Indigenous Peruvians Win Appeal in Federal Lawsuit Against Occidental Petroleum for Contaminating Amazon Rainforest, Poisoning Communities

Dec 06, 2010, 18:01 ET from Amazon Watch from ,EarthRights International

LOS ANGELES, Dec. 6, 2010 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Indigenous plaintiffs from the Peruvian Amazon won their appeal today in the landmark human rights and environmental contamination lawsuit against Occidental Petroleum (Oxy), as the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that the case should be heard in Los Angeles, Oxy's hometown.  A district court judge had previously ruled that the case should be litigated in Peru, but the Ninth Circuit disagreed, allowing the plaintiffs to proceed in federal court.

The lawsuit accuses Oxy of causing severe injuries by knowingly dumping a daily average of 850,000 barrels of toxic wastewater into the tropical rainforest inhabited by the indigenous Achuar people of northern Peru over a 30-year period, as well as inducing acid rain from gas flaring, and improperly storing waste in unlined pits.  The plaintiffs allege that these outdated practices caused widespread lead and cadmium poisoning, among other health impacts.

"This is a major victory for the rights of indigenous peoples," said Marco Simons, Legal Director of EarthRights International (ERI), who argued the appeal before the Ninth Circuit.  "Oxy will now face justice in the U.S. federal courts."  The Ninth Circuit's opinion indicates that it was not convinced of "the ability of the Peruvian courts to satisfactorily handle this case," citing corruption and "disorder in the Peruvian judiciary."

Atossa Soltani, Executive Director of Amazon Watch, a plaintiff in the case, added, "The Achuar people continue to suffer the devastating health impacts caused by Oxy's damaging practices, which were illegal in the U.S. at the time. This ruling signals the end of the era when companies could destroy indigenous communities and their environment with impunity."

The Achuar case, Maynas Carijano v. Occidental Petroleum, No. 08-56187 (9th Cir.), was filed in May 2007 in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.  In April 2008, the district court ruled that the case should be heard in Peru under the legal doctrine of forum non conveniens. The plaintiffs and their counsel, including Washington, DC-based ERI, the Venice, CA firm Schonbrun DeSimone Seplow Harris Hoffman & Harrison LLP, and San Francisco lawyer Natalie Bridgeman, appealed that ruling.

See http://www.earthrights.org for the Ninth Circuit's opinion.

SOURCE Amazon Watch; EarthRights International



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