Doe gegen Unocal | Earth Rights International (2023)

First case of its kind: Blaming a US company for rape, murder and forced labor in Myanmar

Case status: closed

Dispense: corporate responsibility Defender of land rights

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When Unocal, a US oil and gas company, worked with the notorious Burmese military to build a pipeline, knowing the military would commit human rights abuses, we filed a historic lawsuit against Unocal. As predicted, the military drove villagers from their homes and forced them to do pioneering work to support the Yadana pipeline project while committing other horrific abuses such as rape and murder. Unocal was forced to settle in 2003, marking the first time a human rights lawsuit against a multinational resulted in compensation for survivors.

The plaintiffs were Burmese villagers who suffered human rights abuses at the hands of Burmese Army units protecting the pipeline route. These abuses included forced relocation, forced labor, rape, torture and murder.

unocal; Total (French Oil Company); Burmese military.

In addition to EarthRights International, plaintiffs' attorneys included Paul Hoffman, the Center for Constitutional Rights, Hadsell & Stormer and Judith Brown Chomsky.

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The legal norms for when a company can be held accountable for human rights abuses committed by a partner military regime as part of the company's project.



In the early 1990s, two Western oil companies, Unocal and Total, teamed up with the brutal Burmese military regime to build the Yadana gas pipeline. The regime created a highly militarized pipeline corridor in which it violently suppressed dissent, forced the local population to build pipeline and conveyor infrastructure for the military, forced entire villages to relocate, and committed torture, rape, and executions.


EarthRights International and Southeast Asia Information Network (SAIN).total denial,a report that exposed the human rights and environmental issues surrounding the Yadana pipeline. The plaintiffs also filed their complaint in Doe v. Unocal and filed a lawsuit.


In a landmark decision, a U.S. district court in Los Angeles agreed to hear Doe v. Unocal and rejected Unocal's argument that the case should be dismissed. The court concluded that companies and their managers can be held liable under the lawCriminal Law of Foreignersfor violations of international human rights law in foreign countries and that US courts have the authority to hear such claims.


After three years of discovery, the plaintiffs presented evidence showing that, as the court said, “Unocal knew that the military had a history of human rights abuses; that the project hired the military to guarantee the security of the project, the military who forced villagers to work and entire villages to move in benefit of the project; that the military, while forcing villagers to work and move, committed various acts of violence; and that Unocal knew or should have known that the military had committed, committed and would continue to commit these unlawful acts.”

The court also concluded that "the evidence indicates that Unocal knew that forced labor was being used and that [Unocal and Total, co-contractor of the Yadana project] benefited from this practice" and that "the violence perpetrated against the plaintiffs is well documented in the testimony submitted in secrecy to the court”.

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However, the court dismissed the case, concluding that Unocal could not be held liable under the Alien Tort Statute unless Unocal actually controlled the military units that committed the abuses and the plaintiffs failed to demonstrate this.

After the ATS claims were dismissed, the court refused to hear the plaintiffs' claims under state law without determining whether those claims had merit.

After this decision, the case ran on two fronts. Plaintiffs appealed the dismissal of international human rights claims under the ATS to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. At the same time, plaintiff has restated his claims in accordance with state law in the state court of California, the Los Angeles County Superior Court. Unocal filed a petition in federal court to reinstate jurisdiction over these claims, but the court denied Unocal's request.


Unocal's request for the process to be dismissed in state court was denied. Unocal argued in state court that the federal court's dismissal barred the plaintiffs' state lawsuit because federal and state law are identical. The court did not accept that argument, noting that state law differs from federal law. Unocal has also advanced a series of arguments based on decisions by the US Supreme Court and the US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit striking down the Massachusetts Burma Sanctions Act. In particular, Unocal argued that it would be against the US Constitution for a state court to hear the plaintiffs' claims, as it would interfere with US foreign relations, and that the plaintiffs' claims would be preempted by the Federal Sanctions Act of Burma. The court rejected all these arguments.


The lawsuit survived Unocal's request for summary judgment, the final stage before trial. The California Superior Court ruling made the Unocal lawsuit the first in US history in which victims of human rights violations committed abroad were entitled to a trial against a company.

California Superior Court Judge Victoria Chaney ruled that the case against Unocal should go to trial because the plaintiffs presented evidence that Unocal was responsible for human rights abuses. In particular, Judge Chaney found evidence that would allow a jury to conclude that the Unocal joint venture hired the military to provide security and that Unocal is therefore responsible for human rights abuses committed by the military, and to reach the conclusion that the Unocal violated the California Constitution and applicable law in its operations.

At the same time, filing of federal ATS claims continued.

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The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's decision and allowed the Alien Tort Statute claims against Unocal to continue. The three-judge panel ruled that the district court wrongly held that the plaintiffs had to prove that Unocal controlled the actions of the Burmese military in order to establish Unocal's liability. The ninth circuit court ruled that the plaintiffs only had to prove that Unocal knowingly helped the military commit the abuses. By that standard, the Court of Appeal concluded that the plaintiffs had presented sufficient evidence to go to trial.


The ninth circuit court decided to retry the appeal before an 11-member en banc panel.

Trial of the case also began in state court. In the first phase of the trial, Judge Chaney concluded that the Unocal subsidiaries involved in the pipeline project were not shell companies.


Judge Chaney ruled that while the Unocal affiliates were not shell companies, the plaintiffs were entitled to a judgment on their other theories of liability. In doing so, it rejected Unocal's argument that it should dismiss the case in light of its earlier ruling, noting that this ruling "does not preclude [plaintiffs] from proving that Defendants had specific aspects of the Yadana project to a greater degree than that of a mere proprietor.” Judge Chaney set a date for the jury hearing in June 2005 on the plaintiffs' allegations of murder, rape and forced labor.


In March, three months before the trial, Unocal agreed to indemnify the plaintiffs in a historic settlement that ended litigation in state and federal courts. Shortly thereafter, Unocal was acquired by Chevron.


Court decision Doc v. Unocal Paez - March 1997
Donate v. Unocal State Complaint – October 2000
doe v Unocal Ruling on Defendants' Motion for Summarized Judgment, Summarized Judgment on Each Plaintiff's Liability Claim - June 2002
Decision Doc v. Unocal on Plaintiffs' Motion for Summary Judgment - June 2002
Decision Doc v. Unocal on Unocal Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment - June 2002
Decision Doc v. Unocal - September 2002
According to Unocal Brief – May 2003
Hearing Transcript Doe v. Unocal and Banc - June 2003
Answer Donate v. Unocal to the 9th Circuit Brief - June 2003
Donate v. Unocal 9th ​​Circuit Sosa Breve – June 2003
Opposition Paper Doe v. Unocal - June 2003
Unocal 9th ​​Brief Sosa Circuit – August 2004
Supplementary Brief as Friend of the Court - August 2004
Decision on Motion for Judgment of Unocal Defendants - September 2004
Unocal's Response to the 9th Circuit Summary - September 2004
1001 - Letter of Intent
1002 – PSC
1003 - MOGE Supplementary Letter
1004 - Assignment Agreement
1005 - Certificate - TMEP-UMOC
1006 - Certificate - TMEP-UMOC-PTTEP
1008 – POA
1009 – EGSA-MOU
1010 – EGSA
1011 - Notice of Commercial Discovery
1012 – Acordo MGTC-MOGE
1013 – EGTA
1014 - Shareholders' Agreement
1015 - Amendment to the shareholders' agreement
1016 – GPOA
1017 - Paying Agent Contract
1018 - Procedure for Distribution of Export Gas Revenues
1019 - About MOGE's participation in the MGTC
1020 - About MOGE's participation in the PSC
1021 - MOGE electoral memorandum
1022 - MOGE Loan Note
1023 - Yadana Risk Factors

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