ExxonMobil has settled its protracted lawsuit brought by locals in Aceh, Indonesia, that had alleged human rights abuses were committed by Indonesian military that were hired to provide security to the US supermajor’s Arun gas field and pipeline operations in the province.

The two sides agreed to resolve "all matters", according to a joint filing from the opposing counsel that did not disclose terms of the agreement. The settlement came the week before a jury trial in the US that was scheduled to start on 24 May.

On 15 May, 11 Indonesian citizens represented by law firm Cohen Milstein settled their high-profile human rights lawsuit with ExxonMobil, a confidential resolution brought an end to two decades of litigation.

The plaintiffs that the soldiers hired to provide security to ExxonMobil's Aceh facilities inflicted abuses including murder, torture, sexual assault and kidnapping on nearby villagers and their families .

“ExxonMobil condemns human rights violations in any form, those include the actions asserted in this case against the Indonesian military,” an ExxonMobil spokesperson told Upstream.

“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.

“We express our deepest sympathy to the families and the people who were involved,” the spokesperson added.

August 2022 ruling

Last August, the US District Court for the District of Columbia issued an 86-page opinion that largely denied ExxonMobil’s motion for summary judgment. In the ruling, the court found that most of the company’s arguments were “entirely meritless”, said Washington DC, US-headquartered Cohen Milstein.

The plaintiffs from rural Aceh back in June 2001 filed their lawsuit against ExxonMobil and since then the defendants had asked courts nine times to dismiss their claims.

“When it denied ExxonMobil’s first summary judgment motion, the District Court held that the abuses inflicted by the security guards were foreseeable — “there is sufficient evidence that ExxonMobil Oil Indonesia (EMOI) should have known that the military security posed undue risks to local Indonesians near its Arun gas venture” — and that there was sufficient evidence that EMOI requested security forces who were “dedicated exclusively” to its operations and had a “right to control” those security,” said the law firm.

The District Court had evaluated the evidence presented by the plaintiffs — including almost 400 documentary exhibits and deposition testimony from 43 depositions — and concluded that they had presented sufficient evidence to proceed to trial, added Cohen Milstein.

A US Appeals Court in July 2011 ruled that the Indonesians could sue Exxon­Mobil in the US over the alleged killings and acts of torture claimed to have been perpetrated by security forces guarding its gas field operations in Aceh; overturning a 2009 ruling that the plaintiffs had no right to pursue the energy giant through the US legal system.

“We have fought these baseless claims for many years. The plaintiffs’ claims are without merit,” ExxonMobil said back in 2011.

Four of the original plaintiffs and several witnesses have died since the legal action was brought almost 22 years ago.

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