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Nevsun Resources Ltd. v. Araya
American Journal of International Law  (IF3.091),  Pub Date : 2021-01-15, DOI: 10.1017/ajil.2020.103
Beatrice A. Walton

In Nevsun Resources Ltd. v. Araya, the Supreme Court of Canada declined to dismiss a series of customary international law claims brought by Eritrean refugees against a Canadian mining corporation for grave human rights abuses committed in Eritrea. In doing so, the Supreme Court opened the possibility of a novel front for transnational human rights litigation: common law tort claims based on customary international law. Under the doctrine of adoption, customary international law is directly incorporated into the Canadian common law. However, Canadian courts have not yet upheld a private right of action for violations of customary international law. Writing for a divided court (5–4), Justice Abella allowed the plaintiffs’ claims to proceed, finding that it is not “plain and obvious” that the plaintiffs’ customary international law claims are bound to fail under either Canada's burgeoning “transnational” or “foreign relations” law, or international law itself. In reaching this conclusion, she offered a unique and overdue reflection on the role of national courts in identifying, adopting, and developing custom. A larger majority of the court (7–2) also rejected outright the application of the act of state doctrine in Canada, tracking several common law systems in limiting the doctrine in favor of human rights litigants.