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1. Expelling people from their communities

The threat or use of violence to force people out of their communities can be a crime under international law. A company may face liability if it has gained access to the site on which it operates, where it builds infrastructure, or where it explores for natural resources, through forced displacement.

Depending upon the circumstances, forcible displacement may be a crime against humanity or a war crime under customary international criminal law, including the Geneva Conventions and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. There are numerous provisions of these conventions which also prohibit the intentional directing of attacks against civilians.

Under domestic laws, acts amounting to forced displacement may also be actionable under tort laws (civil actions), or may violate domestic statutes or constitutional provisions which protect persons from being deprived arbitrarily of their property rights (e.g. indigenous peoples). The International Finance Corporation Guideline 5 Involuntary Resettlement (April 2006) outlines private sector responsibilities under government-managed resettlement.

Forced Displacement Due Diligence


Case 1.1 Tokyo Electric Power Services in Indonesia

A Japanese company was sued in Japan for its involvement in the alleged involuntary resettlement of people in Indonesia prior to the building of a dam.

This is an ongoing case commonly referred to as the Dam Kotopanjang (Dam Kotapanjang) Litigation. The lawsuit was filed with the Tokyo District Court in September 2002 by plaintiffs representing Indonesian plaintiffs against the Tokyo Electric Power Services Company, the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), the Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC), and the Japanese Government.

The plaintiff’s claims relate to a project in Sumatra, Indonesia. They allege that

(i) the defendant company committed illegal acts in the course of conducting a feasibility study, while creating the detailed design based on the study, and while performing supervision; and

(ii) as a result, plaintiffs suffered harm related to involuntary resettlement in violation of international guidelines, resulting in a variety of social, physical and economic harms accompanying the resettlement, including the destruction of the local communities and the destruction of the natural environment.

News reports indicate that this case marks the first time Japanese overseas development assistance (ODA) has been legally challenged by people adversely affected by projects it has funded. A total of 3,861 affected villagers filed a suit seeking USD 165 million in compensation for losses caused by the dam project. In 2003 the case was joined by an additional 4,535 people and an Indonesian environmental NGO. The plaintiffs claim that as many as 23,000 people were forcibly resettled or partially lost their property due to the dam construction.

Under the Japanese Civil Code, Art. 715, and the Corporation Act, Art. 350, claims for torts may be brought against individuals and the related business entities. Plaintiffs will likely face hurdles in asserting the jurisdiction of Japanese courts and the applicability of Japanese law over this case. Plaintiffs claim that a material portion of the alleged torts occurred in Japan and that Japanese law should apply.

Status

Since 2002, the case has had a series of hearings at the Tokyo District Court and Tokyo High Courts. In September 2009, the Tokyo district court rejected the plaintiffs argument on the grounds that the harm was an internal affair within Indonesia. Plaintiffs indicated they will appeal.

Sources for this summary

Business and International Crimes-Japan

Kazuo Sumi (2006) Compensation/Rehabilitation Issues of People Affected by the Koto Panjang Dam in Indonesia and the Post-Project Legal Battle in Japan’s Courts, pdf

Additional information from news media sources such as The Yomiuri Shimbun, AFP, and Rueters as summarized in Down to Earth IFIs Update, No 28, September 2002


Other Relevant Cases

Other cases which have alleged company involvement in the expulsion of people from their communities include, for example;

Cal et al. v Attorney General of Belize et al
Belize, Action No. 171 of 2007


The Supreme Court of Belize found that timber and oil grants and leases issued by the Government infringed indigenous property rights under the Belize constitution. In a judgment issued on October 18, 2007, the Supreme Court found that the applicants’ customary land tenure qualified as protected property rights under the Constitution of Belize, and that the issuance of leases, grants and concessions to these lands violated the equality provisions of the Constitution. The Defendants were enjoined by the Court from issuing permits for further exploitation of the lands in question without the consent of the claimants

John Doe I et al v. Unocal Corp

Plaintiffs included Burmese citizens who alleged that they suffered abuses committed by military officials hired to provide “security” to a pipeline project including, inter alia, forcible dislocation from their homes. In December 2004, in a court-approved settlement, the two sides agreed that Unocal would pay the plaintiffs an unspecified amount of money and fund programs to improve living conditions for people affected by the pipeline, as well as those "who may have suffered hardships". For more details see case summary below under Forcing People to Work.

DRC Victims File Suit in Montreal
Congolese citizens filed a class action today in a Montreal court against a Canadian company alleging the company played a role in the massacre of more than seventy people in DRC in 2004. The suit claims the company provided logistical assistance to the Congolese military units which then violated human rights and committed crimes.
(07-11-2010)
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Governments Must Remove Barriers to Corporate Accountability says new report
A report out this week from Fafo, Amnesty International, and the Norwegian Peacebuilding Centre identifies obstacles to judicial remedies for business involvement in human rights abuses and sets out a series of reforms. The report argues governments need to take urgent action.
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Complaint Filed with Hamburg Prosecutors against Lahmeyer International
The ECCHR has filed a complaint with German prosecutors against two executives of the engineering company Lahmeyer International in connection with its role in the Merowe dam project in Northern Sudan. The project is estimated to have displaced 4,700 people.
(02-05-2010)
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Appeals Pending Against Two Montreal Companies Sued Over Activities Under Occupation
A Quebec Superior Court Judge has dismissed a case against two Montreal companies alleging complicity in violations of the Geneva Conventions. Green Mount International Inc. and Green Park International Inc are accused of building settlements on Palestinian land under Israeli military occupation. Both sides are appealing the decision.
(30-09-2009)
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Tokyo District Court Rejects Class Action by Indonesians
"The Tokyo District Court rejected on Thursday a compensation demand by more than 8,000 local residents in Indonesia who claim they have been displaced due to a dam construction project aided by Japan's official development assistance program on grounds that problem is an internal affair for Indonesia and Tokyo is not fully obliged to engage in care duty for the local citizens concerned."
(09-09-2009)
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Companies and agencies implicated in illegal West Bank settlement construction
An Israeli human rights group says they have information implicating government agencies and private companies in building settlements on Palestinian land in the West Bank, largely in violation of Israeli law and with government knowledge. The group says the information will be used for Palestinian victims to file law suits against the government and companies involved.
(28-01-2009)
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Anglo-French oil company Perenco SA in Peruvian courts
Human rights groups are appealing to Peru's high court after a lower court ruling allowed development of a remote oil field in Peru's Amazon jungle which, the groups say, could threaten the survival of isolated Indian communities in the region.
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Two Montreal companies Sued over activities under occupation
In July, 2008, the Palestinian Village of Bil'in launched a lawsuit in Quebec Superior Court against two Montreal companies: Green Mount International Inc. and Green Park International Inc. The two companies are accused of building condominiums on Palestinian land under Israeli military occupation.
(31-07-2008)
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Red Flags Launched in London 23 May
International Alert and the Fafo Institute for Applied International Studies launched the Red Flags guide and web site 23 May at a seminar in London.
(22-05-2008)
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