Earlier this month EarthRights International (ERI) and a pro bono attorney from Delaware, Misty Seemans, filed a lawsuit in the United States against Newmont, one of the world’s largest mining companies. The suit was filed on behalf of Máxima Acuña Atalaya de Chaupe and her family, who claim that they have suffered physical and psychological attacks by the company for over six years. The reason for the lawsuit is simple: multinational corporations cannot commit human rights violations and it is necessary to hold them accountable.
Máxima Acuña and her family’s struggle for the defense of territory, life, and dignity, has been historic and is well known in Peru and Latin America. She has undoubtedly become a symbol of the defense of territory and resistance against the extractive industry which violates human rights throughout the continent. The lawsuit alleges that since August 2011, the Chaupe family has faced a pattern of aggression and harassment by workers and people connected to the mining company Newmont Mining Corporation and Minera Yanacocha, which is an indirect subsidiary of Newmont in Peru. (Newmont owns more than 50% of Minera Yanacocha through its subsidiary Newmont Second Capital).
At the center of the attacks against the Chaupe family is the interest of the mining company in Máxima’s land, where she has lived with her family for more than 20 years. This land holds particular interest for the Conga mining project, and with it the largest open pit gold mine of South America. The family claims that because Máxima and her family have refused to sell their land to Minera Yanacocha, they and their workers have used force to try to evict them countless times.
The lawsuit has two main objectives: first, to stop the harassment and aggression against the Chaupe family in order to avoid future human rights violations and, second, to obtain reparations for the physical and psychological suffering they have suffered for years, as well as for the damage to their crops and animals. Both of these are under the framework of the right to justice and under the premise that companies must respect human rights, and that governments must control and regulate the companies’ actions to protect and guarantee the life and integrity of all people.
It is no surprise that the mining companies Minera Yanacocha, Newmont, and other individuals and institutions have denied the facts and human rights violations suffered by the Chaupe family and present inadequate responses to their claims. That is just another way to continue to harass the family. However, now it will be the judges who will determine the truth of the facts and the responsibility of the company. It is time for justice for Máxima.
It is important to note that Minera Yanacocha and Newmont have themselves publicly stated that “the Chaupe family has experienced forced evictions of Tragadero Grande (ie, against their will).”
In relation to the reparation requested in the lawsuit, the court in the United States will decide whether the family is entitled to receive the reparation and the amount if the reparation is granted. As a legal practice in the U.S., judges award damages to the plaintiffs when and if appropriate in the context of the case.
Compensation for human rights violations should not be controversial, since this, in accordance with international norms and standards, is one of the elements to which any person who suffers a violation of his rights is entitled. Reparations are recognized by all the main human rights tribunals.
Moreover, in consideration of this practice accepted by international and regional human rights courts and domestic courts, seeking a reparation is a legitimate right exercised through judicial means regardless of which court is considering the case.
In this case, the claim is before a domestic court in the United States against a multinational company. Filing this lawsuit does not justify circumventing the right of the family to the payment of a fair and comprehensive reparation. Companies should also be required to pay reparations for the damages and violations of human rights for which they are found responsible. The family believes that the lawsuit filed in the United States is the family’s only opportunity to obtain justice in the face of the violations committed by Newmont and Minera Yanacocha and the possibility of creating judicial precedent for liability of companies in the extractive industry for act arbitrarily and violently against subsistence farmers on our continent.