July 8 (Bloomberg) -- Exxon Mobil Corp. must face claims it aided and abetted murder, torture and sexual assault by its security forces in Indonesia’s Aceh province, a federal appeals court ruled, reinstating a lawsuit thrown out by a lower court.
In a 2-1 decision today, the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington said Exxon Mobil didn’t have corporate immunity from claims filed by 15 Indonesian villagers under the Alien Tort Statute. The court reversed the ruling of a trial judge who said the villagers couldn’t use U.S. courts to sue over alleged actions that took place in Indonesia and involved the Indonesian military during a period of martial law.
“It would create a bizarre anomaly to immunize corporations from liability for the conduct of their agents in lawsuits brought for ‘shockingly egregious violations of universally recognized principles of international law,’” Judge Judith Rogers wrote in her 112-page opinion.
An Exxon Mobil spokesman, Patrick McGinn, said the company has “fought these baseless claims for many years” and is reviewing the decision.
In two lawsuits consolidated for appeal, Indonesian villagers claimed Exxon Mobil was responsible for the abuses because they were committed by an Indonesian military unit dedicated only to Exxon’s Aceh facility and under the company’s direction and control. Exxon provided material support to the unit by hiring mercenaries for training, advice and intelligence, the villagers alleged. The human rights abuses began in the early 1990s, according to one of the complaints.
Human Rights Violations
Exxon, based in Irving, Texas, was aware that the army had committed human rights violations in the past, they claimed.
In 2009, U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth in Washington ruled the Indonesian villagers didn’t have the right to sue Exxon in a U.S. court because they are non-resident aliens. He dismissed the lawsuits, filed in 2001 and 2007 against the oil company.
“We’re really looking forward to going to trial and that is what we hope happens,” said Agnieszka Fryszman, a lawyer for the plaintiffs.
The case is John Doe VII v. Exxon Mobil Corp., 09-7125, U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia (Washington).
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