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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8 August 2003

An Important Human Rights Tool

Author: editorial, New York Times

[concerning use of Alien Tort Claims Act to sue Unocal for alleged human rights abuses in Burma] The Bush administration argues that permitting the Myanmar villagers to sue will interfere with American foreign policy, including the war on terrorism. But this is false. The United States has no interest in protecting companies that engage in forced labor or other such abuses.

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7 August 2003

The Court of Last Resort

Author: Arlen Specter, U.S. Republican Senator, commentary in New York Times

[commentary defending use of the Alien Tort Claims Act to bring lawsuits in U.S. courts against companies for alleged violation of fundamental human rights laws]

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7 August 2003

Unocal Penalized for Tardy Documents

Author: Associated Press

Unocal Corp. was penalized for submitting more than 1,300 pages of documents late in the civil case in which the oil giant is accused of being complicit in human rights abuses in Myanmar...The move could lead to a delay in the trial scheduled to begin Sept. 22.

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3 August 2003

U.S. Courts' role in foreign feuds comes under fire

Author: Adam Liptak, New York Times

[refers to lawsuits brought under Alien Tort Claims Act against companies allegedly connected with human rights abuses; includes reference to lawsuits against ExxonMobil and Unocal]

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1 August 2003

Unocal on trial for Burma 'abuses'

Author: BBC News

The American oil giant Unocal must stand trial in California for alleged human rights abuses in Burma, a court has ruled.
A lawsuit, filed almost three years ago, accuses the company of allowing troops guarding one of its pipeline projects to rape, murder and enslave villagers.

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1 August 2003

[PDF] Emerging Threat: Human Rights Claims

Author: Elliot Schrage, Adjunct Senior Fellow in Business & Foreign Policy, Council on Foreign Relations, in Harvard Business Review

...human rights claims should be a pressing concern to every global company. Activist U.S. courts are accepting more and more claims against multinational companies for their business practices in developing countries. The courts are increasingly willing to apply international human rights standards to corporate conduct...In the post-Enron environment, every global company's board of directors needs to oversee its assessment and management of these risks. [refers to lawsuits against Unocal, Talisman, Dole, Chiquita]

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31 July 2003

Judge rejects Unocal attempt to avoid California law

Author: Paul Chavez, Associated Press

A Superior Court judge rejected oil giant Unocal's claim that California law should not apply in an upcoming trial that alleges the company shares responsibility for human rights abuses carried out in Myanmar by that country's military.

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29 July 2003

Experts Defend Law from Business Attack [USA]

Author: Katrin Dauenhauer, Inter Press Service

Human rights experts are challenging a new study that calls a key law [Alien Tort Claims Act] permitting victims of international human rights abuses to sue in U.S. courts a major threat to world trade and investment.

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18 July 2003

Wrong on rights

Author: Harold Hongju Koh, Professor of International Law at Yale University and former US Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, in YaleGlobal

The [U.S.] government’s position [arguing against use of the Alien Tort Claims Act to bring lawsuits in U.S. courts alleging violation by companies of fundamental human rights] is wrong, unnecessary, and damaging to meaningful efforts to promote corporate responsibility in the US and respect for human rights worldwide. [refers to Unocal, BP]

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7 July 2003

Laws of Empire

Author: David Moberg, In These Times

Now the Bush administration, acting on behalf of major multinational corporations, is planning to block that rare option [Alien Tort Claims Act lawsuit] for legal redress of international human rights violations. [refers to lawsuits against: Unocal, Coca-Cola, Drummond, ExxonMobil]

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