Indonesians Suing Exxon Given Boost in Court

     WASHINGTON (CN) – Exxon must face allegations over the violence that its workers faced in Indonesia from soldiers the company hired as security there, a federal judge ruled.
     The case involved two complaints filed in Washington by 15 anonymous Indonesians, regarding members of the Indonesian military that Exxon hired as security for its natural gas production facility in the province of Arun.
     Supplied with weapons and trained by the oil company, these soldiers killed, injured or abducted workers, according to the complaints. One worker claimed to have been shot in the wrist; another claimed to have been hit with a grenade and left for dead.
     Though Exxon contended that the foreign workers lacked standing to sue it in Washington under the Alien Tort Statute, and that Indonesia provided an adequate forum, U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth disagreed with the company Tuesday.
     “Plaintiffs have shown that Indonesian human rights tribunals are either non-existent or not functional and that recovery in Indonesian civil court for human rights violations of the type alleged … is unlikely in light of political corruption,” he wrote.
     Such “problems” demonstrate the “pursuit of local remedies in Indonesia would be futile,” the decision continues.
     “Because plaintiffs do not have available, effective and non-futile local remedies for the international law violations alleged here, they are not required to exhaust local remedies in Indonesia before suing in the United States,” Lamberth added.
     Lamberth shot down the company’s claim that advancement of the case in Washington would invalidate the authority of Indonesia’s government.
     “Exxon has made no showing that plaintiffs were injured pursuant to military orders as required by the act of state doctrine,” Lamberth said. “This failure to demonstrate is fatal to their invocation of the doctrine.”
     The judge also emphasized that the “validity of the Indonesian soldiers’ conduct as a matter of Indonesian law is not at issue in this case.”
     “Because Exxon has failed to prove that Indonesia is an available forum for all defendants, as is its burden, the court cannot dismiss this suit,” he added.
     Exxon founded the natural gas field in the 1970s. Eleven Indonesian workers brought the case against Exxon in 2001, alleging murder, genocide, torture, kidnapping and crimes against humanity. With only the state-law claims allowed to proceed, a new group of anonymous plaintiffs filed a suit alleging only nonfederal claims in 2007. Both suits were dismissed, but the D.C. Circuit in 2011 revived the claims under the Alien Tort Statute on an aiding and abetting theory of liability.
     The case was then stayed pending the Supreme Court’s resolution of others ATS-tied cases, Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum and Mohamad v. Rajoub.
     When the Supreme Court ruled on Kiobel, the D.C. Circuit vacated its order as to the ATS claim and remanded. That ruling affirmed dismissal of the claims under the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, but reversed dismissal of the non-federal claims.
     Lamberth said Tuesday that the plaintiffs met the standard in alleging that Exxon’s soldiers carried out the violence.
     “Plaintiffs allege that some of their injuries were caused on Exxon property and, in some instances, were caused by Exxon personnel stationed at Exxon security checkpoints,” the 43-page opinion states. “These allegations appear to state the kind of ‘functional correction’ required by Indonesian law to show that a principal is liable for the torts of its agent.”

%d bloggers like this: