On September 15, 2004 California Superior Court Judge Victoria Chaney rejected an attempt by Unocal Corp. to dismiss a lawsuit charging it is responsible for human rights abuses committed by the notoriously brutal Burmese military on behalf of Unocal’s Yadana Pipeline project in southern Burma. When the judge denied the oil company’s motion to dismiss the suit, she cleared the way for the trial to begin after eight years of litigation.
“There is abundant evidence that the Burmese military, Unocal’s project partner, forced villagers to perform hard labor against their will and committed widespread human rights violations for Unocal’s benefit,” said Richard Herz of EarthRights International, co-counsel for the plaintiffs.
The plaintiffs in John Doe I, et. al. v. Unocal Corp., et al. are villagers who lived near the pipeline. Some were forced to work on pipeline infrastructure by the military. The remainder suffered other egregious abuses including, murder, rape and other torture at the hands of soldiers providing “security” for the project.
Unocal had argued the case should not proceed in light of the Court’s previous ruling that the Unocal subsidiaries the company claims were involved in the project were separate entities from Unocal. Judge Chaney rejected that argument, holding that her prior decision “does not preclude [the plaintiffs] from proving defendants controlled specific aspects of the Yadana project to an extent beyond that permissible by a mere owner.”
Dan Stormer, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said, “This is a total victory and vindication for the victims in this case. Now Unocal will have to defend its despicable actions before a California jury.”
Paul Hoffman, co-counsel for the plaintiffs and cooperating attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), concurred: “This is an important decision, not only because it allows Unocal to be held liable for abuses committed overseas, but also because it tells other multinational corporations that go into business with repressive dictatorships that they are responsible for their partners’ human rights violations.” CCR staff attorney Jennie Green added: “After eight years of litigation, the plaintiffs will finally have their day in court. We are confident that a jury reviewing the facts of this case will be horrified at Unocal’s behavior.”
Plaintiffs are represented by Paul Hoffman of Schonbrun, DeSimone, Seplow, Harris and Hoffman; Anne Richardson and Dan Stormer of Hadsell & Stormer; Judith Brown Chomsky and Jennie Green of the Center for Constitutional Rights and EarthRights International.
Additional information on the case and reports documenting abuses on the Yadana pipeline project can be found at the EarthRights International website.