Mayan victims of gang rapes announce lawsuit against Canadian mining company

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For immediate release: March 28, 2011

Toronto, Canada and El Estor, Guatemala:

Rosa Elbira Coc Ich and ten other indigenous Mayan Q'eqchi' women filed a lawsuit Monday against Canadian mining companies HMI Nickel, and its corporate owner, HudBay Minerals, regarding mining-related gang-rapes suffered by them near a Canadian-owned mining site in Guatemala.

On January 17, 2007, the eleven women were gang-raped by mining company security personnel, police and military during the forceful expulsion of Mayan Q'eqchi' families from their farms and homes in the community of "Lote Ocho". These armed evictions were sought by HMI Nickel in relation to its Fenix mining project, located on the north shores of Lake Izabal, Guatemala.

The lawsuit, filed in HudBay and HMI Nickel's home jurisdiction of Ontario, claims $11 million in general damages and $44 million in punitive damages.

HMI Nickel was previously known as Skye Resources. All shares of HMI Nickel were purchased by HudBay Minerals in 2008. HMI is currently a wholly-owned and controlled subsidiary of HudBay Minerals. HudBay Minerals did not own HMI Nickel at the time of the assaults.

"Nine men came into my house and raped me," said Rosa Coc. "They were police, soldiers and security men from the company. They left me just completely battered and bruised." Rosa and others have said that, at the time of the attacks, some of their assailants wore uniforms bearing the initials and logo of HMI Nickel's Guatemalan subsidiary, Compañía Guatemalteca de Níquel (CGN).

At the time of the rapes, HMI Nickel maintained control of operations at the Fenix Project from its head offices in Canada. In public relations statements made in Canada, HMI Nickel promised that security personnel at the Fenix mine would abide by specific international standards regarding the screening, conduct, training, and supervision of security personnel engaged at their mining project. Ian Austin, the then-President and CEO of HMI Nickel, stated to Canadian investors that all activities related to the evictions would be carried out by personnel who had been specially trained to avoid violence.

Despite HMI's public promises, HMI Nickel and CGN took aggressive action against Mayan Q'qechi' communities living on land related to the mining project by immediately seeking the forced expulsion of these communities. The plaintiffs are not aware of any evidence that indicates that HMI Nickel took reasonable steps to implement the promised international security standards or to protect the community against the violence that was the predictable result.

The gap between what was happening on the ground and what was being said by company executives is shocking. On the very day that men wearing uniforms bearing CGN logos were committing gang-rape during the eviction of a community as requested by his company, the CEO of HMI Nickel released a public letter in Canada that stated: "[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."

No investigation or prosecution for these crimes has been initiated in Guatemala.

Rosa and the others are seeking justice in Canada in part because of the abysmal and hopeless track record of Guatemala's justice system. Human Rights Watch noted in January 2011 that "there was 99.75 percent impunity for violent crime as of 2009," meaning that virtually all violent crime goes unpunished. The report goes on to say that "[v]iolence against women is a chronic problem in Guatemala, and most perpetrators are never brought to trial."

"We remain traumatized by the attack," said Rosa. "Not just myself but the entire community."

The claim represents assertions that have not yet been proven in court. All defendants will have the opportunity to respond in these proceedings.

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