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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28 April 2009

ERI Speaks to Oil Industry: New Investment in Military-Ruled Burma Poses Huge Risks to Companies

Author: EarthRights International

New investment in military-ruled Burma’s oil and gas sector could actually cost a company more than to stay away from the country, and effective corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs in the sector are impossible under the current Burmese military regime: That was the...message ERI delivered to the oil industry at an industry conference in Jakarta, Indonesia on April 14-15, where ERI...spoke by invitation...[refers to Chevron, Total, Unocal]

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Author: Avocats Sans Frontières

Projection unique de TOTAL DENIAL de Milena Kaneva, Jeudi 14 mai 2009 à 20h00 Cinéma Le Parc à Liège (Droixhe). Dans un bras de fer légal à la David et Goliath, quinze villageois birmans s’élèvent contre les géants pétroliers Unocal [filiale de Chevron] et Total. Un film édifiant. La projection, organisée par Avocats Sans Frontières, sera suivie d’une rencontre animée par Patrick de Lamalle, journaliste ARTE, avec
• Milena Kaneva, réalisatrice
• Alexis Deswaef, avocat du cabinet du Quartier des Libertés,
• Pierre-Yves Gillet, Actions Birmanie
• Indra Van Gisbergen, Avocats Sans Frontières.

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3 December 2008

Summary profile of Chevron lawsuit re Nigeria in USA

Author: Business & Human Rights Resource Centre

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2 December 2008

Chevron cleared in 1998 shootings at Nigerian oil platform

Author: Richard Paddock, Los Angeles Times

A federal jury Monday cleared Chevron Corp. of any responsibility in the shooting of Nigerian villagers by military forces during a protest at an offshore oil platform... Survivors of the 1998 incident had argued that the oil company should be held accountable because it paid the police and soldiers and transported them by helicopter to the oil platform, where they shot and killed two unarmed protesters and wounded two others... Chevron...countered that the villagers were holding workers hostage at the platform and that the company acted responsibly by calling in local authorities to protect them... Bert Voorhees, an attorney for the Nigerian villagers, said the plaintiffs' team of attorneys would appeal... Naomi Roht-Arriaza, a professor at UC Hastings' College of the Law who observed part of the trial, said the verdict appears to have turned on the facts in the case, not on whether the Alien Torts Statute should apply. [also refers to Unocal lawsuit]

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2 November 2008

[PDF] Obstacles to Justice and Redress for Victims of Corporate Human Rights Abuse

Author: Univ. of Oxford Pro Bono Publico

This submission is prepared by Oxford Pro Bono Publico (OPBP) to inform the mandate of Professor John Ruggie, the Special Representative of the United Nations’ Secretary-General (SRSG) on business and human rights... The SRSG has been asked at various stages of his mandate to further explore the obstacles victims of corporate human rights abuse face in accessing justice and obtaining remediation through domestic legal systems... [This] project considers these obstacles in relation to...13 separate jurisdictions: Australia, Canada, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the European Union, France, Germany, India, Malaysia, the People’s Republic of China, Russia, South Africa, the United Kingdom and the United States. [refers to lawsuits involving Cape, Union Carbide (part of Dow) (Bhopal), Total, Unocal (part of Chevron), BHP Billiton, Cambior, Anvil Mining (Kilwa)]

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1 November 2008

[PDF] Corporate Complicity in Human Rights Abuses

Author: Vuyelwa Kuuya, Research Fellow, Lauterpacht Centre for International Law, University of Cambridge

Where corporate power has led to human rights violations various stakeholders – employees, consumers, indigenous communities, non-governmental and inter-governmental organisations, legislators and others – have called for corporate accountability for harm causing activity. The concept of corporate complicity in human rights violations has been put forward as the basis on which this accountability should be founded. The International Commission of Jurists has advanced [a]...definition of corporate complicity...This paper sets out to canvass the manner in which ‘hard law’ – international law and domestic law – have paid attention to the relationship between corporations and human rights. The first section concentrates on international law....Section two focuses on the cases of Doe v Unocal and Presbyterian Church of Sudan v Talisman Inc. which were based on the Aliens Tort Claims Act.

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26 October 2008

Chevron faces suit over Nigerian violence

Author: Bob Egelko, San Francisco Chronicle

Larry Bowoto's left arm is still scarred and numb where a soldier's bullet struck it in 1998 while he was aboard a Chevron oil platform in Nigeria….On Monday, in only the second trial of its kind, a federal jury will convene in San Francisco to decide whether Bowoto and his companions were violent hostage takers or innocent victims - and whether a U.S. corporation, whose foreign subsidiary summoned the security forces, is responsible for the bloodshed…. [Chevron] paints a different picture: Bowoto, the company says, led a group of armed men who seized the platform, demanding jobs and money, and held 200 employees captive during three days of fruitless negotiations before Chevron's Nigerian subsidiary…called for military help. [also refers to lawsuits against Unocal (now part of Chevron), Shell, Drummond]

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30 September 2008

Open Wounds - Big Oil and Big Mining face a host of allegations that they helped commit human rights abuses

Author: Michael Goldhaber with Daphne Eviatar, American Lawyer

...[A pending case against Chevron] explores the company's alleged complicity in killing one man and injuring three others. The suit was brought under the alien tort statute, which allows U.S. recovery for overseas violations of the law of nations... [The] plaintiffs bar is still gunning for its first trial victory on the theory of "corporate alien tort."... Some industry attorneys dismiss these claims as the fevered imaginings of global ambulance chasers. But, putting aside the merit or prospects of each case, there's no denying the inherent risks of abuse in the business of extraction. [also refers to lawsuits against Texaco, Unocal (both now part of Chevron), Drummond, Talisman; positive steps by BP]

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30 April 2008

Bad Business: Why Companies Shouldn't Trade with Abusive Regimes

Author: [email protected]

Is selling police equipment to a notoriously brutal government tantamount to assisting in torture? William Schulz [former executive director of Amnesty International] believes that it can be…Firms sometimes do business directly with repressive regimes or rebel groups and, in effect, fund their practices, according to Schulz…Schulz said that he doesn't believe that businesses must refuse to operate in any nation with a poor human rights record…In making judgments about whether to refuse to operate or invest in a country, Schulz said that firms must consider a variety of factors. The most obvious, besides the directness of the link, is the severity of the abuses. Another is how dependent the country's government is on the sales of a given commodity…[refers to BP, Reebok (part of adidas), Taser International, Unocal]

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29 April 2008

Report: Chevron financing, profiting from and liable for human rights abuses in Burma (Myanmar)

Author: Earthrights International

A report released today by EarthRights International (ERI) documents the ongoing human rights abuses…in the Yadana pipeline region of southern Burma (Myanmar). The first in-depth look at conditions in the pipeline region since Chevron Corporation joined the Yadana Project in 2005, the report details Chevron’s role in financing the military regime in Burma and highlights Chevron’s continuing legal liability for abuses associated with the pipeline... According to the report..., Chevron relies on the brutal Burmese military for pipeline security. The pipeline security soldiers conscript forced labor (including forced sentry duty along the pipeline route) and commit other serious human rights abuses in the course of their operations. [also refers to Unocal (part of Chevron)]

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