Federal appeals court reinstates Indonesia lawsuit against Exxon Mobil

[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit [official website] Friday revived a lawsuit [opinion, PDF] brought by 15 Indonesian citizens against the US corporation ExxonMobil Corp. [corporate website] alleging that its wholly-owned subsidiary hired security forces that committed numerous human rights abuses. The US District Court for the District of Columbia [official website] dismissed the lawsuit in 2009. Plaintiffs alleged that ExxonMobil hired members of the Indonesian military as security that it knew had committed human rights abuses in the past. They claim that the security forces committed abuses including genocide, extrajudicial killing, torture, crimes against humanity, sexual violence and kidnapping in violation of the Alien Torture Statute (ATS) [28 USC § 1350] and the Torture Victims Protection Act of 1991 [text]. The plaintiffs appealed that decision and ExxonMobil issued a cross-appeal arguing for the first time that it was immune from the lawsuit since it is not subject to the ATS. The court held that the plaintiffs had alleged sufficient facts to prove ExxonMobil was guilty of aiding and abetting and that "neither the text, history, nor purpose of the ATS supports corporate immunity for torts based on heinous conduct allegedly committed by its agents in violation of the law of nations." One judge dissented arguing that the ATS is meant to apply to conduct within the US or on the high seas, not in foreign countries, and that the ATS does not apply to corporations since it depends on customary international law that does not recognize corporate liability.

The federal courts have recently allowed lawsuits alleging violations of the ATS and TVPA for violence overseas by paramilitary troops hired by US corporations. Last month, a judge for the US District Court for the Southern District of Florida [official website] permitted lawsuits [JURIST report] under the ATS and TVPA against Chiquita Brand International [corporate website] to move forward. Family members of several thousand victims of paramilitary violence in Colombia filed suit against Chiquita Brand International, which has admitted to funding United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) [CDI backgrounder], a right-wing paramilitary group in Colombia. In May, the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit [official website] allowed a lawsuit by Argentine citizens against Daimler AG [official website] for the actions of Mercedes-Benz Argentina [official website, in Spanish] during the nation's 1976-1983 "Dirty War" [GlobalSecurity backgrounder; JURIST news archive]. The suit, which was dismissed by the US District Court for the Northern District of California [official website] in 2005 due to a lack of jurisdiction, alleges that Mercedes-Benz Argentina "collaborated with state security forces to kidnap, detain, torture, and kill the plaintiffs and/or their relatives."

 

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