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Mayan Q’eqchi’ communities in Guatemala were driven off their lands during the country’s civil war. Some of those lands were then ceded by the Guatemalan dictatorship to mining companies. The Fenix Project is an open pit nickel mining operation on part of those lands. HudBay Minerals Inc., a Canadian mining company headquartered in Toronto, acquired the Fenix mining project in 2008 from another Canadian company, the Vancouver-based Skye Resources.
In 2006, members of the Mayan Q’eqchi’ communities, viewing the territories as legally and historically theirs, occupied several parcels claimed by the Fenix Project. That year and into 2007, police, military and private security forces forcibly evicted them, resulting in the burning of hundreds of houses. In January 2007, these forces allegedly gang-raped Rosa Elbira Coc Ich, Margarita Caal Caal and other Mayan Q’eqchi’ women.
In September 2009, there were several protests related to concerns about further forced evictions. Adolfo Ich Cháman was a community leader. According to witness, on September 27, private security forces for the mine beat Adolfo, hacking at him with a machete, and then shot him in the head at close range. He died shortly thereafter.
The head of security for the Fenix Project, who allegedly shot Adolfo Ich, was allegedly involved in another shooting earlier in the day. Germán Chub Choc was watching a soccer game at a field near Fenix compound. A group of armed security personnel approached Germán and the head of security allegedly shot him with a handgun. Germán is now a paraplegic and has lost the use of one of his lungs.
In 2010 and 2011, three lawsuits were filed in Ontario against HudBay concerning the gang-rapes and the shootings of Adolfo Ich and Germán Chub. The plaintiffs allege that HudBay and Skye were aware that security personnel had a track record of using violence against innocent civilians, particularly during the evictions.
Detailed information on the lawsuits is available on a website dedicated to the cases.
In July 2013, the Superior Court of Ontario ruled that HudBay, as the parent company, can stand trial for the alleged abuses. The court found that the statement of claim alleges sufficient facts such that HudBay could be held directly liable for its own negligence and holds open the possibility that HudBay could be responsible for one of the acts of its Guatemalan subsidiary. The judgment could prove critical in other cases seeking to hold Canadian parent companies accountable, including CCIJ’s case against Tahoe Resources for the shooting of peaceful protesters in Guatemala. The case is now in the discovery phase and headed toward trial.
The plaintiffs are represented by the Toronto law firm Klippensteins.