In March, Drummond, the US-headquartered coal company, sued NGOs (and their lawyers) who had alleged the company had collaborated with Colombian paramilitaries guilty of human rights violations.  In each of these instances, lawyers and their clients have been sued for exercising their right to legal remedy.  The costly and retaliatory nature of these types of cases can intimidate HRDs and their lawyers, discouraging legal action against businesses abusing human rights. 

Regulatory restrictions: In other places, civil society organizations have been forced to shut down because of foreign funding and registration restrictions.  In India, the government alleged that Greenpeace’s work had “prejudicially affected the economic interest” of the country.  Greenpeace’s registration was revoked and the government banned the organization from receiving foreign funding.  Similarly, in Azerbaijan, restrictions placed on NGO registration and foreign funding have effectively silenced a number of HRDs.  Many had been vocal in opposition to this month’s European Games in Baku and urged the Games’ corporate sponsors to consider the human rights impacts of their sponsorship.

With the increased use of legal threats against HRDs, jurisprudence is developing supporting the legal tools used to silence the voices of those working to combat corporate human rights abuse.  At the same time, jurisprudence supporting corporate accountability for human rights languishes while HRDs defend themselves against this legal harassment.
Legal developments

New case profiles

Lawsuit against Oil Palm Uganda (re land grabs in Uganda): On 19 February 2015, Ugandan farmers from Lake Victoria’s Bugula Island, Kalagala District, filed a lawsuit against Oil Palm Uganda in Masaka, Uganda, over alleged land grabs for an oil palm plantation project. The plaintiffs are awaiting a hearing date.

Cambodian villagers’ International Criminal Court complaint (re land grabbing): In October 2014, Cambodian villagers filed a communication before the International Criminal Court against powerful members of Cambodian society, including representatives of the Cambodian Government, security forces and government-connected businesses over alleged “widespread and systematic” land grabbing.


Updates to existing case profiles

Abu Ghraib lawsuits against CACI, Titan (now L-3): In June 2014, a US appeals court sent the case against CACI back to the lower court.  The lower court granted CACI's motion to dismiss the case on 18 June, holding that CACI's actions at Abu Ghraib were controlled by the US military and that assessing the plaintiffs' allegations would require the court to question "actual, sensitive judgments made by the military". The court concluded that the case thus presents a "political question" that the judiciary does not have power to decide.  The plaintiffs have indicated they plan to appeal.

Lawsuit against Auchan (re working conditions in garment factories in Bangladesh): In June, three NGOs brought a new complaint against Auchan.  They claim that the company misled its consumers regarding the manufacturing conditions of its clothing through deceptive advertisements. Garments bearing the label of Auchan’s clothing range were found in the rubble of Rana Plaza factory in Bangladesh.

Investigation against Argor-Heraeus (re refining of alleged pillaged gold by illegal armed group in Rep. Dem. of Congo): On 10 March, the investigation was closed.  The prosecutor concluded there was not enough evidence that the company was aware of the criminal origin of the gold.

Lawsuits against BP (re complicity in kidnapping & torture of Colombian union leader): In May 2015, Mr Torres, the union leader, filed his claim for damages in the High Court in London. The case is on-going.

Lawsuit against Curaçao Drydock Company (re forced labour): In July 2013, the plaintiffs sought to enforce the US judgement against the defendant's assets in Singapore. The court of first instance declared the US court decision enforceable in Singapore, and this was confirmed by the High Court of Singapore in June.

Lawsuits against Danzer Group & SIFORCO (re Dem. Rep. Congo): In March, the office of the public prosecutor in Tübingen, Germany, discontinued the investigations against Olof von Gagern, a senior manager of Danzer Group, over alleged complicity in the attack on Bongulu village.  In DRC, the trial against SIFORCO employees over the abuses by security forces in the same attack started in June.

Lawsuits against Drummond (re complicity in killings of trade unionists in Colombia): On 25 March, a federal appeals court dismissed the lawsuit against Drummond on the basis that the harm occurred outside the US. In May, a former executive of Drummond was charged with the murder of two trade unionists, after former paramilitaries claimed he took part in the murders ordered by the company. This case is now to be decided by Colombia’s Courts of Justice.

Lawsuits against Nestlé (re complicity in killing of trade unionist in Colombia): In May, the European Court of Human Rights dismissed the complaint by Luciano Romero's widow against Switzerland, exhausting all legal avenues in Europe.  The Romero case is also part of another procedure which is still on-going before the International Criminal Court.

Lawsuit against Qosmos (re complicity in supplying surveillance equipment to Syria): On 17 April, French courts declared Qosmos an "assisted witness", meaning that evidence indicates it may have been complicit in human rights abuses in Syria, by providing a large-scale surveillance system used by the regime of Bashar El-Assad to allegedly track, torture, and execute its opponents.

Lawsuits against SNCF (re Holocaust): In April, Holocaust descendants filed a class action lawsuit against SNCF in Chicago, USA, over the company’s collaboration in transportation of victims to Nazi concentration camps.  The plaintiffs claim compensation for the confiscation and sale of personal property of the victims.

Villaggio Mall lawsuit (re fatal fire in Qatar): On 20 May, the families of the victims that died in a fire at Villaggio Mall in Qatar in 2012 filed new lawsuits in USA and Qatar alleging the mall's construction and management firms were negligent.

The complete list of cases profiled on our website is available here.
New translations

In Chinese

诺基亚乙肝歧视案 [Nokia lawsuit (re HBV discrimination in China)]
巨人学校就业性别歧视案 [Juren Academy lawsuit (re employment gender discrimination in China)]


In French

Résumé du procès du village de Kivalina contre les géants pétroliers (concernant le changement climatique) [Kivalina lawsuit (re global warming)]

In German

Apartheid Entschädigungsklagen (bez. Südafrika) [Apartheid reparations lawsuits (re So. Africa)]
Daimler-Gerichtsverfahren (bez. Argentinien) [Daimler lawsuit (re Argentina)]
Danzer-Gruppe und SIFORCO-Gerichtsverfahren (bez. der Dem. Rep. Kongo) [Danzer Group & SIFORCO lawsuit (re Dem. Rep. of Congo)]
Lidl-Gerichtsverfahren (bez. Arbeitsbedingungen in Bangladesch) [Lidl lawsuit (re working conditions in Bangladesh)]


In Russian

Судебное дело против Yahoo! (отн. Китая) [Yahoo! lawsuit (re China)]

In Spanish

Demanda de los habitantes del pueblo de Kivalina (por calentamiento global)
[Kivalina lawsuit (re global warming)]
New blog posts
Forging new legal ground: Why families and survivors of the Karachi factory fire could spell the end of voluntary corporate responsibility, Miriam Saage-Maaß, Vice Legal Director, European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights

Justice in Fragile States: Seeking corporate legal accountability in the domestic courts of Dem. Rep. of Congo, Shira Stanton & Jean-Philippe Kot, Avocats Sans Frontières

Countdown to Rio Olympics: Legal avenues to hold companies accountable essential to empower vulnerable communities Júlia Mello Neiva, Brazil, Portugal & Lusophone Africa Researcher & Representative & Sif Thorgeirsson, Manager, Corporate Legal Accountability Project, Business & Human Rights Resource Centre

If you are interested in contributing to a guest post on corporate legal accountability, please contact us.
Other news
Intl. Corporate Accountability Roundtable & SOMO launch workshop series on effective judicial & non-judicial remedies

"Lawyers for Resource Justice" invites community requests for legal assistance to help them prevent or remedy damages from large-scale resource development projects
If you would like to submit an entry for consideration in the next bulletin, give us feedback, know someone who would like to receive the bulletin, or wish to unsubscribe, please contact Elodie Aba, Legal Researcher, at aba [at]
We take no position on views by commentators, organizations & companies in the materials in this email:
Copyright © 2015 Business & Human Rights Resource Centre, All rights reserved.

unsubscribe from this list    update subscription preferences