London-based African Barrick Gold (ABG) failed yesterday to overturn a High Court injunction that prevents them from using what the judge described as a “Tanzanian Torpedo” against victims of violence.
Law firm, Leigh Day, represents Tanzanian villagers who claim that ABG and its 100% subsidiary, North Mara Gold Mine Limited (NMGML) are liable for the deaths and injuries allegedly caused by the use of excessive force by mine security and police at the companies’ mine in Tanzania. Both companies deny the allegations.
The claimants include the relatives of six men who were killed at the mine-site and one man who has been left paraplegic.
Proceedings against the companies were commenced on 28 March 2013 in the UK High Court on behalf of the villagers. Despite knowing that proceedings had been commenced in England, in July 2013 NMGML issued proceedings in Tanzania, asking the local court to declare that the company could not be liable for the actions of the police. However, according to Leigh Day, this is an issue already before the English court.
Richard Meeran from Leigh Day, who is representing the villagers, explained: “The first time we were aware of these legal proceedings in Tanzania was when, out of the blue, our clients were served with legal papers on their doorstep.
“These papers demanded that our clients, who do not have Tanzanian lawyers, promptly appear before a court that is some 1200 kilometres and a two-day bus ride away from where they live.”
Upon learning of the companies’ pre-emptive strike, Leigh Day sought the assistance of the English Court and successfully obtained an anti-suit injunction that stopped ABG and NMGML from taking forward their legal action in Tanzania.
The order was made in the absence of the companies. It was this order, which was maintained in yesterday’s hearing. In a judgment handed down yesterday, Mr Justice Green found that there was no need for the companies to have launched their pre-emptive strike, which he termed a “Tanzanian Torpedo”, when they did and without notice to either the claimants in the English action, Leigh Day, or the English Court.
The judge ordered ABG and NMGML to pay the costs incurred by the claimants in having to respond to their pre-emptive strike. “We are very pleased that the English Court has shown its disapproval of the efforts of ABG and its subsidiaries to try and obtain an unfair advantage over our clients.” said Meeran.
The legal action against ABG was the subject of a recent debate in the House of Lords. On 26 November 2013, Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead asked Conservative Peer, Lord Ahmed of Wimbledon, whether the Government was “aware that African Barrick Gold, which is a British company, has continued to rely on the Tanzanian police to provide security at the North Mara goldmine, despite the shocking number of gunshot deaths and injuries to local people”.
Several other members of the House of Lords also questioned the Government about its response to the human rights situation at the mine. Further information is available to download here.
The North Mara mine sits in the midst of seven villages in northern Tanzania. Desperately impoverished villagers often attempt to gather rocks at the mine in the hope of finding tiny amounts of gold. It is alleged that police are an integral part of the mine’s security and that they shoot at the villagers using tear gas and live ammunition.
The claims relate to incidents occurring over the last three years, including one in which five young men were shot and killed on 16 May 2011. The claimants allege that the mine and NMGML are controlled by ABG and that ABG failed to curb the use of excessive force at the mine, including deadly force used by police on a regular basis over a protracted period of time.
ABG is majority-owned by the world’s largest gold producer, Barrick Gold Corporation, which has faced allegations of extreme violence, including gang rape, at its mining operations in Papua New Guinea. Allegations of sexual assault at the North Mara Mine in Tanzania have also surfaced.
Two years ago, Barrick announced that ABG had launched a full investigation into what it called “credible” allegations of sexual assault at the North Mara mine. The results of the investigation have never been released.
ABG’s website states “we must guide our conduct by the highest standards of honesty, integrity and ethical behaviour”.