A U.S. federal appeals court has revived a lawsuit seeking to hold Rio Tinto responsible for human rights violations and thousands of deaths linked to its huge Panguna copper and gold mine in Papua New Guinea's Bougainville province.
A divided 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco reversed a lower court's dismissal of claims against the mining giant for genocide and war crimes, while upholding the dismissal of claims for racial discrimination and crimes against humanity.
A civil war, prompted by the mining company's activities, erupted in 1989, with an estimated 20 thousand lives lost.
Judge Mary Schroeder wrote that the complaint alleges purposeful conduct undertaken by Rio Tinto with the intent to assist in the commission of violence, injury, and death, to the degree necessary to keep its mines open.
The 6-5 decision on Tuesday revives an 11-year-old lawsuit on behalf of about 10,000 current and former Bougainville residents.
But some dissenting judges protested against allowing a lawsuit to proceed in federal courts brought by non-U.S. residents against a non-U.S. company.
A Rio Tinto spokesman, says the company will defend itself vigorously against what it calls improper claims.