A federal appeals court revived claims Friday that Exxon Mobil Corp. should be held accountable in U.S. courts for human rights abuses allegedly committed by Indonesian troops guarding an Exxon natural gas facility.
A panel of the federal appeals court in Washington ruled 2-1 in favor of Indonesian villagers in Aceh province who want to sue the energy giant. The court said the case could go forward under an 18th century law that is increasingly being used to sue corporations for alleged human rights abuses overseas.
The court rejected Exxon's argument that corporations may not be sued under the Alien Tort Statute. Last year, in a case against Royal Dutch Shell, another panel of federal appellate judges in New York said the law does not apply to corporations. The Nigerian villagers seeking to sue Shell have appealed their case to the Supreme Court.
In the case involving Texas-based Exxon, villagers say Indonesian troops protecting an Exxon facility in the oil- and gas-rich province of Aceh kidnapped, tortured and murdered civilians.
The alleged atrocities occurred amid a long-running struggle between separatist rebels in Aceh and the Indonesian government.
Exxon should be held responsible, the villagers say, because the soldiers were part of a unit dedicated to protecting the natural gas facility and Exxon was aware of alleged abuses committed by the Indonesian military in Aceh.
Judge Judith Rogers, writing for the court, said, "The law of the United States has been uniform since its founding that corporations can be held liable for the torts committed by their agents. This is confirmed in international practice, both in treaties and in legal systems throughout the world."
Judge David Tatel joined his fellow Clinton appointee, while Judge Brett Kavanagh, an appointee of President George W. Bush, dissented.
The situation in Aceh has changed dramatically since the lawsuit was filed in 2001. The province on Sumatra island's northern tip absorbed the brunt of a devastating tsunami that killed an estimated 167,000 people and left another half million homeless in 2004. The following year, driven in part by the tragedy, the rebels and the government signed a peace accord.
But the lawsuit has continued to wind its way through American courts. Federal judges dismissed it in a series of rulings, before Friday's decision gave the case new life.
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