The Supreme Court of Zambia on Thursday upheld a 2011 High Court verdict which found Konkola Copper Mines guilty of water pollution which poisoned thousands of Chingola residents in 2006.
Meanwhile in London protesters held a vigil 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.
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.
James Nyasulu, a poultry farmer from Chingola and the lead claimant in the case reacted to the judgement saying the court should have stood firm and fully supported the High Court judgement.
He said compensation should even be increased due to the damage done to people’s 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 said 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.’
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.
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.
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 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,’ Justice Musonda said.
However, Vedanta (KCM) subsequently challenged this decision, claiming they were not responsible for the contamination.
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