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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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All components of this story

30 June 2003

Profits at Gunpoint

Author: Daphne Eviatar, The Nation

[commentary on lawsuit in U.S. courts against Unocal for human rights abuses in Burma][refers to TotalFinaElf]

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26 June 2003

Rights Groups Overseas Fight U.S. Concerns in U.S. Courts

Author: Juan Forero, New York Times

a growing number of lawsuits [in U.S. courts under the Alien Tort Claims Act]...are stirring a fierce debate over whether American companies should be liable — in American courts — for rights abuses committed on or near their foreign installations [refers to lawsuits against Drummond (Colombia), Coca-Cola (Colombia), Unocal (Burma)]

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17 June 2003

Appeals court [in USA] reconsiders if Unocal can be sued for atrocities [in Burma]

Author: David Kravets, Associated Press

Unocal Corp. asked a federal appeals court Tuesday to dismiss a lawsuit seeking monetary damages on behalf of indigenous farmers in Myanmar who allege the oil giant was complicit in human rights violations carried out by that country's military.

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17 June 2003

Court Ponders if U.S. Firm [Unocal] Liable for Abuse Abroad

Author: Carolyn Abate, Reuters

The hearing [by A U.S. appeals court] stems from two 1996 lawsuits against Unocal Corp. which claimed that villagers in rural Myanmar, formerly Burma, were subjected to forced labor, rape, torture and murder by the military during construction of a natural gas pipeline partially funded by the oil company.

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17 June 2003

Plaintiffs' Representatives Confident after Unocal Hearing [in U.S. court]

Author: EarthRights International

Representatives of the plaintiffs in the landmark human rights case Doe v. Unocal [regarding Burma] pronounced themselves satisfied with today’s oral arguments in front of 11 judges...“The judges appeared to give no credence to Unocal’s theory that these kinds of cases cannot be brought under ATCA [Alien Tort Claims Act]”

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9 June 2003

Court Is Villagers' Only Hope

Author: Ka Hsaw Wa , co-founder and co-director of EarthRights International, in Los Angeles Times

If an American company assists in and benefits from gross human rights abuses committed by its business partners, should it be held liable and accountable? [re lawsuit in U.S. courts against Unocal over its pipeline in Burma; refers also to Total]

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7 June 2003

Ashcroft Sides with Torturers: Unocal and the Crimes of Burma

Author: Joanne Mariner, CounterPunch

The only serious factual issue in the case is the extent of Unocal's responsibility for the crimes.

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6 June 2003

ICFTU releases background report on Burma and more names of companies linked to the country...as the regime increases its anti-democracy campaign

Author: International Confederation of Free Trade Unions

the ICFTU is publishing a document about the very serious human rights violations taking place there every day: forced labour, torture, confiscation of land, forced movement of people, and other crimes and abuses...The updated list names 375 multinationals, including 45 that were not on previous lists. [refers to Total, Unocal, Austrian Airlines, BAT, Ivanhoe Mines, Suzuki]

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6 June 2003

U.S. Court To Review Unocal Myanmar Brutality Suit

Author: Dow Jones Newswires

The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals will rehear arguments June 17 over whether some Myanmar plaintiffs can sue Unocal Corp. in U.S. federal court for alleged brutality, in a case that could have repercussions for U.S. companies accused of human-rights abuses abroad

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2 June 2003

A Needed Human Rights Law [USA]

Author: editorial, New York Times

...the Alien Tort Claims Act - now the Justice Department wants to end the law's use in such suits [lawsuits alleging companies engaged in serious human rights abuses abroad]...To stop lawsuits under this act would be to put abusive individuals and companies above the law.

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