Summary of Choc v. HudBay (Lawsuit regarding the killing of Adolfo Ich Chamán)
Summary of Chub v. HudBay (Lawsuit regarding the shooting of German Chub Choc)
Summary of Caal v. HudBay (Lawsuit regarding rapes at the community of Lote Ocho)
What is the purpose of the lawsuit?
- The lawsuit seeks accountability for the death of Adolfo Ich Chamán (“Adolfo Ich”), who was hacked and shot to death by private security forces employed at the Fenix mining project near the town of El Estor, Guatemala.
- The lawsuit claims $2 million in general damages and $10 million in punitive damages.
Who is this lawsuit against?
- The lawsuit is against HudBay Minerals Inc. and two of its subsidiaries, HMI Nickel Inc. and Compañía Guatemalteca de Níquel S.A. At the time of Adolfo’s death, these companies own and control the Fenix Mining Project. The lawsuit alleges that the wrongful actions and omissions of these companies and their employees led to Adolfo Ich’s death.
- HudBay Minerals Inc. is a Canadian mining company that is headquartered in Toronto. HudBay Minerals, through subsidiaries, owns the Fenix mining project in Guatemala, as well as several mines in Canada.
- HMI Nickel Inc. was a is a Canadian shell company and subsidiary of HudBay Minerals. HMI Nickel has since merged with and become one company with HudBay Minerals.
- Compañía Guatemalteca de Níquel S.A. was HudBay and HMI’s Guatemalan subsidiary. CGN directly employed the security forces that are alleged to have killed Adolfo Ich. CGN has since been sold to Russian company Solway Investment Group Inc.
Who is bringing the lawsuit?
- Angelica Choc is the widow of Adolfo Ich Chaman. She resides in the community of La Uníon, located in the municipality of El Estor, Guatemala. She is a community leader and is the mother of Adolfo’s five children. She brings this lawsuit on her own behalf and as a representative of the estate of Adolfo Ich.
- Adolfo Ich Chamán was the President of the Community of La Uníon, a respected Mayan Q’eqchi’ community leader, a school teacher and father. He was an outspoken critic of the harms caused by Canadian mining activities in his community.
- On September 27, 2009, fears of forced violent evictions of several Mayan communities located near the Fenix mining project sparked a series of community protests.
- In the early afternoon of September 27, 2009, Adolfo Ich was with his wife at his house in La Uníon when he heard gunshots being fired from the direction of mine buildings, located not far from his house. Adolfo went to find out what was going on, to warn people to stay back and to see if he could help restore calm. He was not carrying any weapons.
- When Adolfo Ich arrived, private security forces of the mine recognized him as a prominent community leader and appeared to invite him to speak with them about the community protests.
- As Adolfo Ich approached, approximately a dozen armed security forces surrounded him, beat him and hacked at him with a machete, before shooting Adolfo in the head at close range. Adolfo Ich died of his wounds shortly after.
What are the larger issues at the mine site?
- There is an ongoing land conflict between local communities and the mining company.
- During Guatemala’s bloody civil war, which included the genocide of the Mayan people, Mayan Q’eqchi’ communities were driven off of land that is now considered part of the Fenix mining project.
- In or around September 2006, Mayan Q’eqchi’ communities reclaimed several small parcels of land by moving onto and occupying them. These farmers view their reclamation as a rightful and legal repossession of historic Mayan Q’eqchi’ land unjustly taken from them and their families during the Guatemalan Civil War.
- In late 2006 and early 2007, police, military and private security forces conducted a number of forced evictions of these reclaimed communities at the request of HMI Nickel (then called Skye Resources). In the course of these evictions, private security forces, police and military burnt hundreds of houses to the ground, fired gunshots, stole goods, and in at least one community, gang-raped several women.
- Evicted community members from the five communities have since returned and continue to reside and farm on this contested land. HudBay Resources and HMI Nickel have repeatedly referred to these land claimants as “squatters” or “invaders”, and have to date refused to recognize or accommodate Mayan Q’eqchi’ claims to the land.
The lawsuit alleges that in the afternoon of September 27, 2009, German Chub Choc, a young father, was shot at close range in an unprovoked attack by the head of security personnel for HudBay’s Fenix Mining Project. As a result of the shooting, German Chub suffered catastrophic and life threatening injuries. He survived the attack, but is now paralyzed and no longer has use of his right lung.
The lawsuit alleges that the brutal and arbitrary shooting of German Chub was caused by the negligent management of HudBay Minerals both in Canada and in Guatemala. In particular, the lawsuit alleges that HudBay Minerals negligently authorized the reckless and provocative deployment of heavily armed security personnel into Mayan Q’eqchi’ communities on September 27, 2009, and negligently authorized the excessive use of force by its security personnel in response to Mayan Q’eqchi’ communities that were opposed to the illegal occupation of historic Mayan land.
HudBay Minerals knew that it was operating in a country with extreme levels of violence and low levels of accountability for such violence. The lawsuit alleges that HudBay Minerals knew that Fenix Mining Project security personnel had a track record of using violence in the past against the local Mayan communities that had opposed mining in their community, and knew that there was a very high risk that its security personnel would commit acts of uncontrolled violence in the future. The lawsuit alleges that despite this knowledge, HudBay Minerals continued to employ under-trained and inadequately supervised security personnel while failing to implement or enforce standards of conduct and oversight that would have adequately governed and controlled their conduct.
German Chub is suing HudBay Minerals for the catastrophic harms suffered by him as a result of the shooting.
The Plaintiffs Rosa Elbira Coc Ich, Margarita Caal Caal, and nine other Mayan Q’eqchi’ women are suing HudBay Minerals Inc. in the companies home jurisdiction of Ontario for negligence and carelessness causing physical and psychological harm.
The claim asserts that on January 17, 2007, the Plaintiffs were gang-raped by uniformed mining company security personnel, police and military during the forceful expulsion of Mayan Q’eqchi’ families from their farms and homes in the remote community of Lote Ocho. These armed evictions were sought by Canadian mining company Skye Resources in relation to its Fenix mining project, located on the north shores of Lake Izabal, which it operated through its Guatemalan subsidiary Compañía Guatemalteca de Níquel (CGN). The communities believe these evictions were illegal.
In 2008, Skye Resources, together with CGN and the Fenix Project, was purchased by HudBay Minerals, and Skye Resources was renamed HMI Nickel. This corporation will be referred to as “HMI/Skye” in this document. HMI/Skye later merged with and became one company with HudBay Minerals. This is legally significant because, as a result of the merger, HudBay is legally responsible for HMI/Skye’s liabilities and past actions.
The lawsuit alleges that the harm suffered by the Plaintiffs was caused by the legal negligence and carelessness of in its operation of the Fenix project, and therefore HMI/Skye is legally responsible for this harm. For example, the Plaintiffs allege that HMI/Skye was negligent and careless in directing, controlling, and supervising the mining security personnel who committed the rapes. The Plaintiffs further allege that HMI/Skye was negligent and careless in seeking, requesting and authorizing the forced evictions of Lote Ocho without taking reasonable steps to protect the community from the use of violence during this eviction.
Each Plaintiff claims $1 million in compensatory damages for their pain and suffering, and $4 million in punitive damages owing to the extreme and heinous nature of the attacks against them. The total claimed by the lawsuit for all Plaintiffs is $55 million.
Key Facts Alleged in the Lawsuit
There are currently several Mayan Q’eqchi’ farming communities located on land that HudBay Minerals and HMI/Skye claim makes up part of the Fenix mining project. The Mayan Q’eqchi’ communities disagree with HudBay Minerals and HMI/Skye regarding who has legal and moral right to this land.
HMI/Skye claimed that they had valid legal right to the contested land. Mayan Q’eqchi’ communities counter that they are the rightful owners of the land their ancestors farmed and lived on for generations, and that any apparent rights that were granted to mining companies during the Guatemalan civil war are illegitimate.
HMI Nickel knew that Guatemala was and is an extremely violent country. HMI Nickel knew, or should have known, that violence is regularly used against Mayan Q’eqchi’ communities in the forced evictions that regularly occur in all parts of the country. HMI Nickel knew, or should have known, that levels of sexual violence against women are very high in Guatemala, in part as a legacy of the civil war where the rape of Mayan Q’eqchi’ women commonly occurred in military operations.
Despite this knowledge, despite HMI/Skye’s public relations statements that indicated that they wished to resolve the land conflict through dialogue, and despite there being no pressing need to rush the resolution of the conflict, the lawsuit alleges that HMI/Skye responded immediately and aggressively by seeking forced expulsions in early 2007.
CGN engaged mine security personnel at the Fenix mining project on behalf of and for the benefit of HMI/Skye. These security personnel were directly or indirectly controlled by HMI/Skye from its head-offices in Canada and were engaged under instructions from and subject to continuing approval by HMI/Skye. Mine security personnel were engaged, in part, in response to the outstanding land conflict.
The lawsuit alleges that HMI/Skye made key decisions regarding Fenix security personnel including (1) establishing (or failing to establish) codes of conduct regarding the use of force; (2) determining the rules of engagement in situations involving force; (3) determining procedures for protecting human rights; (4) determining the size and composition of its security forces; (5) determining whether and how security personnel were deployed; and (6) determining the level of participation of its security forces in forced evictions.
On January 8th and 9th 2007, forced evictions were carried out in at least five Mayan communities located on contested land, including the community of Lote Ocho. In the course of these evictions, dozens of houses were burnt to the ground.
After this first round of evictions, HMI/Skye, through its CEO and President, Ian Austin, and other executives and managers, knew that the evictions had not been peaceful. In particular, executives of the company, including Mr. Austin, knew that during some of the evictions, homes had been burnt to the ground.
The lawsuit alleges that HMI/Skye did not take reasonable steps after the evictions of early January to investigate alleged uses of violence during previous evictions. HMI/Skye did not reconsider or modify its strategy of seeking forced evictions of Mayan Q’eqchi’ communities in light of these allegations of violence, and took no steps to modify or strengthen any of its policies or standards relating to Fenix security personnel or the protection of human rights.
In the week that followed, the community of Lote Ocho returned to the land and began to rebuild their homes.
Attacks against the Plaintiffs
On January 17, 2007, hundreds of police, military and Fenix security personnel returned to Lote Ocho to conduct a second eviction of the community. This eviction was again sought by HMI/Skye.
The lawsuit alleges that during this eviction, the Plaintiff Rosa Elbira Coc Ich was assaulted by nine men, including police, soldiers and company security personnel wearing uniforms bearing the initials and logo of CGN. At first, a policeman drew a pistol and put it to her head and asked her where her husband was. When she was unable to tell him, he said that they were going to kill her. Then all nine men, including uniformed members of the Fenix security personnel, held her down, covered her mouth and raped her. Ms. Coc is no longer able to have children, possibly because of injuries sustained from the gang rape.
The other ten women suffered similar attacks and rapes. Some of the women were pregnant at the time of the attack and later lost their babies, possibly as a result of the rapes.
On January 17, 2007, the same day the Plaintiffs were raped during the forced eviction sought by HMI/Skye, HMI/Skye President and CEO Mr. Austin published a public letter regarding the evictions, stating “[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.”
The lawsuit alleges that despite public representations from the highest levels in HMI/Skye’s management regarding the company’s commitment to specific and identifiable security standards, HMI/Skye did not take reasonable or appropriate steps to implement or enforce standards regarding the conduct of security personnel at HMI/Skye’s operations in Guatemala.
As a result of HMI/Skye’s careless conduct and the resulting assaults and gang-rapes, the Plaintiffs suffered physical and psychological harm for which the Plaintiffs claim damages. In particular, the Plaintiffs claim damages for pain and suffering as well as traumatic, emotional and mental distress.