Total Denial: Burmese peasants fight Unocal

Continuing our film recommendations from last
week, we'd like to mention "Total Denial" - a new
documentary on corporate-financed human rights abuses in Burma. The film was
made by Bulgarian-born Milena Kaneva.
The Austin-Chronicle newspaper in Texas called the film:
"heart-wrenching and utterly

"Total Denial"
chronicles a major human rights lawsuit brought by EarthRights
International and villagers from Burma against oil giant Unocal, a
company based right here in California, as well as a French
multinational named Total. A number of screenings are coming up
in the next few weeks here in the U.S. 
If you live in the Bay area, do check it out on Thursday, in
Los Angeles on March 27th or in Washington DC on April

The lawsuit was brought by 11 Burmese peasants who suffered a variety of human
rights violations at the hands of Burmese army units that were
securing the pipeline route. These abuses included forced relocation,
forced labor, rape, torture, and murder.

The case was spearheaded by Ka Hsaw Wa, the executive
director of Earth Rights International, an organization based in
Washington DC. Of the Karen indigenous minority in Burma, he was one of the student leaders in the 1988
nation-wide student uprising for democracy and freedom, and has been a
human rights activist since he fled Burma in 1988. He was helped by
Paul Hoffman of the Center for Constitutional Rights, Hadsell &
Stormer, and Judith Brown Chomsky.

Almost a decade after the case was brought,
the court decided that:
"Unocal knew
that the military had a record of committing human rights abuses; that
the Project hired the military to provide security for the Project, a
military that forced villagers to work and entire villages to relocate
for the benefit of the Project; that the military, while forcing
villagers to work and relocate, committed numerous acts of violence;
and that Unocal knew or should have known that the military did
commit, was committing and would continue to commit these tortious
The legal basis for the case was a laws called
the Alien Tort Claims Act (a 1789 law intended to curb piracy on the high seas by extending U.S. jurisdiction to cover breaches of international law outside its borders), which has been used
primarily to sue international human rights abuses in U.S. courts.  In recent
years a number of plaintiffs have sued multinational corporations for
abuses outside the U.S. under this law. While many of these cases are
now in court, Unocal decided to settle out of court and
compensate the victims in January 2006.

Earth Rights International are using the same
law to pursue another major oil company here in California (Chevron)
with some success for abuses in Nigeria.

The case is based on two
incidents: the shooting of peaceful protestors at Chevron's Parabe
offshore platform and the destruction of two villages by soldiers in
Chevron helicopters and boats.

Last week U.S. District Judge
Susan Illston in San Francisco agreed

that the Nigerian plaintiffs: "have presented
evidence of a link between the conduct of Chevron in the United States
and the attacks in Nigeria at issue" as well as evidence that the corporation had
substantial control over its Nigerian unit, that it 
"designed and adjusted the general security policies and
procedures" of its subsidiary and approved payments from the
subsidiary to the Nigerian government security

Incidentally, Earth Rights International is
also pursuing a third Alien Tort Claims
Act case against Shell in Nigeria
complicity in human rights abuses.

The particular abuses at issue
are the November 10, 1995 hangings of Ken Saro-Wiwa and John Kpuinen,
two leaders of MOSOP (Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People),
the torture and detention of Owens Wiwa, and the shooting of a woman
who was peacefully protesting the bulldozing of her crops in
preparation for a Shell pipeline by Nigerian troops called in by
AMP Section Name:Human Rights
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