Write a summary of the case under The Alien Tort Statute perspective?
In the year 1992, Myanmar oil gave license to Total S A (French corporation) to produce, transport and sell natural gas from Yadana fields in Myanmar. The project involved extraction and transportation of natural gas from interiors of Myanmar to Thailand. Unocal Corporation, which was a wholly owned subsidiary of Union Oil Company of California, entered into joint venture with 28% stake in the gas production. The production and transportation of the natural gas was assisted by the Myanmar military known as the State Law and Order Restoration Council (“SLORC”), which was responsible for protecting the pipeline. Despite being aware of the history of human rights violation of SLORC, Unocal and Total entered into an agreement with SLORC for clearing the pipeline route and ensuring security of the pipeline.
SLORC soldiers forced relocation of the natives, confiscated their property and forced them to act as laborers and even tortured and murdered. Villagers lost their homes and were dispossessed of their crops and livestock. They had no means to earn their livelihood and were forced to work for SLORC. The SLORC officials also raped the village females, while imposing forced labor in relation to the pipeline, on the male members of the family.
Villagers filed a suit under the Alien Tort Claims Act (ATCA), against Unocal against the atrocities committed by the military, in the process of providing security to the pipeline. There are three basic requirements for a claim under the ATCA (i) claim by an alien; (ii) allegation of tort ; and (iii) violation of international law. The third requirement was under dispute before the court and it was held that actions of forced labour, torture, murder are jus cogens violations and hence violative of law of nations as was also observed in the case of United States v. Matta-Ballesteros, (1995).
Barrington (2002) suggested that forced labor has been included in the definition of slavery by the 13th amendment of the constitution and is also prohibited under the law of nations, wherein individual liability is attributed and it does not require state action. In Doe v. Unocal Corporation, (1997), the District court had concluded that Unocal knew that tort of forced labor was conducted and benefitted by the joint venture. The Court of Appeals for 9th Circuit relied on the principle propounded in the case of Siderman de Blake v. Republic of Argentina, (1992) that in ATCA cases, domestic law is not to be applied because violations of the international law are alleged, which are binding on the nations even if they do not agree to them. It was also held that practical assistance to the Myanmar Military for torts was provided by Unocal and there was no requirement to prove that Unocal controlled the military. Accordingly, mens rea and actus reus for imposing liability under ATCA to aid and abet forced labour, murder and rape could be attributed to Unocal. The matter was referred to en banc panel of 11 judges at 9th Circuit Court and trial was to begin from June 2005. In the interim, Unocal settled the matter in March 2005 and agreed to pay compensation to the plaintiffs.
United States v. Matta-Ballesteros (1995) 71 F.3d 754, 764 n.5 (9th Circuit).
Barrington T (2002) The Thirteenth Amendment and Slavery in the Global Economy. Columbia Law Review, 102, 973-1050.
Doe v. Unocal Corporation ( 1997) 963 F. Supp. 880 (C.D. Cal.).
Siderman de Blake v. Republic of Argentina (1992) 965 F.2d 699, 714-15 (9th Circuit).
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