Last spring, I spent a number of days visiting and meeting with the community of Lot 8. I wrote and performed a spoken word piece sharing some of the stories that the community had shared with me, especially concerning their eviction and the violent assaults on a number of women in the community. A number of the women I spoke with (and whose stories I also detailed in this op ed) have now announced a lawsuit against HudBay here in Canada, with the support of Rights Action and Toronto lawfirm Klippensteins. Hopefully this marks the beginning of a long process of obtaining some degree of justice and accountability for the horrible abuses this community has suffered.
(For a bit of background information on nickel mining in the area see this post)
PRESS RELEASE – Monday, March 28, 2011
MAYAN WOMEN VICTIMS OF GANG RAPES ANNOUNCE LAWSUIT AGAINST CANADIAN MINING COMPANY HUDBAY MINERALS
(For immediate release: March 28, 2011 Toronto, Canada and Guatemala City, Guatemala)
Rosa Elbira Coc Ich, and ten other indigenous Mayan Q’eqchi’ women, announced today a lawsuit brought against Canadian mining company HMI Nickel, and its corporate owner, HudBay Minerals, relating to rapes suffered by them near the town of El Estor, Guatemala.
On January 17, 2007, the eleven women were gang-raped by mining company security personnel, police and military during the forceful expulsion of Mayan Q’eqchi’ families from their farms and homes in the community of “Lote Ocho”. These armed evictions were sought by HMI Nickel in relation to its Fenix mining project, located on the north shores of Lake Izabal, which it operates, in part, through its Guatemalan subsidiary Compañía Guatemalteca de Níquel (CGN). The communities believe these evictions were illegal.
The lawsuit, filed in HudBay and HMI Nickel’s home jurisdiction of Ontario, Canada, claims $11 million in general damages and $44 million in punitive damages.
HMI Nickel was previously known as Skye Resources. All shares of HMI Nickel were purchased by HudBay Minerals in 2008. HMI is currently a wholly-owned and controlled subsidiary of HudBay Minerals. HudBay Minerals did not own HMI Nickel at the time of the rapes.
“Nine men came into my house and raped me,” said Rosa Coc. “They were police, soldiers and private security of the company. They left me just completely battered and bruised.” Rosa and others have said that, at the time of the attacks, some of their assailants wore uniforms bearing the initials and logo of HMI Nickel’s Guatemalan subsidiary, CGN.
At the time of the rapes, HMI Nickel maintained close control of operations at the Fenix Project from its head offices in Canada. In public relations statements made in Canada, HMI Nickel promised that security forces at the Fenix mine would abide by specific international standards regarding the screening, conduct, training, and supervision of their security personnel. Ian Austin, the then-President and CEO of HMI Nickel, stated to Canadian investors that all activities related to the evictions would be carried out by personnel specially trained to avoid violence.
Despite HMI’s public promises, HMI Nickel and CGN took aggressive action against Mayan Q’qechi’ communities living on land related to the mining project by seeking the forced expulsion of these communities. The Plaintiffs are not aware of any evidence that indicates that HMI Nickel took reasonable steps to implement the promised international security standards or to protect the community against the violence that was the predictable result.
The gap between what was happening on the ground and what was being said by company executives is shocking. On the very day that men wearing uniforms bearing CGN logos were committing gang-rape during the eviction of a community as requested by his company, Ian Austin, the then-CEO of HMI Nickel, released a public letter in Canada that stated: “[t]he company did everything in its power to ensure that the evictions were carried out in the best possible manner while respecting human rights.”
No investigation or prosecution for these crimes has been initiated in Guatemala.
Rosa and the others are seeking justice in Canada in part because of the poor track record of Guatemala’s justice system. Human Rights Watch noted in January 2011 that “there was 99.75 percent impunity for violent crime as of 2009,” meaning that virtually all violent crime goes unpunished. The report goes on to say that “[v]iolence against women is a chronic problem in Guatemala, and most perpetrators are never brought to trial.”
“We remain traumatized by the attack,” said Rosa. “Not just myself but the entire community.”
The claim represents assertions that have not yet been proven in court. All defendants will have the opportunity to respond in these proceedings.
QUESTIONS & MORE INFORMATION: http://www.caalversushudbay.com
CONTACT: KLIPPENSTEINS Barristers & Solicitors 160 John Street, Suite 300 Toronto, ON, M5V0in5, Canada 416-598-0288 (Office)
Murray Klippenstein, 416-937-8634 (Cell), firstname.lastname@example.org
Cory Wanless, 647-886-1914 (Cell), email@example.com
(In Guatemala) Grahame Russell, Rights Action, who is visiting the community of Lote 8. 011  4955-3634 firstname.lastname@example.org