On February 28, 2020, 加拿大最高法院发布了一项判决,驳回了一项动议,该动议旨在打击有关 Nevsun Resources Ltd. v. Araya, 一宗涉及Nevsun资源有限公司涉嫌侵犯三名厄立特里亚矿工人权的案件. (“Nevsun”) through the actions of entities controlled by the Eritrean government. 这一案件涉及非国家性质的加拿大法人在外国经营时是否对违反习惯国际法负有责任的问题. In a majority 5-2-2 decision, the Supreme Court answered the question in the affirmative, while also rejecting the applicability of the argued “act of State” doctrine in Canada. 这一裁决为原告起诉加拿大公司在海外直接或间接违反人权和国际准则的行为提供了可能.

Case Facts

Nevsun is a Canadian mining company headquartered in British Columbia (B.C.). Nevsun owned sixty percent of the Bisha Mining Share Company, which owned the Bisha mine in Eritrea, with the other 40% owned by a government entity. The Bisha Mining Share Company hired a South African company, SENET, to manage the mine. SENET subcontracted two companies for labour: The Mereb Construction Company, which was owned by the Eritrean military and the Segen Construction Company, which was run by People’s Front for Democracy and Justice, Eritrea’s only political party.

三名厄立特里亚工人声称,他们被无限期地征召到厄立特里亚军队,并被SENET的分包商强迫在比沙矿山恶劣的条件下工作. 这些工人逃到了加拿大,最初代表1人以上提起了集体诉讼,在2008年到2012年间,有000人被强迫在B的Nevsun煤矿工作.C. They claimed damages resulting from a litany of torts including conversion, battery, false imprisonment, conspiracy and negligence. In addition, they included novel claims of breaches of customary law stemming from forced labour, slavery, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment and crimes against humanity caused by the subcontractors, but under the supervision and control of the Bisha Mining Share Company. [1]

In response, Nevsun made a number of court applications that, inter alia, contested jurisdiction and argued forum non conveniens. In this case, Nevsun公司提出动议驳回原告的诉讼,理由是原告的诉讼没有胜诉的合理前景. Nevsun relied on the English common law “act of State” doctrine, which prevents domestic courts from assuming jurisdiction over, and evaluating the acts of, a foreign government. Nevsun also argued that even if the act of state doctrine was inapplicable, 原告根据习惯国际法提出的要求没有取得成功的合理前景. Nevsun’s motion was dismissed by the Supreme Court of B.C., as well as by the B.C. Court of Appeal; Nevsun appealed this decision.

Questions on Appeal

The Supreme Court of Canada addressed two main two questions:

  1. Does the “act of state” doctrine form part of Canadian common law?
  2. Can the customary international law prohibitions against forced labour, slavery, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and crimes against humanity ground a claim for damages under Canadian law? [2]

The Supreme Court began by stating the following:

“This appeal involves the application of modern international human rights law, 从第二次世界大战的废墟中重生的凤凰,向侵犯人权的行为宣战. Its mandate was to prevent breaches of internationally accepted norms. Those norms were not meant to be theoretical aspirations or legal luxuries, but moral imperatives and legal necessities. Conduct that undermined the norms was to be identified and addressed.”[3]

法院进一步指出,在为维护这些准则和人权而进行的持续不断的斗争中, courts are often a vital front line actor. 它继续解释国家行为主义为“认为国家法院没有能力裁决外国主权行为的合法性”.” [4] After tracing the judicial history of the act of state doctrine in England and Australia, where it continues to prevail, the Court iterated that while Canadian and English common law have the same roots, Canadian law developed principles of conflict of laws and judicial restraint independently, rather than as elements of a broader act of state doctrine, as is the case in England. 法官中的大多数人指出,这一原则不适用于政府不是诉讼当事人的情况, moreover, even its use in England is limited.

The court highlighted the absence of any cases applying the act of state doctrine in Canada, 而是列举了许多加拿大判例要求对外国国家行为的合法性进行评估的实例. 多数法官解释说,加拿大法院经常“确定与外国法律执行有关的问题[在本案中], 根据一般要求尊重的普通国际私法原则,国家行为学说], 但他们保留司法自由裁量权,拒绝执行与公共政策相抵触的外国法律, including respect for public international law.” [6] Conversely, the court will assess foreign law in instances of clear violations of fundamental human rights. [7] In this case, if there ever was an act of state doctrine in Canada, 它已完全纳入法律学,加拿大从此在这方面与英国分道扬镳. 最终,最高法院驳回了国家行为主义在加拿大的适用性.

In regards to the second issue, 法院试图确定,该工人对习惯国际法的新奇主张没有合理的成功前景,这是否显而易见. 大多数人把习惯国际法描述为国际法律体系的普通法,尽管很难精确地对它下定义. [8]法院确认一项准则要被承认为习惯国际法有两个条件:“一般但不一定是普遍的惯例, and opinio juris, namely the belief that such practice amounts to a legal obligation”. [9]

After tracing the development of their origins and utilization in public international law, all argued prohibitions, for example those against slavery, crimes against humanity, cruel and degrading treatment, 被发现清楚地满足这两项要求,从而被认为是习惯国际法. [10]

该法院回顾了过去几个世纪的判例法,发现习惯国际法通过采用原则自动适用于加拿大国内法, absent any conflicting legislation, without any need for legislative action or ratification. 因为法院无法找到与禁止奴隶制相冲突的加拿大法律, cruel and degrading treatment, etc., 习惯国际法被认为在加拿大的司法系统中具有真正和积极的作用. [11] Moreover, 法院认为这类索赔是如此严重,以至于在加拿大经常以殴打侵权和非法强占为由,不足以恰当地概括严重侵犯人权行为背后的严重性.

In the Court’s view, Nevsun公司未能证明,习惯国际法的要求没有合理的成功可能性,这是“显而易见的”.


这是一个带有不祥预兆的案例:企业必须审查他们的供应链和政策,以确定他们是否参与其中, directly or indirectly, with human rights abuses. 在国外开展业务的公司从与外国行为者造成的侵犯人权和规范有关的活动中获利, can expect to face costly and lengthy litigation. More broadly, 这项裁决为二十世纪日益突出的长期存在的国际人权原则注入了活力,并使这些原则现代化,以更好地适应现代社会.

[1] Nevsun Resources Ltd. v. Araya 2020 SCC 5 at paras 7-15.
[2] Ibid at para 26.
[3] Ibid at para 1.
[4] Ibid at para 29.
[5] Ibid 46-54.
[6] Ibid at para 45.
[7] Ibid at para 50.
[8] Ibid at para 74.
[9] Ibid at para 77.
[10] Ibid at paras 101-103.
[11] The majority disregarded out of hand the notion that international law, 诸如有关条约和其他国际文书的准则不适用于公司. In the Supreme Court’s view, human rights are not merely enforceable against the State, rather they are “discrete legal entitlements, held by individuals, and are to be respected by everyone”. The Court also considered it heterodox to view corporations as immune from civil liability, 众所周知,公司要对违反国际刑法的行为负责. Ibid at paras 110-112.

Article written by Martin Aquilina, with assistance from Alexander Krush