Unocal lawsuit (re Myanmar)

Pipeline, By: SeanMack, Creative CommonsA 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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1 May 2004

Human Rights and the Oil and Gas Industry An IPIECA [Intl. Petroleum Industry Environmental Conservation Association] Status Report, May 2004

Author: Intl. Petroleum Industry Environmental Conservation Association (IPIECA)

This Status Report has been prepared by the Social Responsibility Working Group (SRWG) and provides a baseline of where IPIECA [Intl. Petroleum Industry Environmental Conservation Association] members stand on human rights. It also highlights some of the directions that the Working Group is considering. [refers to BP, Shell, Statoil, Total]

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12 April 2004

Big Business Attacks ATCA in New York Times; ERI's Rebuttal

Author: EarthRights International

Last Friday’s New York Times (April 9, 2004) ran an op-ed page advertisement (“op-ad”) paid for by the National Foreign Trade Council (NFTC), a big business lobby group, that summarizes their opposition to the Alien Tort Claims Act (ATCA), an important human rights law. The op-ad, called “The Business of Human Rights,” is filled with misleading, self-serving arguments.

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9 March 2004

"No Safe Haven" website

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8 March 2004

Recent ATCA Cases Against Corporate Defendants

Author: EarthRights International

[provides brief status report on human rights lawsuits in US courts under Alien Tort Claims Act against: ChevronTexaco, Coca-Cola, Drummond, Dyncorp, ExxonMobil, Freeport-McMoran, Fresh Del Monte Produce, Gap, Rio Tinto, Shell, Southern Peru Copper, Texaco, Union Carbide, Unocal]

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1 March 2004

Law and disorder, corporate style

Author: Shane Schick, editor of, a daily publication which covers the Canadian technology industry, in Rabble [Canada]

[Canada]: Human rights advocates need to push for legislative reform and explore civil litigation if they want to make corporations more accountable for their impact on other countries, experts told the Law Union of Ontario conference this past weekend. [refers to Talisman, Ranger Oil (part of Canadian Natural Resources), Shell, Unocal]

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14 February 2004

Myanmar: Cheers, jeers over giant gas find

Author: Supratim Mukherjee, Asia Times

Government and business interests in India, Myanmar and South Korea are crowing over a giant gas discovery in the Arakan Sea...Opposition to the Shwe Prospect has begun already. [refers to Daewoo, Korea Gas Corporation, Oil and Natural Gas Commission (ONGC), Gas Authority of India Ltd (GAIL), Videsh (part of ONGC), Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise, Trans-Canadian Pipelines, Unocal]

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10 February 2004

Courting Responsibility

Author: Jaideep Singh, Mother Jones [Interview with Terry Collingsworth, International Labor Rights Fund]

In the human and labor rights community, suing companies is our nuclear weapon – our last resort...They're not serious about alternatives. They want to have it both ways. So we're going to keep suing them and keep winning. And then we'll say, "hey, how do you want to do this?" [refers to Unocal, Total, Control Risks, ExxonMobil, Coca-Cola, Shell, Chevron]

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23 January 2004

Judge: Unocal not liable for claims

Author: Laura Wides, Associated Press

Unocal Corp. cannot be held liable for claims against its subsidiaries in the construction of a natural gas pipeline that involved allegations of human rights abuses by the Myanmar military, a judge ruled Friday...Attorney Dan Stormer, who represents the villagers, said he was disappointed by the ruling but vowed to pursue claims that Unocal was in a joint venture with the subsidiaries and that the firms were acting on Unocal's behalf.

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Author: AFP

Un juge américain a exonéré vendredi le groupe pétrolier américain Unocal, poursuivi par des villageois birmans l'accusant d'avoir violé les droits de l'homme lors de la construction d'un gazoduc en Birmanie dans les annnées 90. La juge Victoria Chaney a estimé que le groupe ne pouvait être tenu responsable des activités de ses filiales qui ont participé aux travaux en Birmanie.

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22 January 2004

L.A. judge to issue oral ruling on Unocal's liability in human rights case

Author: Paul Chavez, Associated Press

...Unocal could have created a real corporation to participate in the pipeline project, but instead created "simply empty vessels" that relied on Unocal employees and officers to make decisions.

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