A long-running U.S. lawsuit filed against ExxonMobil (NYSE:XOM) alleging the oil and gas giant was responsible for human rights abuses, including sexual assault, assault and wrongful death, committed by members of the Indonesian military, is expected to be heard after 20 years as the company’s repeated attempts to block the trials have been reversed.
A US judge cleared the way for 11 Indonesian villagers to sue ExxonMobil for alleged human rights abuses after finding the majority of the company’s arguments to dismiss the lawsuit were “completely without merit”.
In a searing 85-page opinion, U.S. District Court Judge Royce Lamberth found that ExxonMobil’s internal testimony and documents would potentially allow a reasonable jury to conclude that company-hired security personnel misused villagers in Aceh province in the late 1990s and early 2000s,” Al Jazeera reported.
Indonesian soldiers had been hired to guard ExxonMobil’s gas plant and liquefied natural gas (LNG) export facilities in Indonesia’s Aceh province in the late 1990s and were therefore under contract with ExxonMobil when the abuses occurred, according to the lawsuit.
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, violence erupted regularly in Aceh province, leading ExxonMobil to hire Indonesian soldiers to protect its factory and staff from attack.
Lamberth said ExxonMobil’s arguments to dismiss the lawsuit, which revolved around Indonesian law and other evidence in the case, have repeatedly been found to be “wrong” or “just plain wrong.”
The reasoning, which was previously under seal, was made public last Tuesday after Lamberth ruled last month that the villagers’ lawsuit could go to trial after languishing in the US court system since 2001.
In court documents filed against ExxonMobil, villagers recount in harrowing detail how they and their family members were arrested and tortured in and around the ExxonMobil gas plant.
ExxonMobil has repeatedly tried to have the plaintiffs’ claims dismissed, slowing the legal process. The case has been in court for more than 20 years.
“We are delighted that the court was moved by the evidence we presented from more than a dozen eyewitnesses and agreed that this important human rights case against ExxonMobil should proceed,” said said Agnieszka Fryszman, attorney for the plaintiffs and president of Cohen Milstein’s Human Rights. Rights Practice, said in a statement.
“This case has been before the Supreme Court and stalled in pre-trial litigation for over 20 years. This is a great turning point for our clients who have persevered for so long in the hope of obtaining justice. We look forward to presenting our evidence to a jury.
For its part, ExxonMobil has always denied any wrongdoing, Al Jazeera noted.
“We fought these baseless allegations for many years. Plaintiff’s claims are without merit,” ExxonMobil spokesman Todd Spitler said in a statement.
“While operating in Indonesia, ExxonMobil has worked for generations to improve the quality of life in Aceh through the employment of local workers, the provision of health services and significant community investments. The company strongly condemns human rights violations in all their forms.