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Californian Judge To Issue Oral Ruling On Unocal's Case - 2004-01-22


A U.S. judge in Los Angeles has heard closing arguments in a case that will determine whether the California oil giant Unocal can be held liable for alleged human rights abuses committed during the construction of a pipeline in Burma in the 1990s.

Lawyers for 15 Burmese villagers charge that the company -- and not its local subsidiaries -- should be held responsible for the alleged abuses committed by the Burmese military.

The villagers accuse Unocal of failing to intervene as Burmese government soldiers allegedly used rape, torture and murder to force people to work on the one-point-two-billion-dollar pipeline.

The Superior Court judge hearing the case is expected to decide Friday whether Unocal or its subsidiaries can be held accountable.

That decision will end the first phase of the two-phase trial that began December ninth. If Unocal is judged accountable the second phase will be focused on whether compensation is actually due and, if so, how much.

The seven-year-old lawsuit was initially filed in 1996 and is the first attempt to hold a U.S. firm legally responsible for human rights damages.

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