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5. Engaging abusive security forces

The use of disproportionate force by government or private security forces acting on behalf of a company can create liabilities for the company itself. These liabilities may arise even where the actions of the security forces (e.g. killing, beating, abduction, rape) were neither ordered nor intended by the company. Legal risks may be greater where security forces have a history of abusive conduct.

Due Diligence for Abusive Security Forces


Case 5.1 Bowoto, et. al. v. Chevron, et. al

In 1999, a group of Nigerians of the Niger Delta region, where the Chevron Corporation engages in oil production activities, brought a lawsuit against Chevron in US federal court under the federal Alien Tort Claims Act. Plaintiffs were citizens of Nigeria whose claim alleged company complicity in violations at two separate incidents.

One incident involved a peaceful protest at the Chevron offshore drilling facility at Parabe in 1998, which was allegedly broken up through a violent confrontation. The second involved an alleged attack on the villages of Opia and Ikenyan located near Chevron’s Oil operations. Portions of the complaint dealing with one of these incidents were reportedly withdrawn in March 2008.

In the first, security forces in helicopters were alleged to have fired on a peaceful demonstration taking place on defendants’ oil platform, killing two protestors and seriously wounding two others. Following the incident, the claim alleges, Nigerian police or military forces rounded up a number of the protestors, detained them in a commercial container on the rig, and subjected some of the detainees to torture.

The second incident involved an alleged attack by the Nigerian military/policy on two villages in early 1999. Shots were allegedly fired by helicopter, by boat, and by soldiers on the ground. The attack allegedly resulted in the death and injury and the destruction of churches, religious shrines, and water wells. The attacking soldiers are alleged to have burned down homes, killed livestock, and destroyed canoes and fishing equipment belonging to the villagers. Portions of the complaint dealing with this second incident were reportedly withdrawn in March 2008.

In the complaint, the plaintiffs alleged that Chevron "aided and abetted...the attacks on Parabe, Opia and Ikenyan by, inter alia, knowingly providing substantial assistance and/or encouragement to the military and/or police that perpetrated the attacks" (Case No: C 99-02506 SI; US NDC, 2004). The company assistance allegedly took the form of logistical and financial support to the military/police which allegedly committed the following wrongful acts:

Summary Execution
Crimes Against Humanity
Torture
Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment
Violation of the Rights to Life, Liberty and Security of Person and Peaceful Assembly and Association
Consistent Pattern Of Gross Violations Of Internationally Recognized Human Rights
Violations of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act
Torts: Wrongful Death, Battery, Assault, Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress, Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress, Negligence Per Se, Civil Conspiracy, Loss of Consortium
Violation of California Business & Professions Code §17200
As reflected in:

(a)United Nations Charter, 59 Stat. 1031, 3 Bevans 1153 (1945);
(b) Universal Declaration of Human Rights, G.A. Res. 217A(iii), U.N. Doc. A/810
(1948);
(c) International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, G.A. Res. 2220A(xxi), 21
U.N. Doc., GAOR Supp. (No. 16) at 52, U.N. Doc. A/6316 (1966);
(d) Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, G.A. Res. 39/46, 39 U.N. Doc., GAOR Supp. (No. 51) at 1100, U.N. Doc. A/39/51 (1984);
(e) Declaration on the Protection of All Persons From Being Subjected to Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, G.A. Res. 3452, 30 U.N. Doc., GAOR Supp. (No. 34) at 91, U.N. Doc. A/10034 (1976).
(f) The Constitutions, statutes, laws and other rules of most of the nations of the
world.

Status

In December 2008, a jury cleared Chevron of the allegations, ending the decade-long case. Earlier, in March 2008, news reports indicated that plaintiffs had withdrawn that part of the complaint relating to attacks in Opia and Ikenyan. There was no explanation given. This move came after an August of 2007 decision in which a federal court allowed plaintiffs general claims in tort such as assault and wrongful death to proceed. The court had also allowed several claims involving violations of international law to proceed including torture and extrajudicial execution. At the same time, however, the court dismissed claims alleging crimes against humanity. The court also dismissed RICO claims.

Sources for this summary

The Business and Human Rights web site contains a summary, links to reports on the case and related statements from both sides in the suit.

A summary and many court documents are also available at the website of the Center for Constitutional Rights

There is also a summary of Bowoto, et. al. v. Chevron, et. al at Business and International Crimes


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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Conflict Minerals Law Passed in U.S.
A new U.S. law requires publicly traded companies to disclose to the SEC whether their products contain gold, tin, tungsten or tantalum from Congo or adjacent countries. If so, they have to describe what measures they are taking to trace the minerals' origin. The State and Treasury departments are examining the possibility of future sanctions against U.S. companies that use "conflict minerals."
(22-07-2010)
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US Military Paying Protection Money in Afghanistan
Private companies sub-contracted to the Pentagon are allegedly "paying millions of dollars in protection money to Afghan warlords, and potentially to the Taliban, to secure convoys carrying supplies to U.S. troops in Afghanistan", congressional investigators said in a report.
(21-06-2010)
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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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Former Blackwater President Charged in the U.S.
The former president of the US private security firm, Blackwater Worldwide, and four other former workers have been indicted under U.S. federal weapons laws that prohibit trading and stockpiling in small arms.
(16-04-2010)
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Mining Company Sued in UK Courts over alleged Police Torture in Peru
"A British mining corporation is facing a multimillion-pound claim for damages after protesters were detained and allegedly tortured at an opencast copper plant in northern Peru....When the protesters marched to the mine they found armed police waiting for them. They say the police were being directed by the mine's managers – although its owner, Monterrico Metals, disputes this." See article and video here:
(17-10-2009)
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Blackwater Gurads Indicted
Five employees of the US security firm Blackwater have been indicted by U.S. authorities over the 2007 shooting of 17 Iraqis. A sixth man has plead guilty to one killing. The firm says its guards acted in self-defense when they opened fire while defending a convoy of U.S. diplomats. They are charged with 14 counts of manslaughter and weapons charges.
(07-12-2008)
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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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Charges against Charles Taylor
Charles Taylor is on trial in The Hague accused of funding Sierra Leone's former rebels, the Revolutionary United Front by selling diamonds on their behalf and buying weapons for them. "RUF fighters were notorious for hacking off the arms and legs of the civilian population with machetes, as well as killing, raping and robbing them" the BBC reports.
(31-12-2007)
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