Bloomberg News

Rio Tinto Genocide Claims Reinstated by U.S. Appeals Court

October 25, 2011

(Adds background on case in third paragraph.)

Oct. 25 (Bloomberg) -- Rio Tinto Group, the world’s second- largest mining company, lost a bid to throw out genocide and war crimes claims in a U.S. lawsuit filed by Papua New Guinea landowners accusing the company of human rights abuses and environmental damage.

A federal appeals court in San Francisco today reversed dismissal of those two claims while upholding a lower-court judge’s decision to toss claims for racial discrimination and crimes against humanity. The court said claims of genocide and war crimes fall within the limited category of issues that can be considered under the Alien Tort Statute, a law allowing non- citizens to sue in the U.S. for violations of international law.

In the 2000 lawsuit, landowners claimed Rio Tinto and the Papua New Guinea government formed a joint venture to operate a Bougainville Island copper mine, once the world’s largest, and were responsible for thousands of deaths related to civilian resistance to the mine.

The appeals court sent the case back to federal district court in Los Angeles for further proceedings.

An e-mail message to the media office at London-based Rio Tinto seeking comment on the ruling wasn’t immediately answered.

Steve Berman, an attorney for the landowners, didn’t immediately return a voice-mail message seeking comment on the ruling.

Rio Tinto’s Panguna mine was shut in 1989 after attacks by the Papua New Guinea army, according to court records.

The case is Alexis Holyweek Sarei v. Rio Tinto PLC, 02- 56256, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit (San Francisco).

--Editors: Peter Blumberg, Glenn Holdcraft

To contact the reporter about this story: Karen Gullo in San Francisco at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Hytha at

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