Unocal on trial for Burma 'abuses'
The American oil giant Unocal must stand trial in California for alleged human rights abuses in Burma, a court has ruled.
A lawsuit, filed almost three years ago, accuses the company of allowing troops guarding one of its pipeline projects to rape, murder and enslave villagers.
The Los Angeles court rejected Unocal's request to have the case removed to Burma, where the alleged abuses took place, or to Bermuda, where the subsidiaries allegedly involved are registered.
A lawyer for Unocal - which is based in California - rejected the allegations and said that the company was considering whether to appeal immediately or to wait until after the trial, which is due to start 22 September.
Unocal is accused of being complicit in forced labor, rape and torture allegedly carried out by troops guarding the $1.2bn Yadana pipeline during its construction in the 1990s.
According to court documents, two of the firm's Bermuda-based subsidiaries were part of the consortium that planned and built the pipeline.
Unocal lawyers had argued that the case should be transferred to Burma or Bermuda.
"There is nothing about California involved in this case other than the parent company companies that the plaintiff chose to sue being located in California. The parent companies did not invest in the project," Daniel Petrocelli, leading lawyer for the oil firm, said.
But, in documents released on Thursday, Los Angeles judge Victoria Chaney said: "Prior to its involvement in the pipeline project, Unocal had specific knowledge that the use of forced labor was likely and nevertheless chose to proceed."
[Source: BBC Online News Report, London, 1agu03]
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