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

31 March 2003

Legal case for doing the right thing

Author: Sarah Murray, Financial Times

As a wave of legal actions - such as a case alleging that Unocal, the US oil company, used forced labour in Burma - put business responsibility on trial, the voluntary versus mandatory debate is increasingly being overtaken by the law. Many question whether a law passed in 1789 - the Alien Tort Claims Act, through which some US courts have allowed lawsuits that allege US companies have violated international laws abroad - should be used in this way. But whatever the outcome of such cases (no company has yet made any payment) and the result of the debate, the potential liability of multinational companies in relation to corporate responsibility is becoming harder to ignore...Laws on misrepresentation or false advertising can come to bear on what companies voluntarily disclose about themselves. Currently under the spotlight is Nike, which was sued by Marc Kasky, an activist who alleged the company made false statements in press releases about its labour practices...Many of the legal challenges facing companies today are examined in a report released last month. Prepared by the International Institute for Environment and Development, it aims to demonstrate how the law is shaping corporate responsibility.

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4 April 2003

Oil Companies being sued

Author: International Campaign against Impunity

[refers to Total Fina Elf, UNOCAL, Shell; Nigeria, Burma, Republic of Congo]

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8 May 2003

U.S. Justice Department’s amicus curae brief in case of Doe v. Unocal

Author: U.S. Department of Justice

[link is to Human Rights Watch webpage entitled "U.S.: Ashcroft Attacks Human Rights Law" - scroll to bottom of page to download the U.S. Justice Dept. brief]

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15 May 2003

U.S.: Ashcroft Attacks Human Rights Law - Justice Dept. Undermining Key Precedent

Author: Human Rights Watch

On May 8, Attorney General John Ashcroft filed an amicus curiae brief for the defense in a civil case alleging that the oil company Unocal was complicit in forced labor and other abuses committed by the Burmese military during the construction of the Yadana gas pipeline...The Justice Department would deny victims the right to sue under the ATCA [Alien Tort Claims Act] for abuses committed abroad.

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24 May 2003

company website: The Yadana Project in Myanmar: The Story You Haven't Heard About the Activists' Lawsuits

Author: Unocal

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30 May 2003

White House Seeks to Curb Rights Cases From Abroad: U.S. Fears Effect On Diplomatic Ties

Author: Dan Eggen and Charles Lane, Washington Post

The Bush administration is pushing to limit the ability of foreign nationals to obtain judgments against despots and multinational corporations in U.S. courts, arguing that such lawsuits have become a threat to U.S. foreign policy and could undermine the war on terrorism...The intervention of the U.S. government raises the possibility that the issue will ultimately reach the Supreme Court. [refers to lawsuit against Unocal re Burma]

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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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6 June 2003

ICFTU releases background report on Burma and more names of companies linked to the 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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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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