Eleven Indonesian villagers can sue oil giant ExxonMobil over killings and torture allegedly committed by security forces protecting one of the company’s gas projects, US judges ruled Friday.
The decision by the federal court in Washington reversed a 2009 ruling which held that the Indonesians had no right to sue Exxon in the United States, and was the latest twist in a decade-long court battle.
The 11 anonymous villagers filed the suit in 2001, alleging that Indonesian soldiers working for Exxon committed torture, rape and murder while protecting the gas project in the country’s resource-rich Aceh province.
Aceh, on the northern tip of Sumatra Island, suffered nearly three decades of conflict before the Indonesian government signed a peace pact with separatist rebels in 2005.
Ruling in favor of the villagers, court said that they could sue in the United States under a 1789 law called the Alien Tort Statute (ATS).
“Neither the text, history, nor purpose of the ATS supports corporate immunity for torts based on heinous conduct allegedly committed by its agents in violation of the law of nations,” federal judge Judith Rogers wrote in the ruling, which allowed the case to go forward in a lower court.
The defendants in the lawsuit are ExxonMobil Corporation and two of its US affiliates, Mobil Corp. and ExxonMobil Oil Corp., and its Indonesian subsidiary, ExxonMobil Oil Indonesia.