Doe v. Unocal Corp.

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A case brought under the Alien Tort Statute against U.S. based oil company Unocal and French oil company Total. The case involved human rights abuses committed in Myanmar by the Burmese military associated with the construction of the Yadana gas pipeline.

The case was ultimately settled.

Background[edit]

California-based oil company Unocal and French-based company Total pursued a gas pipeline in southern Myanmar. The oil companies partnered with the Burmese military to provide security for the project. During construction of the project, the Burmese military committed horrific human rights abuses on the local population. Allegations included murder, rape, forced labor, and forced relocation.

In response to these allegations, Earth Rights International and other groups filed suit in the United States District Court in California in 1997. They brought the suit under the Alien Tort Statute which allows foreign nationals to bring tort cases in U.S. Federal District Court for violations of international law.

Relevant Law and Principles[edit]

Ruling[edit]

The case was brought in U.S. Federal District Court in Los Angeles in 1997. The Court ruled that corporations and their executive officers can be held legally responsible under the Alien Tort Claims Act for violations of international human rights law in foreign countries. Nevertheless, the case was dismissed on the grounds that Unocal could not be held liable unless Unocal wanted the military to commit human rights abuses.

Upon appeal, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed the District Court decision. Prior to an en banc rehearing by the Ninth Circuit Court, the parties agreed on a settlement.

Takeaways[edit]

This was the first successful attempt to hold a multinational corporation liable in their own country for human rights abuses committed internationally.

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