Bush Administration lawyers filed a legal brief in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit arguing that California oil giant Unocal should not be liable for aiding and abetting human rights abuses committed by the notoriously brutal Burmese military on behalf of Unocal’s Yadana pipeline project in southern Burma.
“The Administration has previously argued in court that those who aid and abet terrorists can be sued. But to protect narrow business interests, they now say those who aid and abet crimes against humanity should be immune” said Richard Herz of EarthRights International, co-counsel for the plaintiffs.
The plaintiffs in John Doe I v. Unocal Corp. are villagers who lived near the pipeline. Some were forced to work on pipeline infrastructure by the military, Unocal’s project partner. The remainder suffered other egregious abuses including rape, murder and torture at the hands of soldiers providing “security” for the project.
The Administration wants the case dismissed, arguing that aiding and abetting liability “could deter” companies from “economic engagement” with oppressive regimes. Plaintiffs’ counsel Jennie Green of the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) stated, “This Administration would allow U.S. corporations to get away with murder, rape and other torture. Unocal knew these abuses would occur when it partnered with one of the world’s most repressive dictatorships, and Unocal’s actions furthered the abuses. Decisions by U.S. courts are clear that when corporations participate in human rights abuses, U.S. courts can hold them accountable.”
The suit was filed under the Alien Tort Claims Act, which allows victims of human rights abuses to sue those responsible. Recently, the Bush Administration argued to the U.S. Supreme Court in Sosa v. Alvarez-Machain that no human rights claims should be actionable under the statute. In July, the Supreme Court rejected the Administration’s position and upheld the law.
Paul Hoffman, a lawyer for the plaintiffs and cooperating attorney with CCR, said, “The Bush Administration is again attempting to prevent any victims of abuses from having their day in court. There is no question that Unocal should be held liable for its complicity in these crimes.”
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 this and other ATCA cases including Sosa, and reports documenting abuses on the Yadana project can be found at www.ccr-ny.org and www.earthrights.org.
The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) is a non-profit legal and educational organization dedicated to protecting and advancing the rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Founded in 1966 by attorneys who represented civil rights demonstrators in the South, CCR is committed to the creative use of law as a positive force for social change.”