|Burmese Win Appeal in U.S. Alien Tort Case Against
In a groundbreaking
decision on September 18, 2002, a U.S. federal appeals court
remanded to trial a case alleging that oil giant Unocal was
responsible for human rights abuses committed by Burmese soldiers.
Allegedly, soldiers committed the abuses in the course of guarding a
gas pipeline project in which Unocal was a partner. The case is set to
proceed in the Superior Court of California in February 2003.
Unocal became involved in the pipeline project a decade ago when it purchased a 28 percent interest from Total S.A., a French oil company that had entered into an agreement with Myanmar’s military government and Myanmar Oil and Gas Exploration, a state-owned monopoly. Construction began in 1992 and the pipeline was completed in 1999. International human rights groups including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have reported that during construction Myanmar’s military regime subjected villagers along the pipeline route to forced labor, murder, torture and rape.
Total was originally named as a defendant along with the Myanmar government and Myanmar Oil, but the three were dismissed early in the case. Total was not sufficiently involved in the United States to be sued there, and the Myanmar government and Myanmar Oil had sovereign immunity.
The Ninth Circuit, with jurisdiction covering much of the western United States, can be overruled only by the U.S. Supreme Court. The ruling is likely to influence courts hearing similar cases against U.S. corporations. Cases are pending against Royal Dutch Shell for alleged abuses committed by the Nigerian Army against the Ogoni people in the oil-rich Niger Delta, against Texaco by indigenous people in Ecuador whose lands have been damaged by oil leaks and toxic waste, and against ExxonMobil by victims of abuses committed by Indonesian security forces in Aceh province.
|The Alien Tort Claims Act.
This 1789 act grants jurisdiction to US Federal Courts over "any civil action by an alien for a tort only, committed in violation of the law of nations or a treaty of the United States."
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Written October 15, 2002; Last updated August 2007.