May 15, 2023
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
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Indonesian Villagers Achieve Settlement from ExxonMobil on Eve of Human Rights Trial and After Two Decades of Litigation
In an August 2022 Decision on the Motion for Summary Judgment, the Court Ruled that the Majority of ExxonMobil’s Arguments were “Entirely Meritless”
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Eleven villagers who alleged that they or their loved ones endured horrific human rights abuses more than twenty years ago have finally secured a settlement from ExxonMobil.
In a case first filed in 2001, the families alleged that ExxonMobil contracted to use Indonesian soldiers to guard its operations in the Aceh province of Indonesia. Instead, the families alleged, those soldiers abused their power for years, inflicting horrific abuses on the villagers and their families, including murder, torture, sexual violence, and kidnapping. Throughout much of this period, ExxonMobil was reporting some of the largest corporate profits in the world.
“Our clients, eleven villagers from rural communities, bravely took on one of the largest and most profitable corporations in the world and stuck with the fight for more than twenty years. 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.” said Agnieszka Fryszman, lead counsel for the plaintiffs and chair of Cohen Milstein’s Human Rights practice. “We represented women and children who saw their fathers shot to death, a woman who was forced to jump up and down repeatedly while eight months pregnant and then sexually assaulted, and men who were detained and subjected to electric shocks, burned, and had graffiti scored on their backs with a knife.”
“The resolution of this important case is a victory for the human rights movement and a testament to the bravery of the plaintiffs. It demonstrates why U.S. courts should remain open to human rights victims so they can obtain the justice they deserve,” said Paul Hoffman of Schonbrun Seplow Harris Hoffman & Zeldes, co-counsel for the plaintiffs.
“Twenty years after we first brought this case, I am pleased that the villagers will have some peace. Their dedication and commitment to seeking accountability over two decades is inspiring,” said Terrence Collingsworth, founder and executive director of International Rights Advocates and the attorney who filed this case in 2001.
In August 2022, the Court handed down a powerful opinion denying ExxonMobil’s motion for summary judgment after evaluating the evidence presented by more than a dozen eyewitnesses.
“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,” said an Indonesian villager who was one of the plaintiffs in this case. “I am glad we did not give up the fight and that our voices were heard.”
The atrocities are alleged to have taken place at or near ExxonMobil’s operations in the Arun field, one of the largest natural gas fields in the world, which has been referred to as “the jewel in the company’s crown.”
The plaintiffs have remained anonymous for the duration of the more than 20-year litigation for their own protection and will remain so, having brought this lawsuit in the face of grave threats to themselves and their fellow villagers.
Agnieszka Fryszman and her small but dedicated Cohen Milstein legal team (including Kit Pierson, Leslie Kroeger, Rob Cobbs, and Nicholas Jacques) led the hard-fought litigation for more than 20 years, handling the discovery, trial court briefing, appellate briefing, appeals court argument and Supreme Court practice, against a formidable, deep-pocketed defense. They were joined by co-counsel Paul Hoffman of Schonbrun Seplow Harris Hoffman & Zeldes, Anthony DiCaprio of DiCaprio ADR, and Terrence Collingsworth, founder and executive director of International Rights Advocates.
Indeed, before the August 2022 summary judgment, this case had seen two trips to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals (decided January 2007 and July 2011) and one to the Supreme Court. Agnieszka Fryszman argued and won both appeals. In June 2008, the US Supreme Court declined Exxon’s petition for certiorari.
Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll PLLC is a premier U.S. plaintiffs’ law firm, handling high-profile and often precedent-setting litigation, including cross-border Human Rights litigation. With over 100 attorneys across the country, Cohen Milstein has offices in Washington, DC, Boston, MA, Chicago, IL, Minneapolis, MN, New York, NY, Palm Beach Gardens, FL, Philadelphia, PA, and Raleigh, NC. For additional information, please call (202) 408-4600.
Schonbrun Seplow Harris Hoffman & Zeldes is a private Southern California public interest firm specializing in civil and human rights cases. For additional information, please visit www.losangelesemploymentlawyer.com
International Rights Advocates (IR Advocates) is a leader in taking action to address human rights issues across the world through strategic litigation, training, research, policy and advocacy and coalition building. The vast majority of IR Advocates’ interventions begin with a local trade union or human rights organization’s request to assess the critical issues they are facing and what they want to achieve. They bring leading experts to engage with local partners to identify and research human rights violations, interview witnesses, and gather evidence. In this process, IR Advocates trains its partners and explores how to leverage and improve local legal systems and policy to better protect those whose human rights have been violated. For additional information, please visit www.internationalrightsadvocates.org