Zambia Supreme Court holds Vedanta guilty of water poisoning

Supreme Court demo London2nd April 2015. The Supreme Court of Zambia today upheld a 2011 High Court verdict which found Vedanta (KCM) guilty of water pollution which poisoned thousands of Chingola residents in 2006(1).Meanwhile in London protesters held a vigil outside outside the Zambia High Commission, drumming and holding banners in solidarity with the victims of Vedanta’s water pollution. The judgement will be officially read out in court in seven days time.

The High Court had awarded 10 billion kwacha in total to 2000 claimants who had suffered illness and liver and kidney damage as a result of drinking the water.(2) However Vedanta challenged the decision which was not re-heard until June 2014. Today’s judgement delivered some justice to the poisoned victims after eight long years wait, but will not award compensation until an assessment is carried out by the High Court Deputy Registrar. This is likely to reduce the total award since the claimants were only able to show twelve medical reports which they had been able to obtain at the time of the pollution incident. The High Court had previously ruled that these twelve reports were indicative of the damage caused to all residents who had drunk the water, and had heard testimonies from victims who were unable to obtain medical reports from the doctors (many of whom worked in Vedanta sponsored medical centres).

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James Nyasulu, a poultry farmer from Chingola and the lead claimant in the case reacted to the judgement today:

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The court should have stood firm and fully supported the High Court judgement. Compensation should even be increased due to the damage done to our health and interest on the original award. The poison we drank violated our right to life, but the court is treating life as cheap. Citizens of this country cannot be treated as guinea pigs for investors.”

Samarendra Das, Foil Vedanta member and author of the report ‘Copper Colonialism: Vedanta KCM and the copper loot of Zambia’ which put pressure on the Zambian government to deliver justice(3) said:

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The victims of KCM’s water pollution are just one of many communities bearing the impact of Vedanta’s careless style of operation worldwide. This company has a pattern of abuse and lawlessness which has landed it in a series of court cases across India and Africa. It is time that the Zambian government and the legal system stood up to Vedanta and held them to account for their actions.”

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KCM’s appeal against the High Court verdict was heard on 6th February 2015 when 200 of the victims travelled from Chingola to attend the courtroom, spilling out onto the street due to a lack of space inside. At the hearing the judges stated that they were ‘suspicious about Vedanta’s activities’ and asserted that the judgement would be delivered by them at the next sitting of the Supreme Court.

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The 2000 claimants in the original case, led by lead claimant James Nyasulu, had feared they would never get justice until President Michael Sata intervened after meeting them in April 2014 and arranged a hearing of the Supreme Court in Ndola on June 3rd. The hearing took place but one of the three judges, Justice Albert Wood, had previously been an advocate for KCM in earlier hearings of the case. Nyasulu and his group complained to the Supreme Court about this undeclared conflict of interest(4) and were granted a re-sit of the hearing on Friday 6th Feb in Lusaka.

Twenty two of the original 2000 claimants have now died, some from liver and kidney damage potentially caused by the poisoned water, but the rest have awaited justice for eight years.

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In the landmark ruling in 2011 High Court judge Phillip Musonda said he wanted to make an example of KCM for their ‘gross recklessness’. He also stated that;

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The courts have a duty to protect poor communities from the powerful and politically connected. I agree with the plaintiff’s pleadings that KCM was shielded from criminal prosecution by political connections and financial influence, which put them beyond the pale of criminal justice.” (5)

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However, Vedanta (KCM) subsequently challenged this decision, claiming they were not responsible for the contamination.

 

  1. In 2006 KCM spilled raw effluent into the Mushishima stream, and the Kafue river over a 48 hour period, raising chemical concentrations in the river Kafue to 10 x acceptable levels of copper, 770 x manganese and 100 x cobalt. Thousands were poisoned, and a litigation on behalf of 2000 Chingola residents by private lawyers resulted in a landmark $2 million fine being delivered by judges in 2011 to be paid to the claimants1. However, Vedanta challenged the ruling and the case is yet to be re-heard while the fine remains unpaid. Affected residents are now experiencing miscarriages and severe health problems, while the Mushishima stream remains regularly contaminated by the KCM mine, leaving communities without clean water and suffering ongoing health problems.

  2. The judgement ‘Nyasulu and Others v Konkola Copper Mines Plc and Others’. Case No: 2007/HP/1286. 1 January 2011 can be found at www.zamlii.org/zm/judgment/high-court/2011/86

  1. The full report can be downloaded and read here http://www.foilvedanta.org/articles/copper-colonialism-foil-vedanta-zambia-report-launched/ and details of its impact in Zambia are detailed here http://www.foilvedanta.org/articles/copper-colonialism-report-shakes-zambia/

  1. The complaint letter written by Nyasulu and others to the Supreme Court is attached to this email.

  1. Newton Sibanda, December 12, 2011. Zambia: High Court orders Konkola Copper Mines to pay 2 million USD for polluting River Mushishima.

The judgement ‘Nyasulu and Others v Konkola Copper Mines Plc and Others’. Case No: 2007/HP/1286. 1 January 2011 can be found at www.zamlii.org/zm/judgment/high-court/2011/86

1 http://www.southerntimesafrica.com/news_article.php?id=6423&title=Zambia%20warns%20mines%20on%20pollution#.Uzmx44VrCKw

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