A longstanding US lawsuit filed against ExxonMobil (NYSE:XOM) that alleges the oil and gas giant was responsible for human rights violations, including sexual assault, battery and wrongful death, that was committed by members of the Indonesian military, looks set to be heard after 20 years, as the company’s repeated attempts to block the trials have been overturned.
A US judge has cleared the way for 11 Indonesian villagers to sue ExxonMobil for alleged human rights abuses after finding the majority of the company’s arguments for dismissing the lawsuit to be “entirely meritless”.
“In a searing 85-page opinion, US District Court Judge Royce Lamberth concluded that both witness testimony and ExxonMobil’s internal documents would potentially allow a reasonable jury to find that security personnel hired by the firm had abused villagers in Aceh province during the late 1990s and early 2000s,” reported Al Jazeera.
The Indonesia soldiers had been hired to guard ExxonMobil’s gas plant and liquefied natural gas (LNG) export facilities in the Indonesian province of Aceh in the late 1990s and were thus under contract with ExxonMobil when the abuses happened, according to the lawsuit.
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, violence regularly erupted in Aceh province, which led ExxonMobil to hire Indonesian soldiers to protect its plant and staff from attacks.
Lamberth said that ExxonMobil’s arguments to dismiss the lawsuit, that revolved around Indonesian law and other evidence in the case, were repeatedly found to be “wrong” or “simply wrong”.
The reasoning, which was previously under seal, was publicly released last Tuesday after Lamberth last month ruled that the villagers’ lawsuit could go to trial after languishing in the US courts system since 2001.
In the court papers filed against ExxonMobil, villagers recount in harrowing detail how they and their family members were caught and tortured in and around the ExxonMobil gas plant.
ExxonMobil has repeatedly tried to have the plaintiffs’ claims dismissed, slowing the legal process to a crawl. The case has dragged through the courts for over 20 years.
“We are gratified 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 move forward to trial,” Agnieszka Fryszman, lawyer for the plaintiffs and chair of Cohen Milstein’s Human Rights Practice, said in a statement.
“This case has been up and down to the Supreme Court and tied up in pretrial litigation for over 20 years. This is a big turning point for our clients who have stuck it out for so long in the hopes of obtaining justice. We look forward to presenting our evidence to a jury.”
For its part, ExxonMobil has always denied any wrongdoing, noted Al Jazeera.
“We have fought these baseless claims for many years. The plaintiff’s claims are without merit,” ExxonMobil spokesman Todd Spitler said in a statement.
“While conducting its business in Indonesia, ExxonMobil has worked for generations to improve the quality of life in Aceh through employment of local workers, provision of health services and extensive community investment. The company strongly condemns human rights violations in any form.”