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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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All components of this story

1 September 2009

[PDF] Getting it Wrong: Flawed "Corporate Social Responsibility" and Misrepresentations Surrounding Total and Chevron's Yadana Gas Pipeline in Military-Ruled Burma (Myanmar)

Author: EarthRights International

From the...beginning [of the Yadana project, developed by Chevron, Total and other companies], the Burma Army has been tasked with providing security...and has committed widespread and systematic human rights abuses... This report documents in detail how impact assessments commissioned by Total were flawed in methodology and factually inaccurate and incomplete, particularly those undertaken by the Corporate Engagement Project of...CDA Collaborative Learning Projects (CDA). It also documents and analyzes brazen misrepresentations of the project by the oil companies... [also refers to Unocal (now part of Chevron)]

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1 September 2009

[PDF] Total Impact: The Human Rights, Environmental, and Financial Impacts of Total and Chevron's Yadana Gas Project in Military-Ruled Burma (Myanmar)

Author: EarthRights International

...[New] evidence collected through 2009 attests to the on-going violent abuses committed by the Burma Army providing security for the companies [Chevron and Total] and the [Yadana] project... [This] report further documents the Burma Army's role in the construction phase of the Yadana Project as well as its continuing connection to the companies and the pipeline... [The] Yadana Project has [also] been a significant factor in keeping the Burmese military regime financially solvent. This report documents for the first time the aggregate revenue generated by the Yadana Project for the ruling SPDC... [The] revenue is not accounted for in Burma's national budget and according to reliable sources it is stored in two offshore banks in Singapore [Overseas Chinese Banking Corporation (OCBC), DBS Group]. [also refers to PTT Exploration and Production (PTTEP, part of PTT), Myanmar Oil & Gas Enterprise (MOGE), Unocal (now part of Chevron), Daewoo Iternational, Korea Gas Corp .(KOGAS), Gas Authority of India Ltd (GAIL), ONGC VIdesh, Chinese National Petroleum Corp. (CNPC), PetroChina]

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27 August 2009

Magsaysay Award goes green: 4 Earth activists get awards

Author: Joseph Holandes Ubalde, GMANews

Four of the six Ramon Magsaysay awardees this year have championed environmental causes in their countries, reflecting the rising importance of "green" issues in Asia. The region’s equivalent of the Nobel Peace Prize awarded lawyer Antonio Oposa Jr. from the Philippines, Ka Hsaw Wa from Myanmar (formerly Burma) and Yu Xiaogang and Ma Jun from China for their respective work in saving the environment...Ma Jun...was cited for establishing an online database of water pollution information...[which] to date...has recorded some 35,000 environmental violations committed by various corporations...Wa...founded the non-profit EarthRights, which filed a case against a US-based company [Unocal (now part of Chevron)] responsible for building the Yadana pipeline.

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29 June 2009

Human rights abuses: How complicit are oil companies?

Author: Gerald Karey, Platts Weblog

Oil companies need to go where the oil is and that sometimes takes them to countries where the social, environmental and political rights of indigenous peoples count for little. However, those oil operations and the companies' involvement with the host governments are increasingly being challenged… But even if not complicit, when in order to operate in a country a company must accommodate itself to a regime that rules at the point of a gun, it can leave a deep stain on its reputation that proves very hard to wash away. [refers to Shell, ExxonMobil, Chevron, Unocal]

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11 June 2009

A Win for Wiwa, a Win for Shell, a Win for Corporate Human Rights

Author: Michael Goldhaber, American Lawyer

Late Monday, on the eve of trial in New York, the parties settled in Wiwa v. Shell. For those with longer memories, it was reminiscent of March 2005, when another case hyped as the great breakthrough for corporate human rights, Doe v. Unocal, settled before trial on the merits…Absent a cathartic trial, can a winner be declared?...While the facts in dispute will never be settled, Wiwa has left its mark on law and legal culture -- and in this respect the movement for business human rights is the big winner. [also refers to Chevron, Curacao Drydock, Esmor Correctional Services, Drummond, Gap, Yahoo!]

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3 June 2009

Lawsuits target oil company operations overseas

Author: Chris Kahn, AP

Royal Dutch Shell is preparing for a federal trial…where it would face allegations that it played a role in the executions of activist Ken Saro-Wiwa and other civilians by Nigeria's former military regime. It is just the latest in a series of trials seeking to hold big oil companies liable for human rights abuses or environmental damage overseas…Oil companies say they can't be held responsible for the actions of the national governments in countries where they operate. They have, however, paid attention to the potentially damaging perception of human rights abuses, and so have company shareholders…No matter what happens in court, the attention already has forced the industry to take a harder look at its relationship with foreign governments. [also refers to Chevron, ExxonMobil, Unocal (part of Chevron)]

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26 May 2009

The U.S. Can't Be the World's Court - New York isn't the right venue to sue for apartheid abuses.

Author: [opinion] John R. Bellinger III, partner at Arnold & Porter law firm; former Legal Adviser, US State Department, in Wall Street Journal

A federal judge in New York recently allowed a lawsuit to proceed against General Motors, Ford and IBM for aiding and abetting crimes against humanity committed by the apartheid government in South Africa. And a lawsuit against Royal Dutch Shell for alleged human-rights abuses in Nigeria is scheduled to begin today in Manhattan. We may be on the verge of a new wave of legal actions against U.S. and foreign corporations in American courts... these lawsuits, which are being brought under the 200-year-old Alien Tort Statute, are likely to cause friction between foreign governments and the Obama administration. Congress should step in and clarify the types of human-rights cases that may be heard... Litigation under the Alien Tort Statute may force companies to modify their international activities in some cases, although it rarely produces monetary awards for plaintiffs. But it does give rise to diplomatic friction in U.S. relations with foreign governments... Human-rights and labor groups are likely to press the Obama administration to support litigation under the Alien Tort Statute and even to reverse the Bush administration's opposition to the apartheid case. [also refers to lawsuits against Caterpillar, Dow Chemical, Yahoo, ExxonMobil, Unocal (now part of Chevron), Talisman Energy, Rio Tinto]

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25 May 2009

Old law exhumed by fighters for human rights [USA]

Author: Michael Peel, Financial Times

...On Tuesday, a court in New York will start hearing a lawsuit alleging Shell was complicit in Ken Saro-Wiwa’s death and a campaign of terror by Nigerian security forces. The claim – which the company says is false and is defending – is one of a series of similar cases launched against big businesses from round the world...The potential of these lawsuits to generate huge damages and disastrous publicity now hovers, according to one lawyer whose firm defends big companies, “very close to the consciousness of corporate America acting overseas”…These US actions are part of a wider international move to hold companies to account in rich countries over allegedly harmful activities in the poor world. In the absence of a bespoke world civil court to deal with such claims, lawyers are coming up with innovative ways of using existing national laws and procedures…The steadily widening stream of international litigation has opened up largely because of the US Alien Tort Claims Act of 1789…While some corporate lawyers argue the act is being used in cases for which it was never originally intended, the statute’s supporters say it is probably being applied in the same spirit now as it was when it was created. [also refers to Chevron, Trafigura, Unocal, Yahoo!]

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21 May 2009

Oil Industry Braces for Trial on Rights Abuses

Author: Jad Mouwad, New York Times

Fourteen years after the execution of...activist Ken Saro-Wiwa by Nigeria’s former military regime, Royal Dutch Shell will appear before a federal court in New York to answer charges of crimes against humanity in connection with his death...The case could have global repercussions for the oil industry, said Arvind Ganesan, the head of the business and human rights practice at Human Rights Watch...“The lesson here is that these cases aren’t going away,” Mr. Ganesan said. “If a jury found Shell guilty, this would change the behavior of the industry pretty quickly.” [refers to Unocal lawsuit (re Burma), Chevron lawsuit (re Nigeria)]

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1 May 2009

[PDF] UK businesses and access to justice for human rights violations - A submission of written evidence to the UK Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights

Author: EarthRights International

…In Part I, we briefly address the universality of human rights obligations under international and domestic law. In Part II, we describe the human rights impacts of the activities of the UK’s Shell Transport and Trading Co. in Nigeria in the 1990s, which have led to litigation in the US. In Part III, we address potential obstacles to the legal accountability of UK business entities for human rights abuses… Finally, in Part IV, we suggest ways to enhance the ability of individuals to seek appropriate remedies for human rights claims against corporations in UK courts...[also refers to Cape PLC, Unocal]

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