Justice for Victims of Oil Companies

22 May 2015 - 12:00am

BP has been taken to the High Court, in London, by a Colombian trade unionist after he was kidnapped and tortured by paramilitaries.

Gilberto Torres is challenging the actions of BP, its successors and subsidiary companies. He is represented by London law firm Deighton Pierce Glynn, working with Colombian lawyer Francisco Ramirez. They are seeking compensation for negligence, conspiracy and false imprisonment. 

Gilberto Torres survived Colombia's death squads. Now he wants justiceGuardian documentary on Gilberto's plight and the impact of BP operations in Colombia.

Gilberto Torres was held captive in an insect-infested pit and had to witness another captive being dismembered by paramilitaries. The reason for his release is unclear, but it seems to be due to the threat of a national strike backed by international solidarity. On Gilberto’s release, the police advised him to flee Colombia with his wife and son. He still lives in exile because it is not safe to return. Their lives have been ruined.

Gilberto had been campaigning on labour and environmental issues in the oil-rich Casanare area exploited by BP from the 1990s, and then passed on to companies connected to BP until they pulled out in 2011. 

BP had admitted paying millions of dollars to the Colombian army to patrol its installations. However, it is refusing to publish relevant documents related to Gilberto’s case. Countless other community activists, environmentalists and trade union members who have opposed resource extraction multinationals have been murdered or disappeared in the past 25 years since oil exploration started.

State forces have been widely documented as working with paramilitaries in Colombia, and it’s vital to understand how far they are linked to these atrocities. There is an urgent need for truth, accountability and rebuilding of the community against the backdrop of the current peace process.

Gilberto’s case has helped to uncover hundreds of similar cases of human rights and environmental damage linked to the actions of the oil companies and private security firms fuelled by the conflict in Colombia. This has led to a unique collaboration between the grassroots Colombian association (COSPAAC) supporting victims of resource driven conflict, law firm Deighton Pierce Glynn and War on Want to develop a new community-led model to attain justice.

The Oil Justice Project will ensure that the victims and survivors of corporate-sponsored violence and environmental damage are able to obtain justice for the whole community, and not just compensation for individuals. The Oil Justice project will help to rebuild, unite and empower the community in Casanare.

Full Guardian article (22 May 2015): Gilberto Torres survived Colombia's death squads. Now he wants justice. He is one of only two Colombian union activists to be abducted by paramilitaries and live. Now BP and other oil firms face allegations they were complicit in human rights abuses.

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