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ClientEarth Communications

5th November 2018

Rule of law

Local community voices to be heard in illegal Romanian gold mine litigation

Civil society lawyers are helping the Rosia Montana community affected by an illegal gold mine project in Romania to be heard, during litigation proceedings at the World Bank arbitration tribunal.

In an ‘amicus curiae’ brief on behalf of Romanian organisations, lawyers have presented new facts and perspectives regarding the constitutional and human rights violations suffered by those who opposed plans to build Europe’s largest open-pit gold mine in western Transylvania, Romania.

The brief also details the devastating impacts on the social fabric of the local community, caused by the company behind the mine, Canadian firm Gabriel Resources.

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After failing to build the mine, the company is now attempting to sue the state of Romanian for $4 billion, using the investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) found in Romania’s bilateral trade agreements with Canada and the United Kingdom.

In attempting to relocate the local community using resettlement packages, the company was in breach of numerous international human rights principles. If built, the mine would have levelled four mountains and caused potentially devastating pollution by using thousands of tonnes of cyanide in the mining process.

Memories of the Baia Mare disaster in 2000 are still fresh in Romania, when a dam at another mining project overflowed, leading to cyanide-contaminated water leaking into the Danube and other rivers in the area.

In 2013, hundreds of thousands of Romanians took to the streets to demand their government apply the law and stop the Rosia Montana mine. The demonstrations followed the Romanian judiciary declaring that the company’s permits were illegal.

Both the state and company have submitted their arguments to the ISDS tribunal, however, both excluded the perspective and experience of local communities.

On behalf of Rosia Montana NGO Alburnus Maior, the Independent Centre for the Development of Environmental Resources (ICDER), and Greenpeace Romania, civil society lawyers from the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL), ClientEarth, and the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) filed the amicus brief to ensure the tribunal adequately considers these vital perspectives.

Hearings on the arguments of the case are scheduled for December 2019.

Commenting on the case, Eugen David, President of Alburnus Maior said:
“We won every case to prove this mine illegal. We will prove once more the severe illegalities committed against us. We will never give up.”

Amandine Van Den Berghe, Trade Lawyer at ClientEarth said:
“The fate of the local community is in the hands of an arbitration tribunal which, despite sitting outside the European Union’s judicial system, will decide on a dispute involving questions of domestic and EU law. Such questions belong to the exclusive jurisdiction of the Romanian Courts, and ultimately the Court of Justice of the European Union. By using the investor-state dispute settlement mechanism, Gabriel Resources is clearly attempting to sideline the Romanian courts, in complete disregard of past rulings.”

Erika Lennon, Senior Attorney at CIEL said:
“As the Tribunal considers this case, it must weigh the unique and vital perspectives of those at the heart of this dispute: the locals of Roşia Montană. Our amicus makes clear that Gabriel Resources has never had the right to mine in Roşia Montană, and thus it has never had a legitimate expectation to start exploitation. The company should not use investment arbitration to circumvent the legitimate enforcement of domestic law.”

Christian Schliemann, Legal Advisor at ECCHR said:

“For the first time in Romania, the perspective of a local community is represented in an ISDS case. The villagers of Roşia Montană and the members of Alburnus Maior have resisted the mining project and forced both the state of Romania and Gabriel Resources to respect them and their rights. With our legal intervention, it is our joint objective to safeguard this important achievement.”