ExxonMobil Pays 11 Villagers From Aceh, Indonesia, to Drop Lawsuit Over Military Led Torture and Murder
Mobil Corporation (now ExxonMobil) began drilling in the Arun gas field in northern Sumatra in the 1970s. Indonesian soldiers, who were paid to provide security for the gas field, attacked local villages during a civil war against the Free Aceh Movement in the 1990s. The company agreed to pay an undisclosed amount for 11 villagers to drop a 2001 lawsuit over the human rights abuses.
“While nothing will bring back my husband, this victory delivers the justice we have spent two decades fighting for and will be life-changing for me and my family.” – Anonymous plaintiff from Aceh
ExxonMobil in Aceh
The Arun natural gas field on the Indonesian island of Sumatra was discovered by Mobil in 1971. Over the next 43 years, Mobil in collaboration with state-owned Pertamina drilled for gas under a license granted by the government in Jakarta in return for billions of dollars in tax revenue. It has been estimated that over $40 billion in gas was extracted from the site between 1996 and 2006 alone.
Free Aceh Movement
Many residents resented the fact that little of the wealth generated was spent on the local Muslim community together with the toxic waste generated by the plant. This fueled the rise of Gerakan Aceh Merdeka (Free Aceh Movement or GAM) to fight for independence from the Indonesian government on the island of Java. The government sent soldiers to crack down on GAM, resulting in a three decade-long civil war.
Murder, Rape and Torture
The Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (KontraS) said that ExxonMobil paid up to 5 billion rupiah a month (approximately US$500,000) to the military and police to provide security for the gas drilling. Over the course of the military’s conflict with GAM, thousands of local villagers were murdered, raped and killed. Mass graves were dug next to ExxonMobil’s gas plant where soldiers buried the dead.
“The soldiers detained and tortured [John Doe II at Rancong Camp] for a period of three months. He sustained severe injuries as a result of the beatings and was tortured with electricity applied to his genitals. The plaintiff was eventually released and returned home. Shortly after Exxon Mobil security personnel came to his house. He escaped but they burned down the house.” – Lawsuit against ExxonMobil
Exxon in the Hot Seat
In 2001, Terry Collingsworth of the International Labour Rights Fund, a Washington DC-based organization, filed a lawsuit in Washington against Exxon on behalf of 11 anonymous Aceh villagers in the U.S. in 2001. Over the next two decades, he was supported by co-counsels Anthony DiCaprio, Agnieszka Fryszman and Paul Hoffman.
20-year Legal Battle
Between 2001 and 2021, ExxonMobil tried to get the case dismissed nine times. In 2021, US District Judge Royce Lamberth allowed the lawsuit to go to trial. A week before the trial was set to begin, ExxonMobil agreed to pay an undisclosed amount for the villagers to drop the lawsuit.
“While there were no allegations that any employee directly harmed any of the plaintiffs, the settlement brings closure for all parties.” – ExxonMobil spokesperson.
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