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23 Apr 2003

Business & Human Rights Resource Centre

Occidental lawsuit (re Colombia)

Status: CLOSED

Date lawsuit was filed
23 Apr 2003
Location of Filing: United States of America
Location of Incident: Colombia
Type of Litigation: Transnational


AirScan United States of America Security companies
Occidental Petroleum United States of America Oil, gas & coal


Para la versión en español de este perfil de las demandas judiciales, haga clic acá.

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 November 2014, the appeals court dismissed the case, finding that the case had insufficient ties to the United States to be heard in US court.  On 14 December 2015, the US Supreme Court declined to hear the victims' appeal to reinstate the lawsuit against Oxy.

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.  On 30 November 2012, the Court ruled in favour of the victims and found that Colombia had violated the right to life of those killed by the bombing, as well as the right to personal integrity of those injured.

- "U.S. Supreme Court rejects human rights suit against Occidental", Lawrence Hurley, Reuters, 14 Dec 2015
- "US court refuses to hold Occidental liable in Colombia bombing", Jonathan Stempel, Reuters, 12 Nov 2014
- "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
- [PDF] Mujica v. Occidental Petroleum Corporation - Complaint, 23 Apr 2003

US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit:
- [PDF] Mujica v. AirScan & Occidental Petroleum Corporation, 12 Nov 2014
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
- Mujica v. Occidental Petroleum Corp. - Opinion, 28 Jun 2005 [order denying defendant’s motion to dismiss the action under the doctrines offorum non conveniens and international comity]
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
- [PDF] Statement of Intent, 23 Dec 2004

Earthrights International:
- Mujica v. Occidental Petroleum Corp. - Amicus Curiae in support of plaintiffs-appelants' petition for rehearing and rehearing en banc, 20 Jan 2015
- [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]
- Mujica v. Occidental Petroleum Corp.