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US Judge Says Unocal Not to Blame for Alleged Rights Abuse in Burma - 2004-01-24


A U.S. judge has ruled that oil giant Unocal can not be held responsible for alleged human rights abuses committed during the building of a gas pipeline in Burma.

Lawyers for a group of Burmese villagers claim that Unocal ignored reports that Burmese military guards subjected them to forced labor, rape and torture.

The billion-dollar 'Yadana' pipeline was built in the 1990's by a group of companies that included Unocal subsidiaries.

California judge Victoria Chaney ruled (Friday) that the villagers do not have the right to sue for compensation because Unocal can not be held responsible for the conduct of the subsidiaries.

But, in her ruling, Ms. Chaney said the U.S. company knew or should have known about human rights abuses that could happen on the project. She said the ruling does not affect the plaintiff's ability to pursue the claim on different grounds.

The civil suit was brought by a human rights group (Earthrights International) on behalf of 15 villagers.

The plaintiffs lawyer Dan Stormer told VOA that he would not give up the legal battle to get compensation for the victims.

He argued that Unocal set up a series of 'paper companies' to avoid liability.

Lawyers for the defense claim the civil suit was brought against Unocal and not the subsidiaries as part of a 'massive campaign' to force the oil giant to leave Burma.

Several large international corporations have pulled out of Burma to protest alleged human rights abuses. Human rights groups say the situation in the military-led country has worsened in recent months.

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