5. Engaging abusive security forces

The use of disproportionate force by government or private security forces acting on behalf of a company can create liabilities for the company itself. These liabilities may arise even where the actions of the security forces (e.g. killing, beating, abduction, rape) were neither ordered nor intended by the company. Legal risks may be greater where security forces have a history of abusive conduct.

Case 5.1 Bowoto, et. al. v. Chevron, et. al

In 1999, a group of Nigerians of the Niger Delta region, where the Chevron Corporation engages in oil production activities, brought a lawsuit against Chevron in US federal court under the federal Alien Tort Claims Act. Plaintiffs were citizens of Nigeria whose claim alleged company complicity in violations at two separate incidents.

One incident involved a peaceful protest at the Chevron offshore drilling facility at Parabe in 1998, which was allegedly broken up through a violent confrontation. The second involved an alleged attack on the villages of Opia and Ikenyan located near Chevron’s Oil operations. Portions of the complaint dealing with one of these incidents were reportedly withdrawn in March 2008.

In the first, security forces in helicopters were alleged to have fired on a peaceful demonstration taking place on defendants’ oil platform, killing two protestors and seriously wounding two others. Following the incident, the claim alleges, Nigerian police or military forces rounded up a number of the protestors, detained them in a commercial container on the rig, and subjected some of the detainees to torture.

The second incident involved an alleged attack by the Nigerian military/policy on two villages in early 1999. Shots were allegedly fired by helicopter, by boat, and by soldiers on the ground. The attack allegedly resulted in the death and injury and the destruction of churches, religious shrines, and water wells. The attacking soldiers are alleged to have burned down homes, killed livestock, and destroyed canoes and fishing equipment belonging to the villagers. Portions of the complaint dealing with this second incident were reportedly withdrawn in March 2008.

In the complaint, the plaintiffs alleged that Chevron “aided and abetted…the attacks on Parabe, Opia and Ikenyan by, inter alia, knowingly providing substantial assistance and/or encouragement to the military and/or police that perpetrated the attacks” (Case No: C 99-02506 SI; US NDC, 2004). The company assistance allegedly took the form of logistical and financial support to the military/police which allegedly committed the following wrongful acts:

  1. Summary Execution
  2. Crimes Against Humanity
  3. Torture
  4. Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment
  5. Violation of the Rights to Life, Liberty and Security of Person and Peaceful
  6. Assembly and Association
  7. Consistent Pattern Of Gross Violations Of Internationally
  8. Recognized Human Rights
    Violations of the Racketeer
  9. Influenced and Corrupt
  10. Organizations Act
  11. Torts: Wrongful Death, Battery, Assault, Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress, Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress, Negligence Per Se, Civil Conspiracy,
  12. Loss of Consortium
  13. Violation of California Business & Professions Code §17200

As reflected in:

(a)United Nations Charter, 59 Stat. 1031, 3 Bevans 1153 (1945);
(b) Universal Declaration of Human Rights, G.A. Res. 217A(iii), U.N. Doc. A/810
(c) International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, G.A. Res. 2220A(xxi), 21
U.N. Doc., GAOR Supp. (No. 16) at 52, U.N. Doc. A/6316 (1966);
(d) Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, G.A. Res. 39/46, 39 U.N. Doc., GAOR Supp. (No. 51) at 1100, U.N. Doc. A/39/51 (1984);
(e) Declaration on the Protection of All Persons From Being Subjected to Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, G.A. Res. 3452, 30 U.N. Doc., GAOR Supp. (No. 34) at 91, U.N. Doc. A/10034 (1976).
(f) The Constitutions, statutes, laws and other rules of most of the nations of the


In December 2008, a jury cleared Chevron of the allegations, ending the decade-long case. Earlier, in March 2008, news reports indicated that plaintiffs had withdrawn that part of the complaint relating to attacks in Opia and Ikenyan. There was no explanation given. This move came after an August of 2007 decision in which a federal court allowed plaintiffs general claims in tort such as assault and wrongful death to proceed. The court had also allowed several claims involving violations of international law to proceed including torture and extrajudicial execution. At the same time, however, the court dismissed claims alleging crimes against humanity. The court also dismissed RICO claims.

Sources for this summary

The Business and Human Rights web site contains a summary, links to reports on the case and related statements from both sides in the suit.

A summary and many court documents are also available at the website of the Center for Constitutional Rights

There is also a summary of Bowoto, et. al. v. Chevron, et. al at Business and International Crimes

Other Relevant Cases

Other cases which have alleged company involvement in the expulsion of people from their communities include, for example;

Cal et al. v Attorney General of Belize et al
Belize, Action No. 171 of 2007

The Supreme Court of Belize found that timber and oil grants and leases issued by the Government infringed indigenous property rights under the Belize constitution. In a judgment issued on October 18, 2007, the Supreme Court found that the applicants’ customary land tenure qualified as protected property rights under the Constitution of Belize, and that the issuance of leases, grants and concessions to these lands violated the equality provisions of the Constitution. The Defendants were enjoined by the Court from issuing permits for further exploitation of the lands in question without the consent of the claimants

John Doe I et al v. Unocal Corp

Plaintiffs included Burmese citizens who alleged that they suffered abuses committed by military officials hired to provide “security” to a pipeline project including, inter alia, forcible dislocation from their homes. In December 2004, in a court-approved settlement, the two sides agreed that Unocal would pay the plaintiffs an unspecified amount of money and fund programs to improve living conditions for people affected by the pipeline, as well as those “who may have suffered hardships”. For more details see case summary below under Forcing People to Work.