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Judge Says California Law Applies in Burma Rights Case - 2003-08-01


A U.S. judge has ruled that Unocal Company is subject to California state law, in a civil suit that accuses the oil giant of complicity in human rights abuses in Burma.

The alleged abuses include forced labor, rape and torture by Burmese troops who were guarding a pipeline being built by a group of companies that included Unocal subsidiaries. A human rights group (Earthrights International) brought the suit on behalf of several Burmese villagers.

Unocal argued that the court case should be tried under the laws of Burma -- where the alleged abuses took place--or of Bermuda--where the Unocal subsidiaries are incorporated.

But a Los Angeles judge (Victoria Gerrard Chaney) ruled that California law will apply in the case. She said Burma's laws cannot apply for public policy reasons, and she said the Unocal subsidiaries do not do business in Bermuda -- even though they are incorporated there. Unocal's headquarters are in California.

The company says it may appeal the judge's ruling. A trial is scheduled in September.

Information for this report is provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.

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