When being suited, it is always good to know the past conduct of your partner. In the first of two articles, Isabella Ordonez reports on Exxon Mobil’s conduct in Indonesia following a case brought by villagers over serious human rights abuses (Dow Jones Newswire, 8/8/2011). The background of the case is summarised in the second article.
Exxon Mobil Corp. (XOM) said Monday it is selling some of its depleting natural gas assets in Indonesia's Aceh province, but will maintain a presence in the Southeast Asian country.
The properties being marketed have been at the center of a lawsuit brought by Indonesian villagers that seeks to hold ExxonMobil, the world's largest publicly-traded oil company, liable for alleged killings and torture committed by Indonesian soldiers guarding the assets. The lawsuit was thrown out by a trial judge in 2009, but a U.S. federal appeals court reinstated the case in early July, saying the suit had been wrongly dismissed.
The assets being offered include the Arun field and satellite fields, and the North Sumatra Offshore field. Gas production from these fields--which started in the late 1960s--has been dwindling, and last year they produced an annual average of 215 million cubic feet of gas a day plus associated liquids, the company said.
The gas from the fields is delivered to the Arun LNG processing plant, which is operated by Arun NGL--a joint venture between state-owned Pertamina, Mobil Indonesia LNG and Japan-Indonesia LNG Company.
Texas-based ExxonMobil said the decision to sell the assets is in line with its long-standing practice of continually reviewing assets for their contribution to the company.
ExxonMobil didn't immediately respond to requests for comments on whether the sale was also motivated by the recent reinstatement of the human-rights lawsuit.
The company said it continues to have an active presence in the exploration and production and refining and marketing sectors in the Southeast Asian country.
"Exxon Mobil continues to seek and evaluate new opportunities in Indonesia," the company said.
Its current projects in the country include the Cepu block, East Natuna and a coalbed-methane project being evaluated in Kalimantan. Last month, ExxonMobil said it was seeking partners for half of its interest in three blocks where the company is exploring for coalbed-methane in Kalimantan.
The Indonesians' lawsuit against Exxon dates back to 2001. A group of villagers alleged that Indonesian soldiers, serving as Exxon's security forces, murdered, tortured, raped and kidnapped local residents. The alleged abuses took place from 1999 to 2001, during a period of civil unrest in the region. The plaintiffs said Exxon had authority over the soldiers and provided them with material and logistical support that aided the alleged abuses.
Not all of the villagers' claims are based on international-law violations. Among other things, they also sued Exxon for wrongful death and assault and battery.
ExxonMobil has recently said the plaintiffs' claims were baseless and that the company was reviewing the July ruling of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, which reinstated the lawsuit.
Exxon has said it 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," the company said.
Amnesty International Welcomes US Court Decision
Amnesty International hailed the decision of the United States court of appeals on US-based Exxon Mobil in facing the demand for the alleged murder outside the law, torture and arrest by Indonesian troops in Aceh province, Indonesia, under the Alien Tort Statute (ATS).
A group of rural people from Aceh had filed civil cases in 2001 and 2007 against Exxon Mobil Corporation, the US company which operates the big natural gas extraction and processing facilities in Aceh province in 2000 and 2001, Campaigner of Indonesia & Timor-Leste, Amnesty International Secretariat, Josef Roy Benedict, told ANTARA's London correspondent on Thursday.
Josef Roy Benedict said they claimed that Exxon Mobil is responsible for the involvement in the alleged violation of human rights by Indonesian troops who were supposed to protect the property and operations of the company.
In the first and second verdicts on July 8, 2011, the US court of appeals stated that Exxon Mobil did not have the company's immunity against the claim made by 15 Indonesians under the ATS.
The decision sends a signal to the Indonesian government to do more to make sure of the truth and justice for the past human rights violations in Aceh.
There were no suspects brought before the court for one of the thousands of cases of human rights violations including torture, believed to have taken place between 1989 and 1998 when the province was a Military Operation Area (DOM).
Aceh province faced rebellion for tens of years including human rights violation and lack of development, which ended after the peace agreement of August 2005, while the Indonesian government and the armed pro-freedom movement (Free Aceh Movement/GAM) was signed.
Law no 2006 on the Aceh administration on the formation of a human rights court on the formation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (KKR) Aceh branch. The two government institutions have not been set up until today.
Amnesty International called on the Indonesian government to immediately form a human rights court and make sure that a Truth and Reconciliation Commission is set up and functions according to the international law and standards, like contained in the report of Amnesty International, truth, justice, and reparation: forming an effective commission of truth.
The government must also make sure of the responsibility of violators of human rights in the past including torture in Aceh. This includes cooperation in connection with the litigation process on the case filed in the US.
Amnesty International knows only two examples, in Indonesia, on the case involving human rights violations in Aceh between 1998 and May 2003 had been verified and produced a trial. Only several human rights violation cases had been handled during the military emergency period and the following civil administration (May 2003-August 2005).
Amnesty International praised the decision of the US court of appeals that the company was not immune from its obligations under the ATS for the despicable treatment by the perpetrators violating international law.
The victims of the human rights violations in which the multinational company was also involved, must have unlimited access to the court, and the countries need to take measures to eradicate the obstacles to the access of the victims.
Like this case shows, access to the court of the country of origin (place where the company has its domicile or was registered) has often become the only realistic way to claim the victims of human rights violations by the company need to be listened to and reached all kinds of reparations.
The decision of the court of appeals which make possible a claim to be continued in the US, giving an important opportunity for charges made against Exxon Mobil to be examined by the court.