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3 Jan 2022

Aisyah Llewellyn, Nikkei Asia (Japan)

Trial in US lawsuit against ExxonMobil over alleged complicity in torture & beatings by military in Indonesia could start after 20 years

"ExxonMobil Indonesia lawsuit heads for trial after 20 years", 31 Dec 2021

In court papers filed in the case of John Doe v. ExxonMobil Corporation, villagers recount in harrowing detail how they and their family members were caught and tortured in and around an ExxonMobil gas plant in Indonesia's Aceh Province...

The lawsuit, which was originally filed in the District Court for the District of Columbia in the U.S. in June 2001, alleges that oil and gas giant ExxonMobil was responsible for human rights violations, including sexual assault, battery and wrongful death, committed by members of the Indonesian military. The soldiers had been hired to guard the ExxonMobil plant in Aceh in the late 1990s and were thus under contract with ExxonMobil when the abuses took place, the lawsuit says.

ExxonMobil has tried to have the plaintiffs' claims dismissed nine times, slowing the legal process to a crawl. The case has dragged through the courts for over 20 years. Now, however, lawyers for the plaintiffs are hoping they will get their long-awaited day in court.

Agnieszka Fryszman, who serves as co-counsel in the case, told Nikkei Asia that the plaintiffs' legal team has filed over 300 pages of factual findings, approximately 400 exhibits and five expert reports. It has conducted around 40 depositions to prepare the case for trial. In November, the team filed a motion to set a trial date, which could happen as soon as this spring, depending on the course of the coronavirus pandemic...

In court documents, ExxonMobil has repeatedly countered that it had no knowledge of any human rights abuses and cannot be held responsible for any violations that may have occurred...

Oberdorfer, who originally presided over the case, died in 2013, as have four of the original 11 plaintiffs.

The remaining plaintiffs told Nikkei that the pressure of having the case hang over them for more than two decades has taken its toll, but they are ready for their voices to be heard.

"We hope they can schedule the trial so that we can finish this quickly," one of the plaintiffs said, speaking on the condition of anonymity. "We need to know the verdict. We want things to be clear, but we are not scared. We faced this torture and we experienced it. We were the ones who were hit and beaten."..

When contacted for comment on the case, ExxonMobil spokesman Todd Spitler referred Nikkei to a previous statement: "We have fought the baseless claims for many years ... The plaintiffs' claims are without merit. While conducting its business in Indonesia, ExxonMobil has worked for generations to improve the quality of life in Aceh through employment of local workers, provision of health services and extensive community investment. The company strongly condemns human rights violations in any form."