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Occidental lawsuit (re Colombia)

Status: OPEN

Incident date
Feb. 18, 2014
Company: AirScan
Company Sector:
Company: Occidental Petroleum
Company Sector: Oil, gas & coal
Company Location: United States of America

On 23 April 2003, residents of Santo Domingo, Colombia filed a lawsuit against Occidental Petroleum (Oxy) and its security contractor, Airscan, Inc. in US federal court in California.  The plaintiffs claim that both Oxy and Airscan, in a bid to secure Oxy’s pipeline in Caño Limón, Colombia, helped the Colombian Air Force (CAF) conduct an aerial bombing attack on Santo Domingo on 13 December 1998.  The plaintiffs filed the lawsuit under the Alien Tort Claims Act, Torture Victim Protection Act and various California state laws, and alleged that Occidental was complicit in extrajudicial killing, torture, crimes against humanity and war crimes.  The lawsuit alleges that Oxy and Airscan provided key strategic information, as well as ground and air support to the CAF in the bombing raid.  The raid led to the deaths of 17 innocent civilians and injured 25 others.  In 2005, Oxy filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit on the grounds of forum non conveniens, international comity and the political question doctrine.  (More information on these three doctrines is available here.)  The court declined to grant the motion to dismiss on the grounds of forum non conveniens or international comity.  However, the court granted the motion to dismiss based on the political question doctrine.  The plaintiffs subsequently appealed this decision.  US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit heard arguments on the appeal on 19 April 2007.  It issued a decision on 11 May 2009 remanding the case to the district court to consider the impact of an intervening decision in the lawsuit Sarei v. Rio Tinto.  The district court was instructed to consider whether local remedies need to be exhausted before the case can be brought in US court.  The district court issued its decision in March 2010 stating that the plaintiffs would not need to exhaust local remedies prior to bringing the case in US court, but the court also reiterated that it had found that the plaintiffs' case was precluded by the politcal question doctrine.

In August 2011 the Inter-American Court of Human Rights announced that it would hear a case against Colombia regarding the bombing of Santo Domingo.  

- "Human rights court to review 3 Colombian cases", Travis Mannon, Colombia Reports, 23 Aug 2011
- [PDF] "Mujica v. Occidental Petroleum Corporation: A Case Study of the Role of the Executive Branch in International Human Rights Litigation", Amy Apollo, Rutgers Law Journal, 2006

- "U.S. State Department Intervenes To Protect Occidental Against Lawsuit For Human Rights Crimes", Daniel Kovalik [plaintiffs’ co-counsel], ZNet, 13 Jan 2005

- "Occidental Sued in Human Rights Case", Lisa Girion, Los Angeles Times, 25 Apr 2003

- "A Colombian Village Caught in a Cross-Fire", T. Christian Miller, Los Angeles Times, 17 Mar 2002


- Occidental Petroleum: Occidental Issues Statement Regarding Santo Domingo, Colombia Lawsuit, 24 Apr 2003

- International Rights Advocates [plaintiffs co-counsel]: Occidental Petroleum - Case summary 


- US District Court for the Central District of California: [PDF] Mujica v. Occidental Petroleum Corporation - Ruling on limited remand as to the prudential exhaustion issue, 8 Mar 2010
- US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit: [PDF] Mujica v. Occidental Petroleum Corporation, AirScan, Inc. - Order, 11 May 2009
- US Department of State: [PDF] Mujica v. Occidental Petroleum Corp. – Brief of United States as Amicus Curiae in Support of Affirmance, 17 Mar 2006

- Earthrights International: [PDF] Mujica v. Occidental Petroleum Corp. - Brief of Amicus Curiae Earthrights International in Support of Plaintiffs-Appellants and Reversal, 3 Jan 2006 [brief filed with the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in support of the appellants-plaintiffs and reversal]

- US District Court for the Central District of California: Mujica v. Occidental Petroleum Corp. - Opinion, 28 Jun 2005 [order denying defendant’s motion to dismiss the action under the doctrines of forum non conveniens and international comity]

- US Department of State: [PDF] Statement of Intent, 23 Dec 2004

- International Rights Advocates [plaintiffs’ co- counsel]: [PDF] Mujica v. Occidental Petroleum Corporation - Complaint, 23 Apr 2003

Case Timeline