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Unocal lawsuit (re Myanmar)

Pipeline, By: SeanMack, Creative Commons

In 1996, a group of Myanmar residents filed a lawsuit against Unocal in US federal court. Plaintiffs allege Unocal was complicit in human rights abuses they suffered such as forced labour, murder, rape, and torture during the construction of a gas pipeline. The parties reached an out of court settlement in which Unocal agreed to compensate the plaintiffs and provide funds for programmes in Myanmar to improve living conditions of the people in the pipeline region. 


A group of Myanmar residents filed a lawsuit against Unocal in US federal court in 1996.  The plaintiffs alleged they had suffered human rights abuses such as forced labour, murder, rape and torture at the hands of the Myanmar military during construction of a gas pipeline, and that Unocal was complicit in these abuses.  Unocal and Myanmar’s military government were in a consortium for the pipeline’s construction.  The parties reached an out-of-court settlement in which Unocal agreed to compensate the plaintiffs and provide funds for programmes in Myanmar to improve living conditions and protect the rights of people from the pipeline region (the exact terms of the settlement are confidential).  This settlement was accepted by the court, and the case was closed on 13 April 2005.

Background materials
- “Tentative Settlement of ATCA Human Rights Suits Against Unocal”, Red Orbit, 24 Jul 2005
- “Tale of Rape and Murder on Burmese Pipeline Haunts US”, Andrew Gumbel, Independent [UK], 11 Dec 2003 [overview of case as of Dec 2003]
- Unocal: [PDF] “Background: The Yadana Pipeline and Activist Lawsuits”, 2 Dec 2003
- Unocal: “The story you haven’t heard about . . . The Yadana Project in Myanmar” [general information regarding Unocal’s activities in Burma]
- Center for Constitutional Rights (NGO representing plaintiffs): “Synopsis” [of Doe v. Unocal lawsuit]
- Earthrights International (NGO representing plaintiffs): “Doe v. Unocal” [background materials]

- Analysis:  [PDF] "The Unocal Settlement: Implications for the Developing Law on Corporate Complicity in Human Rights Abuses", Rachel Chambers, Castan Centre for Human Rights Law at Monash University [Australia], in Human Rights Brief, Washington College of Law, American University Fall 2005 
- Analysis: “Unocal Announces It will Settle a Human Rights Suit: What is the Real Story Behind Its Decision?”, Anthony J. Sebok, Brooklyn Law School, in FindLaw’s Writ, 10 Jan 2005 
- Unocal: “The story you haven’t heard about . . . The Activists’ Lawsuits”, 4 Apr 2005 
- Center for Constitutional Rights: “Historic Advance for Universal Human Rights: Unocal to Compensate Burmese Villagers
- Earthrights International: "Court Denies Unocal's Efforts to Shift Responsibility for Human Rights Abuses [in Burma] to its Insurers", Lillian Manzella, 14 Jun 2006
- Earthrights International: Common Questions and Answers, 2 Apr 2005

Certain legal briefs filed in this case [from website of attorneys for plaintiffs, Schonbrun DeSimone Seplow Harris and Hoffman LLP]

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30 September 2004

If shaking hands with tyrants seems bad, wait until you meet their corporate friends

Author: Johann Hari, Independent [UK]

Every year, the friends and accomplices of some of the worst human rights abusers in the world mill around our party conferences...Don't get me wrong - this is not an anti-capitalist view...We need companies. Markets are an essential part of any economy. But they are only part of it - they need to be counterbalanced by strong regulations, democratic and environmental protections, and trade unions. [refers to BAE Systems, Unocal, BP, Coca-Cola, Nike, Starbucks]

Read the full post here

18 September 2004

Unocal decision impacts Shell, Coca-Cola, Exxon [part of ExxonMobil] and Gap

Author: Richard Welford, CSR Asia

The decision [by a California judge] reported here yesterday to allow the lawsuit against Unocal’s activities in Myanmar to go forward will impact other companies facing actions under the Alien Tort Claims Act awaiting this appeal ruling.

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15 September 2004

Slavery Suit Will Go Forward [USA/Burma]

Author: Paul Chavez, AP

A California judge on Tuesday kept alive a human rights lawsuit that claims energy giant Unocal Corp. should be held liable for the alleged enslavement of local residents during construction of a gas pipeline in Southeast Asia...Daniel Petrocelli, Unocal's lead attorney...said he believed "the jury would find exactly the same thing" as the judge had previously - that Unocal was not responsible for the alleged actions of Myanmar's soldiers.

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27 August 2004

Another Yadana: The Shwe Natural Gas Pipeline Project

Author: EarthRights International

In EarthRights International’s (ERI) view, an alarming number of similarities already exist between the Yadana Pipeline and the proposed Shwe Pipeline. If nothing is done, it appears likely that history will repeat itself. Forced labor and human rights abuses are still an ongoing problem throughout Burma, and it can be assumed that these violations will continue at any major development project site...Presently, the Shwe Project Consortium is comprised of four entities. Daewoo International (60% stake) and the Korean Gas Corporation (10%) are both incorporated in South Korea, while the state-owned Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) Videsh Ltd. (30% stake) and Gas Authority of India Ltd. (GAIL) both represent India. [also refers to Myanmar Oil & Gas Authority (MOGE), Total, Unocal]

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17 August 2004

[DOC] Corporate Obligations under International Law

Author: Menno T. Kamminga, Professor of International Law, Maastricht University; Co-Director, Maastricht Centre for Human Rights

...These instances demonstrate that there are no reasons of principle why companies cannot have direct obligations under international law...[C]oncurrence of international obligations of states and of non-state actors is an inevitable result of the globalization process. The intention of the drafters of the Norms obviously was that obligations of companies would supplement and not replace the obligations of states. [This paper was presented at Intl. Law Association conference (Berlin, Aug. 2004) and submitted to UN stakeholder consultation on business & human rights in Sep. 2004]

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1 August 2004

The questions over aiding and abetting

Author: Jonathan Birchall, Financial Times

Does a group of Burmese villagers have the right to take legal action in the US against a US oil company over alleged complicity in murder and forced labour in their home country? Unocal, the oil company, will shortly resume its efforts to persuade a federal appeals court in California that they do not...Lawyers representing the Burmese villagers in the Unocal case believe the complaints - of complicity in acts of murder, forced labour and rape - will be sufficient to bring the case to trial. [refers also to cases against ExxonMobil, Talisman, Shell, ChevronTexaco]

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1 August 2004

[PDF] REO Report 2nd Quarter 2004

Author: ISIS Asset Management

[PDF] reo® stands for Responsible Engagement Overlay. The objective of reo® is to use the influence that ISIS has through its share ownership and that of its clients to encourage investee companies to enhance their business performance by adopting better corporate governance, social, and environmental practices. [refers to Nestlé, Unocal, Avon, Standard Chartered, Dell, ChevronTexaco, Coca-Cola, Gap, Pfizer, Merck, Abbott Laboratories, Altria, General Electric, Safeway, Next, Anglo American, BHP Billiton, Newmont, Statoil, Talisman, British American Tobacco, Co-operative Group, Sara Lee, Starbucks and others]

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26 July 2004

U.S. Courts Tackle Foreign Abuses - Energy corporations question 'law of nations'

Author: Jennifer Huang, newsdesk.org

A 215-year-old law originally written to address piracy and crimes abroad against American ambassadors is at the heart of litigation targeting some of the world's largest energy corporations...a recent Supreme Court ruling may have left the door open for the suits to proceed. [refers to ExxonMobil, ChevronTexaco, Unocal, Shell]

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4 July 2004

[Reading list for "Human Rights in the Marketplace" course]

Author: Professor Margaret Bedggood

[course taught at Summer School in Intl. Human Rights Law, Oxford Univ. & George Washington Univ. Law School, 2004]

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3 July 2004

Human Rights and the Court [USA]

Author: editorial, New York Times

The Supreme Court has upheld an important law [Alien Tort Claims Act] that offers victims of torture, genocide, slavery and war crimes worldwide a day in court...International businesses hate the law...The Bush administration agrees. But in its first ruling on the act, the Supreme Court properly sided with the cause of human rights.

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