22 Sep 2010

Bougainville landowners await outcome of US Rio Tinto court hearing

2:40 pm on 22 September 2010

A group of landowners from the Papua New Guinea province of Bougainville who've taken the mining company Rio Tinto to court over human rights violations has had its long-standing case heard in the United States appeal court today.

Their lawyer, Steve Berman, says in what's an unusual move, a full panel of 11 appellate judges convened to hear the case, which Rio Tinto is trying to have dismissed.

Mr Berman says both sides argued as to whether the case should proceed in the US, with Rio Tinto arguing that the Bougainvilleans should have taken legal action in Papua New Guinea first.

"At the time they filed their lawsuit there was a war going on and for most of the plaintiffs there was a bounty on their head so for them to walk in and file a lawsuit would have been a highly dangerous act. In those circumstances courts have recognised the futility of suing where you live and have excused you from doing so. And the second reason is that there's this statue that says any alien who's been injured by a violation of international law can sue in US courts."

Steve Berman says it seems likely that the case will be permitted to proceed to the Supreme Court.