The oil giant allegedly paid soldiers to brutalize eleven villagers in North Aceh 20 years ago
Eleven Indonesians known only as John and Jane Does settled a lawsuit against oil giant ExxonMobil on Monday for an undisclosed sum following a two-decades-long courtroom fight that saw the multinational accused of hiring members of the Indonesian military to torture villagers near its massive Arun field in North Aceh.
ExxonMobil’s soldiers, who worked as security for the gas field, allegedly forced pregnant women to jump repeatedly before sexually assaulting them, and inflicted burns, shocks, and knife wounds on men. The group also claimed they had to watch family members be shot in front of them. Even a traveling fish merchant who stopped at the Arun facility to sell his wares was fatally shot, according to witnesses, while sexual assault and physical abuse by the guards was reportedly commonplace.
ExxonMobil “condemns human rights violations in any form, those include the actions asserted in this case against the Indonesian Military,” a company spokesperson told AFP. “It should be noted while there were no allegations that any employee directly harmed any of the plaintiffs, the settlement brings closure for all parties.”
The company profited handsomely from the Arun field, one of the world’s largest, during the period of the alleged torture. The abuses were said to have occurred during a period of widespread national unrest that was brutally put down by the US-backed military dictatorship of General Suharto.
The torture case was finally set to go to trial at the end of the month in Washington after being shuffled between jurisdictions for years. It finally found a home in Washington, DC under US District Court Judge Royce Lamberth, who rejected a request from ExxonMobil to preempt the trial with a ruling in its favor. The settlement resolves “all matters,” according to a joint filing from opposing counsel.
The villagers, who have remained anonymous due to threats against them and their neighbors since filing suit in 2001, celebrated the conclusion of the case. “We are so pleased that now, on the eve of trial, we were able to secure a measure of justice for them and their families,” lead counsel Agnieszka Fryszman told reporters.