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October 27, 2008 12:27 PM

Trial in Landmark Human Rights Case Against Chevron Begins Today

Posted by Daphne Eviatar

A case with potentially far-reaching implications for international corporations opens in district court in San Francisco today as Chevron squares off against a group of Nigerian plaintiffs who claim the Big Oil company aided in the abuse of their human rights.

As The American Lawyer reports in the November issue, Chevron is one of seven Big Oil and Big Mining companies presently being sued in U.S. courts for alleged human rights abuses (free access with registration). Chevron is charged with complicity in activities of the Nigerian military, including the shooting and killing of two protesters on the offshore Parabe drilling platform. At the time of the violent incident, plaintiff Larry Bowoto and other members of Niger Delta region communities were protesting Chevron’s oil operations, which they claimed caused massive environmental and economic damage in the impoverished area.  Plaintiffs have filed claims under the federal Alien Tort Statute, as well as for wrongful death, assault and battery. (For more details on this and the eight other alien tort cases, click here; Bowoto v. Chevron is the second entry.)

The case is one of several currently pending against Big Oil companies accused of assisting brutal governments in abusing the human rights of local populations in the oil-producing regions. Because such cases rarely go to trial, the outcome of this one is likely to be precedent setting. Already, the district court has ruled that Chevron could be liable if it encouraged or assisted government-sponsored brutality against the plaintiffs.

Chevron, which claims it was only trying to protect its oil facilities from a mass of threatening protesters, is represented by Jones Day.

Plaintiffs are represented by EarthRights International, Hadsell Stormer Keeny Richardson & Renick, Traber & Voorhees, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Robert Newman, Jose Luis Fuentes, Judith Brown Chomsky, Paul Hoffman, Richard Weibe, and the Center for Constitutional Rights.

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