JOHANNESBURG – West Africa's top court held Guinea responsible on Tuesday for the killing of six villagers and the illegal arrest, injury or torture of 15 others during a protest near an iron-ore mine project owned by Brazil's Vale and an Israeli billionaire.
The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Court ruled that Guinea violated the human rights of the protesters, and ordered the state to pay the plaintiffs total damages of 4.56-billion Guinean francs, or $463 000. It also ordered the state to cover the costs of the litigation for both sides.
"Guinea violated the right to life, the right not to be subject to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment, the right not to be arrested or detained arbitrarily, and the right to effective recourse," said Justice Gberi-Bé Ouattara, reading the court's ruling.
On Aug. 3, 2012, Guinea sent troops and police to a site near the mining project controlled by VBG, a joint venture between Vale and billionaire Beny Steinmetz's BSG Resources (BSGR), after residents of nearby village Zogota staged a sit-in.
In the early hours of the following day security forces opened fire. Some of the protesters who survived were later tortured in custody.
Guinea's mines minister did not immediately reply to a request for comment. A lawyer for Guinea, in a briefing document addressed to the ECOWAS court two years ago, argued that the state had not ordered the security forces to kill or torture protesters, and therefore bore no responsibility for the deaths.
Vale, the world's largest iron ore producer, denied blame for the unrest: "Vale states that it never supported any form of violence at Zogota," a spokeswoman said in a written statement when asked to comment on the court ruling.
"In 2012, the VBG encampment was invaded by protestors and its installations were damaged. For reasons of security, employees were removed in an orderly fashion, safeguarding the physical integrity of the entire team. Thereafter, VBG complied with its duty of informing the local authorities," she said.
When asked to comment, a spokesman for BSGR referred Reuters back to Vale, which operated the site at the time.