A federal appeals court ruled recently that Unocal, the giant US oil company based in California, may be held legally responsible for forced labor, rape and murder committed by Burmese soldiers during the construction of a major Unocal gas pipeline project completed in 1999. The decision by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals overturns a ruling two years ago by a federal judge who said that although Unocal may have “known about the abuses” there was no evidence of their “active participation,” according to United Press International.
A lawsuit was originally filed against Unocal in 1996 by EarthRights and the Center for Constitutional Rights on behalf of 15 unnamed Burmese plaintiffs. The suit, which was refiled recently in Los Angeles County Superior Court, alleges that Burmese soldiers charged with guarding the $1.2 billion Yadana pipeline forcibly relocated villages, drafted villagers into forced labor and committed murder, torture and rape against people of the Karen and Mon ethnic minorities living in or near the route of the pipeline, according to Inter Press Service. The plaintiffs argue that Unocal should be held liable for the abuses committed by the soldiers, who were part of a notoriously repressive military regime, because they were hired by the company to provide security. “Because Unocal knew the acts would probably be committed, it became liable as an aider and abettor when such acts of violence – specifically murder and rape – were in fact committed,” the court said according to Inter Press Service. A trial is now scheduled to begin Feb. 4 in Los Angeles.
Human rights lawyers are saying that the judgment “marks a major milestone” in holding corporations accountable for human rights abuses tied to their activities abroad, according to Inter Press Service. Other similar cases are pending against Royal Dutch Shell for alleged abuses committed by the Nigerian Army against the Ogoni people in the Niger-Delta, against ChevronTexaco by indigenous people in Ecuador for destroying their land with oil leaks and toxic waste and against ExxonMobil for abuses committed by Indonesian security forces in Aceh province, according to Inter Press Service.
Media Resources: United Press International 9/19/02; Inter Press Service 9/20/02
8/28/2015 Alaska Court Protects Abortion Access for Low-Income Women - The Alaska Superior Court struck down a state law yesterday that would have severely limited abortion access for low-income women in Alaska.
The state's Superior Court also struck down a Department of Health and Social Services regulation that placed narrow specifications on Medicaid coverage for abortions, requiring that Medicaid-funded abortions be determined by a physician to be "medically necessary." Last year, the Center for Reproductive Rights, the American Civil Liberties Union, and Planned Parenthood sued on behalf of the Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest, claiming that the narrow definition of "medically necessary" arbitrarily established conditions designed to restrict the ability of low-income women to access abortion services.
The law was temporarily blocked last July by an Alaskan state court judge.
Superior Court Judge John Suddock ordered yesterday that the state be blocked from implementing this regulation, ruling that it placed an undue burden on low-income women seeking abortion services in Alaska.
"By providing health care to all poor Alaskans except women who need abortions, the challenged regulation violates the state constitutional guarantee of 'equal rights, opportunities, and protection under the law'," the ruling read.
"We applaud the superior court for striing down these cruel restrictions on women's health and rights that violate the Alaska Constitution," said Chris Charbonneau, CEO of Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest and the Hawaiian Islands. . . .
8/26/2015 Saudi Women Prepare to Vote for the First Time - The fight for gender equality is making slow but notable progress in Saudi Arabia, where women will be allowed to vote for the first time in upcoming December elections.
This shift in Saudi law came in 2011, when a royal decree announced that women would be allowed to vote and run in local elections beginning in December of 2015. . . .