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Peru: Indigenous community sues L.A. based Occidental Petroleum

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(Official press release)

Lawsuit Charges Oil Giant with Harming Health and Environment of Native Achuar People

EarthRights International (ERI) and the law firm Schonbrun DeSimone Seplow Harris & Hoffman LLP (SDSHH) today brought suit on behalf of twenty-five indigenous Achuar plaintiffs from the Peruvian Amazon against Los Angeles-based Occidental Petroleum Corp. (Oxy), alleging egregious harm caused by Oxy over a thirty-year period in the Corrientes River basin during which Oxy contaminated the rivers and lands of the indigenous Achuar communities, causing death, widespread poisoning and destruction of their way of life. ERI and SDSHH are joined as counsel by attorneys Bob Kerrigan of Pensacola, Florida, and Natalie Bridgeman of San Francisco.

Apu Tomás Maynas Carijano, a plaintiff in the case and an Achuar traditional leader, stated, "With this lawsuit, I am here demanding Oxy clean up and compensate for the contamination it left in the Río Corrientes region. We can no longer eat the fish or drink the water. Our children are guaranteed death unless Oxy acts now."

The legal action follows last week’s release of A Legacy of Harm, an in-depth report by ERI, the advocacy organization Amazon Watch, and the Peruvian NGO Racimos de Ungurahui that reveals that Oxy deliberately ignored industry standards and employed out-of-date practices for 30 years, resulting in severe cadmium and lead poisoning among the Achuar communities. The report also finds that Oxy dumped an average of 850,000 barrels per day of toxic oil by-products directly into rivers and streams used by the Achuar for drinking, bathing, washing, and fishing – totaling approximately nine billion barrels during the 30 years of operation.

Lily La Torre López, a leading human rights attorney at Racimos de Ungurahui, added, “Today is a historic day for the indigenous peoples who continue to be affected by Oxy’s 30 years of irresponsible operations on their territories. In Peru, Oxy not only violated human rights, but also Peruvian and U.S. laws. We have exhausted all avenues for redress in Peru, and therefore are now turning to the U.S. judicial system seeking justice.”

ERI and SDSHH previously brought a ground-breaking human rights lawsuit against Unocal, another LA-based oil company, for abuses in Burma, concluding in a landmark settlement in 2005. Marco Simons, ERI’s Legal Director, noted, "Just like Unocal, Oxy thought that it could get away with its illegal and abusive behavior because it was operating in remote indigenous communities. But the Achuar know their rights and are prepared to vindicate them, and, like Unocal, Oxy will be brought to justice."

SDSHH partner Benjamin Schonbrun, who along with Simons and La Torre spent weeks in Peru investigating Oxy’s contamination and its effects, added, "The lawsuit filed today seeks to hold Oxy accountable for their reckless pursuit of oil profits no matter the costs in human suffering for the Achuar, who have lived in the Peruvian Amazon for centuries. The evidence will show that Oxy is responsible for the contamination of the water and lands of the Amazon and the damages suffered by the Achuar."

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