Oil giant ExxonMobil settles long-running Indonesia torture case

The trial in the 22-year-old case brought by villagers in Aceh province was due to start next week.

Indonesian soldiers in a shelter during the Aceh conflict in 2002. They have taken their helmets off and laid their weapons on the table in front of them
The villagers' allegations dated back to the time of the conflict in Aceh [File: Tarmizy Harva/Reuters]

ExxonMobil has settled a long-running lawsuit brought by villagers who alleged soldiers the oil giant hired to guard a natural gas facility in the Indonesian province of Aceh committed murder and torture.

The two sides agreed to resolve “all matters”, according to a joint filing on Monday.

Agnieszka Fryszman, a lawyer for the villagers, said the terms were confidential.

A spokesperson for Exxon Mobil said the settlement “brings closure for all parties”.

Filed in 2001, the case was brought by 11 villagers in Aceh who alleged they were victims of human rights abuses committed by Indonesian soldiers brought in to guard the oil and gas plant in the city of Lhoksukon between 1999 and 2003. The allegations included sexual assault, battery and unlawful detention.

A trial to decide whether the company was negligent in contracting the Indonesian soldiers had been scheduled to start in Washington, DC on May 24. ExxonMobil had denied being aware of any human rights violations and said the company could not be held responsible for any abuses that did occur as it did not order or authorise them.

The alleged abuses took place at a time when the Indonesian military had deployed thousands of troops in the province to crush a long-running rebellion by pro-independence fighters. A peace agreement came only after the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004 killed at least 170,000 people in Aceh, on the northern tip of Sumatra island.

“Our clients … bravely took on one of the largest and most profitable corporations in the world and stuck with the fight for more than 20 years,” said Fryszman, a lawyer at Cohen Milstein.

“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.”

The plaintiffs, who broke down in tears at the settlement, have remained anonymous “in the face of grave threats to themselves and their fellow villagers”, the law firm said in a news release.

ExxonMobil “condemns human rights violations in any form, those include the actions asserted in this case against the Indonesian military,” a company spokesperson told the AFP news agency.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies