UN bodies join court battle to hold mining giant Anglo- American responsible

UN bodies join court battle to hold mining giant Anglo- American responsible

Cape Town – Five United Nations (UN) bodies have been successful in the Gauteng high court, in their bid to be admitted as amicus curiae (friends of the court) in a pending certification application relating to a class action to claim damages from Anglo-American South Africa (Anglo) for people who suffered injury from exposure to lead.

The UN applicants include the UN Special Rapporteur on Toxics and Human Rights, the UN Special Rapporteur Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights, and the UN Working Group on Discrimination against Women and Girls.

The court had already admitted Amnesty International and the Southern Africa Litigation Centre as amicus curiae earlier this year.

The applicants in the certification proceedings seek certification of a class action against Anglo.

The purpose of the class action is to claim damages from Anglo on behalf of two proposed classes who reside in the Kabwe district, Zambia, and who have suffered injury as a result of exposure to lead.

The applicants allege that Anglo, through its mining activities conducted at a mine in Kabwe during the period 1925 to 1974, both caused and materially contributed to the ongoing harm suffered by children and women of childbearing age in Kabwe as a result of their exposure to lead pollution deposited in the vicinity of the mine and its surrounds, court documents stated.

Anglo argues that it did not cause the present state of uncontrolled and polluted conditions in Kabwe and that it was not liable for any harm caused to the applicants by the current state, nor was it liable to remedy it.

According to court papers, Anglo did not take issue with the fact that the UN bodies motivated their legitimate interest in the certification proceedings. However, its opposition was on the grounds that the submissions of the applicants were not new, “and, in any event, are not helpful or relevant”.

Judge Avrille Maier-Frawley ultimately ruled: “Whilst the UN bodies’ submissions may support the contentions of the applicants in the certification proceedings, in my view, they contribute a different perspective on the applicants’ argument.

“That is because the submissions of the UN bodies ‘seek to take the law where the law has not yet gone’ concerning Anglo’s elections and its conflicted position.”

The UN bodies seek ultimately to explain why Anglo’s election to abide by human rights principles has a necessary implication for the stance it took in the certification application. If the argument is accepted and Anglo’s stance is taken into account as an additional factor to weigh in the balance of what the interests of justice require, it is axiomatic (unquestionable) that the argument will assist the certification court in its reasoning when deciding whether or not to allow certification. It is thus relevant to the interests of justice debate.”

Representatives for Anglo and the UN bodies did not respond to requests for comment by deadline.