Total lawsuit in Belgium (re Myanmar)

Gas pipeline By: Ohikulkija, Creative commonsPour une version française de ce profil, cliquez ici.

 In April 2002, four Myanmar refugees filed a lawsuit against TotalFinaElf (now Total), Thierry Desmarest (chairman of Total) and Hervé Madeo (the former director of Total’s Myanmar operations) in Brussels Magistrates’ Tribunal.  The Myanmar refugees brought the lawsuit pursuant to a 1993 Belgian law of universal jurisdiction.  This law provides Belgian courts with jurisdiction to hear cases for certain serious crimes, such as crimes against humanity and war crimes, even those committed outside Belgium.  This case is the first to be brought under this law against a company rather than an individual.  The plaintiffs allege that Total and its managers have been complicit in crimes against humanity, such as torture and forced labour, committed by the Myanmar military junta in the course of the construction and operation of the Yadana Gas Pipeline in Myanmar.  Total owns the largest stake in this pipeline (31%).  The plaintiffs allege that Total provided moral and financial support to the Myanmar military government with full knowledge that its support resulted in human rights abuses by the military.  A procedural issue arose as to whether the plaintiffs had standing to bring the lawsuit because they were not Belgian citizens.  In April 2005, the Court of Arbitration (Cour d’arbitrage, renamed the Constitutional Court in May 2007) ruled that the exclusion of refugees from access to the provisions of the law on universal jurisdiction was unconstitutionally discriminatory.  However, in June 2005, the Cour de cassation (court of highest appeal) dismissed the proceedings against Total, disregarding the ruling by the Court of Arbitration.  In June 2006, the Constitutional Court struck the provision of the universal jurisdiction law that barred non-citizens from bringing lawsuits under the law.  In March 2007, the Cour de cassation dismissed the entire proceeding, ruling that it could only continue on the basis of a law modified by the Constitutional Court if the modification favoured the defence (in this case, Total).  In October 2007, based on the universal jurisdiction law as modified by the Constitutional Court, the Belgian federal prosecutor’s office opened a new investigation into this case.  The Belgian authorities declared the "case closed" in March 2008, dropping the case against Total. 

-  “Belgium drops Myanmar rights case against Total”, Agence France Presse, 6 Mar 2008
- “French oil firm accused of complicity with military regime”, John Lichfield, Independent [UK], 4 Oct 2007
- [français] “Birmanie: reprise en Belgique de la longue bataille judiciaire contre Total”, AFP, 2 octobre 2007
- “Belgian court stops human rights probe of Total oil”, Reuters, 1 Jul 2005 

- Total: Total in Myanmar, 26 Sep 2007
- Actions Birmanie: Civil action for Crimes against humanity and complicity in Crimes against humanity committed in Burma (Myanmar) Lodged on Thursday April 25 2002 in the Brussels magistrates court against X, the company TOTALFINAELF S.A., Thierry Desmarest and Herve Madeo, 25 Apr 2007 [English summary of complaint]
- [français] Comité pour l’Annulation de la Dette du Tiers Monde (CADTM) : Crimes en Birmanie : Total 1 – Justice 0, 24 avril 2007
- Burma Campaign UK: Total Oil: Fuelling Oppression in Burma, Ch. 8 The Lawsuits, 21 Feb 2005 

- [français] Cour de cassation de Belgique: [PDF] Arrêt, 28 mars 2007
- [français] La cour d’arbitrage: [PDF] Arrêt, 21 juin 2006
- [français] Cour de cassation de Belgique: [PDF] Arrêt, 29 juin 2005
- [français] Cour de cassation de Belgique: [PDF] Arrêt, 5 mai 2004

 

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Lawsuit
18 February 2014

Total lawsuit in Belgium (re Myanmar)

Author: Business & Human Rights Resource Centre

Pour une version française de ce profil, cliquez ici.

 

In April 2002, four Myanmar refugees filed a lawsuit against TotalFinaElf (now Total), Thierry Desmarest (chairman of Total) and Hervé Madeo (the former director of Total’s Myanmar operations) in Brussels Magistrates’ Tribunal.  The Myanmar refugees brought the lawsuit pursuant to a 1993 Belgian law of universal jurisdiction.  This law provides Belgian courts with jurisdiction to hear cases for certain serious crimes, such as crimes against humanity and war crimes, even those committed outside Belgium.  This case is the first to be brought under this law against a company rather than an individual.  The plaintiffs allege that Total and its managers have been complicit in crimes against humanity, such as torture and forced labour, committed by the Myanmar military junta in the course of the construction and operation of the Yadana Gas Pipeline in Myanmar.  Total owns the largest stake in this pipeline (31%).  The plaintiffs allege that Total provided moral and financial support to the Myanmar military government with full knowledge that its support resulted in human rights abuses by the military.  A procedural issue arose as to whether the plaintiffs had standing to bring the lawsuit because they were not Belgian citizens.  In April 2005, the Court of Arbitration (Cour d’arbitrage, renamed the Constitutional Court in May 2007) ruled that the exclusion of refugees from access to the provisions of the law on universal jurisdiction was unconstitutionally discriminatory.  However, in June 2005, the Cour de cassation (court of highest appeal) dismissed the proceedings against Total, disregarding the ruling by the Court of Arbitration.  In June 2006, the Constitutional Court struck the provision of the universal jurisdiction law that barred non-citizens from bringing lawsuits under the law.  In March 2007, the Cour de cassation dismissed the entire proceeding, ruling that it could only continue on the basis of a law modified by the Constitutional Court if the modification favoured the defence (in this case, Total).  In October 2007, based on the universal jurisdiction law as modified by the Constitutional Court, the Belgian federal prosecutor’s office opened a new investigation into this case.  The Belgian authorities declared the "case closed" in March 2008, dropping the case against Total.

 

-  “Belgium drops Myanmar rights case against Total”, Agence France Presse, 6 Mar 2008

- “French oil firm accused of complicity with military regime”, John Lichfield, Independent [UK], 4 Oct 2007

- [français] “Birmanie: reprise en Belgique de la longue bataille judiciaire contre Total”, AFP, 2 octobre 2007

- “Belgian court stops human rights probe of Total oil”, Reuters, 1 Jul 2005

 

- Total: Total in Myanmar, 26 Sep 2007

- Actions Birmanie: Civil action for Crimes against humanity and complicity in Crimes against humanity committed in Burma (Myanmar) Lodged on Thursday April 25 2002 in the Brussels magistrates court against X, the company TOTALFINAELF S.A., Thierry Desmarest and Herve Madeo, 25 Apr 2007 [English summary of complaint]

- [français] Comité pour l’Annulation de la Dette du Tiers Monde (CADTM) : Crimes en Birmanie : Total 1 – Justice 0, 24 avril 2007

- Burma Campaign UK: Total Oil: Fuelling Oppression in Burma, Ch. 8 The Lawsuits, 21 Feb 2005

 

- [français] Cour de cassation de Belgique: [PDF] Arrêt, 28 mars 2007
- [français] La cour d’arbitrage: [PDF] Arrêt, 21 juin 2006

- [français] Cour de cassation de Belgique: [PDF] Arrêt, 29 juin 2005

- [français] Cour de cassation de Belgique: [PDF] Arrêt, 5 mai 2004

Article
19 September 2013

[PDF] Corporate Legal Accountability Quarterly Bulletin – Issue 10, Sep 2013

Author: Business & Human Rights Resource Centre

Welcome to the 10th issue of the Corporate Legal Accountability Quarterly Bulletin. To assist all those following corporate legal accountability issues, we send this bulletin to highlight key developments, new cases profiled on our site, updates to existing profiles, and other news. Our Corporate Legal Accountability Portal is an online information hub providing resources for non-lawyers as well as lawyers – including victims, advocates, NGOs, businesspeople, lawyers bringing lawsuits against companies and lawyers defending companies. The portal provides impartial, concise information about lawsuits against companies in which human rights abuses are alleged – its aim is to demystify these lawsuits. Each case profile includes materials from both the plaintiffs and defendants, to the extent they are available…This bulletin is now available in Spanish and French. [Refers to African Barrick Gold, Alstom, BP, CACI, Chevron, Coca-Cola, COMILOG (part of ERAMET), Daimler, Danzer, Dow Chemical, Drummond, ERAMET, Ford, HudBay Minerals, IBM, KBR, Ledesma, Mercedes-Benz (part of Daimler), Monterrico Metals, Nestlé, PA Child Care, Qosmos, Rio Tinto, Shell, Sinter Metal, SNCF, Texaco (part of Chevron), Thomson Safaris, Total, Union Carbide (part of Dow), Vedanta Resources, Veolia (part of Veolia Environnement), Veolia Environnement, Walmart]

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Article
4 October 2012

Reporting Requirements on Responsible Investment in Burma

Author: Conflict Risk Network

Conflict Risk Network and the 21 undersigned institutional investors, asset owners and asset managers...are pleased to submit to the State Department...comment[s] on the “Reporting Requirements on Responsible Investment in Burma”...We welcome these requirements as a vital mechanism to ensure transparency related to new United States...business operations in Burma...Many of us have expressed concerns about the risks posed by the U.S. Government decision to permit new investment in Burma. We nevertheless support the reporting requirements as a valuable...means to help advance human rights and political reform, consistent with the U.S. Government’s longstanding foreign policy priorities in Burma. [refers to MOGE, Total, UNOCAL, Chevron, Walmart, Costco, Tiffany, Blue Coat]

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Article
30 June 2012

[PDF] Submission on Oil & Gas sector discussion paper

Author: Singapore Management University Asian Peace-building and Rule of Law Programme ("SMU-APRL") & Mazars Indonesia

The following submission is in response to the Institute for Human Rights and Business...& Shift’s public call for comments on its proposed discussion paper relating to the oil and gas sector for the European Commission’s consideration...
Key Human Rights Impacts...Impacts on the rights to property and an adequate standard of living...rights to free, prior and informed consultation and/or consent...rights to health, clean water and food...rights of vulnerable groups...
Contextual Factors...Host state governance in SEA [Southeast Asia]...
Key Process Challenges...Embedding respect for human rights in a company...Measure effectiveness of company responses to human rights impacts...
[refers to Shell, Freeport-McMoRan, Unocal (now part of Chevron), Total, MOGE, Petroleum Company of Thailand (PTT), Asia Pulp & Paper, Bursa Malaysia, Singapore Exchange (SGX)]

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Article
7 March 2011

[PDF] Tort litigation against multinationals (“MNCs”) for violation of human rights: an overview of the position outside the US

Author: Richard Meeran, Leigh Day & Co

Over the past decade, the US Alien Tort Statute (“ATS”)…has generally been viewed as the mechanism with the most promising potential for holding MNCs to account for human rights violations in developing countries. In recent years, US public interest lawyers have been at the forefront of developing ATS cases where MNCs are alleged to have been complicit with states in such violations…However a majority decision of the US Second Circuit Courts of Appeals in September 2010…held that customary international human rights law does not recognise the liability of corporations, and consequently that MNCs cannot be liable under “ATS”…This issue may well be finally resolved by the Supreme Court…Consequently, at this point in time it would seem timely to consider the state of play with regard to the continued development of more conventional tort law remedies. These too have yielded considerable success over the past decade or so. [refers to Anglo American, Anvil Mining, BHP Billiton, BP, Cambior, Cape plc, Chevron, Gencor, Merck, Minera Majaz (part of Monterrico Metals), Monterrico Metals (part of Zijin), Rio Blanco (part of Monterrico Metals), Rio Tinto, Securitas, Shell, Thor Chemicals, Unocal (part of Chevron), Zijin]

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Article
+ Français - Hide

Author: Delphine Abadie - allAfrica.com

Cette analyse met en lumière un des obstacles actuels à la justice internationale… J'exposerai…une série d'obstacles considérables auxquels demeurent confrontées les victimes potentielles dans leur combat contre l'impunité des entreprises…Selon la sous-commission à la promotion et à la protection des droits humains (2005), les crimes corporatifs reposent le plus souvent sur un fait de complicité, de soutien, de partenariat, d'assistance directe ou indirecte à la violation des droits humains commise par un autre acteur, lequel se trouve souvent à être le gouvernement d'accueil. [fait référence à Barrick Gold, Banro, Chevron, Talisman, Total, Unocal]

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Article
1 September 2009

[PDF] Getting it Wrong: Flawed "Corporate Social Responsibility" and Misrepresentations Surrounding Total and Chevron's Yadana Gas Pipeline in Military-Ruled Burma (Myanmar)

Author: EarthRights International

From the...beginning [of the Yadana project, developed by Chevron, Total and other companies], the Burma Army has been tasked with providing security...and has committed widespread and systematic human rights abuses... This report documents in detail how impact assessments commissioned by Total were flawed in methodology and factually inaccurate and incomplete, particularly those undertaken by the Corporate Engagement Project of...CDA Collaborative Learning Projects (CDA). It also documents and analyzes brazen misrepresentations of the project by the oil companies... [also refers to Unocal (now part of Chevron)]

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Article
3 November 2008

[PDF] Obstacles to Justice and Redress for Victims of Corporate Human Rights Abuse

Author: Univ. of Oxford Pro Bono Publico

This submission is prepared by Oxford Pro Bono Publico (OPBP) to inform the mandate of Professor John Ruggie, the Special Representative of the United Nations’ Secretary-General (SRSG) on business and human rights... The SRSG has been asked at various stages of his mandate to further explore the obstacles victims of corporate human rights abuse face in accessing justice and obtaining remediation through domestic legal systems... [This] project considers these obstacles in relation to...13 separate jurisdictions: Australia, Canada, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the European Union, France, Germany, India, Malaysia, the People’s Republic of China, Russia, South Africa, the United Kingdom and the United States. [refers to lawsuits involving Cape, Union Carbide (part of Dow) (Bhopal), Total, Unocal (part of Chevron), BHP Billiton, Cambior, Anvil Mining (Kilwa)]

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Article
29 October 2008

[PDF] Business & Human Rights Resource Centre launches world’s first online portal profiling human rights lawsuits against companies

Author: Business & Human Rights Resource Centre

Today the non-profit Business & Human Rights Resource Centre launches a free online portal – the first to bring together and demystify lawsuits from across the world alleging human rights abuses by companies. The portal summarises in non-legal language over 35 cases and the positions of each side, with more cases to be added soon. It also presents special commentaries by experts...Companies in profiled lawsuits include: AngloGold Ashanti, Barclays, BHP Billiton, Biwater, Blackwater, BP, Cambior, Cape PLC, Chevron/Texaco, Chiquita, Coca-Cola, Daimler, Deutsche Bank, Dow/Union Carbide, Drummond, DynCorp, ExxonMobil, Firestone, Ford, Freeport-McMoRan, IBM, Mitsubishi, Nike, Occidental, Rio Tinto, Severstal, Shell, Standard Chartered, Talisman, Trafigura, Total, UBS, Wal-Mart, Yahoo!

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Article
6 March 2008

Belgium drops Myanmar rights case against Total

Author: Agence France Presse

Belgian authorities dropped Wednesday a legal case brought by refugees from Myanmar targetting the French oil group Total, which they accused of crimes against humanity, their lawyer said. Investigators looking in to the matter "declared the case closed," lawyer Xavier Deswaef told AFP, describing the decision as "surreal". Although his clients could lodge one final appeal against the decision, they would "think twice before" pursuing further action, Deswaef said.

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