Public international law - Human rights - Act of state doctrine - Customary international law - Jus cogens - Peremptory norms - Doctrine of adoption - Direct remedy for breach of customary international law - Eritrean workers commencing action against Canadian corporation in British Columbia - Workers alleging they were forced to work at mine owned by Canadian corporation in Eritrea and subjected to violent, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and seeking damages for breaches of customary international law prohibitions and of domestic torts - Corporation bringing motion to strike pleadings on basis of act of state doctrine and on basis that claims based on customary international law have no reasonable prospect of success - Whether act of state doctrine forms part of Canadian common law - Whether customary international law prohibitions against forced labour, slavery, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment and crimes against humanity can ground claim for damages under Canadian law - Whether claims should be struck.
Three Eritrean workers claim that they were indefinitely conscripted through Eritrea’s military service into a forced labour regime where they were required to work at a mine in Eritrea. They claim they were subjected to violent, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. The mine is owned by a Canadian company, Nevsun Resources Ltd. The Eritrean workers started proceedings in British Columbia against Nevsun and sought damages for breaches of customary international law prohibitions against forced labour, slavery, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and crimes against humanity. They also sought damages for breaches of domestic torts including conversion, battery, unlawful confinement, conspiracy and negligence. Nevsun brought a motion to strike the pleadings on the basis of the act of state doctrine, which precludes domestic courts from assessing the sovereign acts of a foreign government. Nevsun also took the position that the claims based on customary international law should be struck because they have no reasonable prospect of success. The chambers judge dismissed Nevsun’s motion to strike, and the Court of Appeal agreed.